Gay coming-of-age movies aren’t exactly thin on the ground, but Tennyson Bardwell’s is better than most. Spindly but likable Michael McMillian plays Dorian, a precocious, funny but troubled high schooler in upstate New York who narrates how he haltingly came out of the closet, despite what he knew would be the contempt of his stern, opinionated father Tom (Steven C. Fletcher), and then fled to college in New York City, which he finds less a paradise than he’d hoped–involving a relationship with Ben (Cody Nickell), a fellow student, that turns out unhappily and an evening with a bar pickup that turns positively brutal.
A good deal of Bardwell’s episodic script is fairly familiar. In the first act there are, for example, the insults Dorian has to endure from some of his classmates, as well as a brief moment of unexpected joy with one of similar inclination. There’s also the therapy he secretly enters with a kind psychologist, who persuades him–in a series of sessions that allow Dorian a chance to exhibit his wit and sweetness even more than usual–to tell his father the truth until his parish priest (Dorian’s Catholic, of course) encourages him to try to change his preferences. Even Dorian’s experiences in the Big Apple aren’t exactly new, and the abrupt changes of tone in them (from an almost farcical meeting with Ben’s liberal parents to the nastiness of Dorian’s encounter with the bruiser who uses him as a tackle dummy–a scene reminiscent of, though much more restrained than, the similar one in “Mysterious Skin”) are sometimes jarring. To be honest, a good deal of the material involving the snarling, self-righteous Tom and Dorian’s apparently clueless mom Maria (Mo Quigley) seems a mite recycled, too, although it’s better played than usual. And the mode in which a certain degree of resolution is won in the end comes pretty much out of a screenwriting textbook.
But “Dorian Blues” proves engaging anyway, not only because McMillian makes the fellow so sympathetic, but because of the script’s ability to draw a really winning relationship between Dorian and his popular star quarterback brother Nicky (Lea Coco), the son Tom clearly favors. It’s the close friendship between the siblings–and their mutual support of one another–that really acts as the subtext that gives the story a strong foundation and makes us care about the characters. Happily Coco matches McMillian with a performance that’s equally charming, and the series of sequences between them–from Nicky’s efforts to teach Dorian to act straight, including introducing him to a pleasant young hooker, to the visit he makes to visit him in New York City–are the picture’s highlight. The remainder of the cast is surprisingly good, too, particularly Fletcher, who rather reminds one of Keith Carradine in a really foul mood. And though nothing special technically, the picture, which clocks in at just of eighty minutes, is certainly not hard on the eye.
“Dorian Blues” may not break new ground, but thanks to some sharp writing and ingratiating performances, it farms the old fields quite productively.