The Houseboy - dir. Spencer Schilly – 2007 – USA
I speak so negatively and harshly against what is considered queer cinema today that you’d think it was a total barren wasteland. Thankfully, it’s not all true, but most of the decent films come from overseas (naturally). Spencer Schilly’s The Houseboy is one of the few shining counterexamples of what’s become of queer cinema. The film, which follows a suicidal twenty-one-year old boy named Ricky (Nick May) who embarks upon a series of sexual encounters while his two older lovers are away on holiday, becomes remarkable in that it prefers introspection to exploitation; its crafted world is unmistakably gay, but doesn’t exist in the fabricated, glitter-lined vacuum of a heteronormative society.
In fact, The Houseboy is closer in relation to a film like Sébastien Lifschitz’s radiant Come Undone (Presque rien) than any of its American counter-parts. The Houseboy examines the pangs of love in ways not over-simplistic or reduced to farcical miscommunication. Ricky’s journey becomes set off by overhearing a comment from one of his lovers to the other that he wanted “a new toy” for Christmas. Ricky doesn’t respond directly to this statement and holds the flickering desire that maybe, when they return, the personable Simon (Tom Merlino) might come to a realization that the jaded DJ (Brian Patacca) is a terrible fit for him. However, the desire it outweighed by the inclination to kill himself on Christmas and leave his body as his final, desperate gift to them.
The surmised world of The Houseboy reflects the idea that a gay lifestyle cannot adapt to heterosexual norms of being. The film doesn’t hold a condemning attitude toward sexual promiscuity or casual drug usage, yet also doesn’t imply that these things equate to something altogether meaningful or even manageable for any of its characters. Simon and DJ’s leaving of Ricky at home while they visit their parents in Los Angeles isn’t a result of not caring (though it may be on DJ’s part), but in that explaining a three-way relationship, which isn’t seen as uncommon, to their parents, who exist outside of this world, would be better left untouched.
Though The Houseboy ends up exactly where you’d imagine it would, it’s hard to take fault in a film that is both perceptive and thoughtful in the journey to that point. The film was, according to TLA who distributed the film, shot entirely in the director’s apartment due to budgetary constraints, yet none of these constraints really hinder the film aside from a few flat performances from some of the supporting cast. In setting the film almost entirely in the apartment, one gets a certain Repulsion feel to the film, even if the results aren’t nearly as daunting. The film does, however, wonderfully depict the struggles of isolation. It’s really not often that a film like The Houseboy comes around to give a small light of hope for the future of queer cinema, so when it does, I’d think it worth mentioning, particularly as most of my writing about “New New Queer Cinema” is pretty damning. If anyone would be interested, I can compile a list of fine counterexamples to the Another Gay Movie/Eating Out plague.