For 10 minutes or so The Houseboy could be any kind of movie. Oh, you know it's gay from the opening shot of three men in a bed; but is it a romantic comedy, a drama, a horror film ( 'Omigod, I broke a nail!' ) or what?
Simon and DJ, a couple for ten years, go to Los Angeles to visit relatives for the holidays, leaving Ricky ( Nick May ) , their boytoy, to housesit in New York. It eventually becomes clear that this is a Christmas movie ( with a token nod to Hanukah ) . Indeed it's a gay variation on It's a Wonderful Life, with a lot more sex; but you'll have to see for yourself whether this coming-of-age tale has a happy ending.
Filmmaker Spencer Lee Schilly has a contemporary sensibility, complete with ready-for-MTV cinematography and editing, despite occasional conventional shots of Christmas lights and such.
After overhearing a conversation in which DJ says he's ready for 'a new toy for Christmas,' Ricky decides to kill himself on Christmas Eve, even though he sometimes tries to convince himself Simon really loves him and 'only stays with DJ because he pays for everything.'
Ricky announces his suicidal intention to each of several men he has sex with after picking them up on the street or meeting them on the Internet, and gets a range of reactions: 'Dude, that's fucked up;' 'You need some help;' 'I don't believe you, dude.' When he refuses to have sex with an older man who reveals he's HIV-positive, we have to question Ricky's resolution, but he's got his pills ready to take on Christmas Eve.
Ricky's potential Christmas angel is Blake ( Blake Young-Fountain ) , a young man he meets in the park, who has two lesbian mothers. Ricky's mother, back in North Carolina, won't talk to him since he came out to her, except to tell him he'll die of AIDS and go to hell. His sister has a relatively liberal attitude: 'Hate the sin, love the sinner.' Unlike Ricky, Blake doesn't 'kiss on the first date,' a stance that shakes our hero out of his comfort zone.
You could call The Houseboy a message movie, since it shows Ricky's hedonistic lifestyle is unfulfilling and he's in need of solid relationships in his life. The hedonism allows Schilly to have it both ways, providing titillation and stimulation for viewers before telling them not to try it at home.
To the genres listed in the opening paragraph add 'mystery,' as in, Why the hell are they releasing a Christmas DVD in midsummer? Perhaps the idea is to give word of mouth time to build so The Houseboy will stuff a lot of stockings come December.
With its skillful mix of medicine and eye-candy coating, The Houseboy is a well-made film that deserves to become our own holiday perennial.