Bob Gay-Paris (Chris Tanner), the transsexual matriarch of the titular family (which includes dad Rod played by Frank Holliday and younger son Tommy played by Flip Jorgensen), rolls through an extensively demented monologue for her baby boy Alex (soon to be played by Mike Russnak, but here played by the camera). She has grand plans for her son, from rivaling Jeff Stryker to “master[ing] the tambourine” and with a hell of a lot in between. Forward to “present day” 1997, where Alex and Kevin (Nicholas Wilder) meet at a local bar and strike up a conversation. While nursing their beers, Alex lets Kevin in on the philosophy his family practices as well as preaches.
The Gays is writer/director T.S. Slaughter’s second feature, and it’s certainly an interesting piece of work. Its central conceit is that the scenes wherein the family interacts with one another are sending up traditional family sitcoms. But I think it’s not so much concerned with the form of the sitcom and its tropes as it is with the content. The filmmakers here eschew a typical sitcom three-camera setup, and while we get similar framing for various scenes set in the same rooms, this movie gravitates toward more cinematic shooting and editing, especially in the scenes set at home. Here much of the camera work is handheld, and they’re not afraid to shoot from low angles. The use of jump cuts during continuous action (I’m thinking here of a spectacularly overwrought fit that Bob throws) and the repetition of phrases in fast succession fracture time and emphasize mood in ways regular sitcoms would never do. Surprisingly, I only counted two sequences where a laugh track was included. Conversely, the scenes in the bar are those closest in approach to standard sitcom form. These scenes are also the oases of sanity amidst the rest of the film’s action, and Kevin acts as the incredulous audience member trying to process what he and we are witnessing. As counterpoint to the scenes with the Gays, it’s a pretty smart move.
Traditionally, family sitcoms are concerned with teaching life lessons, and this film is no different. Nonetheless, the lessons Rod and Bob impart to their sons, while they could definitely be considered life lessons, are more about raising Alex and Tommy to be gay sociopaths. I’ll give you a few examples. After Alex neglects taking sexual advantage of his friend Billy (Roberto Larancuent) during a sleepover, Rod makes Alex get into “the Sling” and then has Billy fuck him. This is shot undercranked (or I guess we can just say sped up for stuff now shot on digital, couldn’t we?) and set to Gioachino Rossini’s William Tell Overture. Alex’s straight friend Chris (Matthew Benjamin) is forced to fellate Rod as a thank you for dinner and also because Alex is always forced to watch football when they’re at Chris’ house. The boys are taught all about the perineum (that space between a man’s scrotum and anus, also known as the “taint” [the pronunciation I’ve always known it as rather than “haint,” which seems more popular in some circles, but I digress…]). This inbred insanity is reinforced particularly (for me) by off-kilter, extreme closeups of Bob cackling like The Cryptkeeper (okay, maybe not quite that shrill).
The behavior of the Gays is presented as untethered, not only to the viewers watching the movie but also to Kevin, a member of the gay community. He can barely believe what he’s hearing. So, even to other gays the Gays are considered kind of abnormal, and I think this is a comment on the way homosexuality is often portrayed in popular culture. Additionally, it’s a sensory smack to the back of the head for the ignorati who genuinely (no matter how inexplicably) believe that this is the sort of thing that gay people actually do at home. By extension, then, it’s also a satirical retort to the people who think that gay marriage perverts and destroys “traditional family values.” But in the same way that the work of John Waters revels in its trashiness, Slaughter and company embrace the absurdities they put forth.
Now, The Gays is far from a perfect film, and it is absolutely not for everyone. It’s quite graphic, and makes no bones (pardon the pun) about being so. There are glimmers of visual skill on display, but they’re also inconsistent. While this is an expectation of movies shot with little to no budget, it doesn’t prevent such things from standing out. Furthermore, the scenes which are the most fun to watch can also be the toughest to take. And it’s not the ideas. Many of the ideas here are great, including a Brady Bunch theme song parody titled “Each Other’s Lunch,” a board game mashup of Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit called Eat A Pussy Or Be A Pussy, and a Christmas scene which proves to be most instructive for the lads. The problem for me is much the same as the problem that I have with a lot of Troma’s output. All these antics tend to be a bit of an onslaught over time, and if that’s something you’re not predisposed to, it can be off-putting. Thankfully, Slaughter never goes quite far enough to completely wear out his welcome, and the belly laughs his film generates are honestly earned.
MVT: Slaughter shows off some nice filmmaking chops, and if nothing else, his work here is largely successful in its ambitiousness.
Make or Break: There is a riff on The Exorcist that is funny, revolting, and witty all at the same time. You can feel here that the filmmakers have a fondness for the source material, and it doesn’t come off as cynical like a lot of these things tend to do.
For more info about The Gays, visit their website: http://thegaysmovie.com/index.html