Photo: Strand Releasing
The subversive in-joke of Gerontophilia, about a young man’s attraction to way older men, is that a gay movie’s conventional sex object is attracted to an unconventional sex object. But director-writer Bruce LaBruce doesn’t intend audiences to laugh. He upends what’s comic about his rascally premise almost as Surrealist filmmakers did — juxtaposing the rational to the irrational. Gerontophilia is an adventure in understanding the “difference” of gayness as not different at all, just human.
Lake (Pier-Gabriel Lajoie), a smiling young Canadian with a talent for pencil sketching, pursues his interest in elderly men by working at Coup de Coeur, an old age hospital. Lake gets turned-on by gray hair and mottled, sagging flesh. “I think I have a fetish” he tells his “girlfriend” Desiree (Katie Boland), a Riot Grrrl with whom he experiments sucking-face. She asks, “You mean like Leather?” The sexual naif who is also a snob responds: “Not that bad.”
LaBruce queers the idea of fetishism to get at something deeper, even sweeter, about Lake’s inclination. Gerontophilia doesn’t present a distinct notion of saintliness, but LaBruce clearly likes the idea of Lake ministering to forgotten seniors, sharing his passion with a marginalized person’s time and body. Lake follows a fatherless boy’s romantic odyssey; he eventually saunters and smiles along the road of life as poignantly and optimistically as Fellini’s heroine in Nights of Cabiria.
A French-accented Québécois, Lake is such an obvious mainstream gay sexual object — young, white, nubile — that he pulls conventional erotic triggers. LaBruce flips those Gus Van Sant-Larry Clark chicken-hawk expectations when Lake does a seductive striptease before a grizzled patient then licks his lips while climbing in bed. LaBruce furthers the challenge when Lake meets elderly black patient, Melvyn Peabody (Walter Borden).
Apparently I wasn’t the only one who saw a Daddy/Boy archetype in last year’s Mr. Peabody & Sherman animated film (based on and subverting the old TV series). LaBruce’s Peabody also recalls Paul Winfield, Roger Robinson and Patrick Bauchau’s respective roles in Mike’s Murder, Brother to Brother and Boy Culture that pioneered the non-perv intergenerational gay antagonist. (Brother to Brother was partly a biography of Bruce Nugent, the Harlem Renaissance’s famously out poet.) LaBruce’s daring age and race premise exposes what both the gay and hetero mainstream take to be “normal.”
LaBruce is known for both porn and quasi-porn outrages, although the filmmaker born Justin Edwards, who took on the name of an old-time stripper, this time also reveals a calculated, very Canadian cheeriness. In Gerontophilia, he prances over his planted-bombs (characters like Lake’s John Waters-style mom and a horny old crossing guard and shots of Lake’s slo-mo erotic daze when performing ablutions on the elderly), skipping towards quietly moving brotherhood.
A poetic ribaldry and tenderness surface in Gerontophilia, including the moment Lake cruises a wrinkled body and sees it zipped-up in a coroner’s bag; it confronts death without the smirking self-congratulatory sentimentality of Harold and Maude. Finally, in a variation on the motel road trip in Lolita, LaBruce’s frankly intimate scenes between Lake and Mr. Peabody commingle young and old flesh, producing a metaphor for sincerity and fidelity in human relations. It’s a not-so-satirical projection on the essence of gay matrimony.
Gerontophilia is now in select cinemas. Watch the trailer below: