Summer Storm, which played at last falls Reeling Gay and Lesbian film festival, is getting a one week run at the Music Box beginning this Friday. It's a fairly typical gay coming-of-age story from Germany in which the teenage Tobi (Robert Stadlober), the de facto lead of his Bavarian rowing team, slowly realizes that not only is he gay but that he's in love with his straight teammate and best friend, Achim (Kostja Ulmann). The film is made fresh by its sports-themed milieu, its beautiful location photography, and strong performances by its young extremely photogenic cast (espcially Stadlober).
At the outset of the film Tobi isn't yet conscious of his erotic feelings for Achim and their playful wrestling is just another facet of their close friendship but when the team heads off to summer camp at an upcoming regatta at a secluded lake region, something begins to turn in Tobi and it's obvious that he's dying to take things with Achim further. Meanwhile, Achim's relationship with the fetching Sandra (Miriam Morgenstern) is growing and he encourages Tobi to take up with her best friend, the sweet natured Anke (Alicia Bachleda-Curus).
Tobi's alternate latent desires for Achim and disgust at his awareness of this is emphasized by the arrival of the overtly gay competitors (from Berlin naturally), a team proudly called the "Queerstrokes." Though Tobi is secretly fascinated by the team he keeps his interest under wraps – especially after he can't resist making a pass at the disgusted Achim after a particularly hot wrestling session. Soon after, when a chance encounter with one of the Queerstrokes leads to his first gay encounter, Tobi realizes that there's no going back sexually. But how to accept being gay and retain his close friendship with the disapproving Achim? Eventually, of course, Tobi finds his way to not just accept but to embrace his burgeoning sexuality and regain the respect of his teammates as well. Left out in the lurch, unfortunately, is Anke – though one suspects not for long.
In interviews the gay writer-director Marco Kreuzpaintner has stated that much of the film is frankly autobiographical and that he wanted to make a German film in which gays are portrayed as someone audiences can laugh with instead of laugh at. He has easily accomplished that goal in this diverting comedy drama. Though the movie's gay coming out story is mighty familiar, Krezpaintner's film has its share of charm amidst the melodramatic twists and turns and international versions of these coming out stories are still a lot more interesting than their American (read: West Hollywood) brethren. www.musicboxtheatre.com
It's not surprising to learn that director Jason Reitman's Thank You for Smoking was the subject of an intense bidding war at the Toronto film fest with two bidders claiming victory for a time. The subject matter couldn't be darker, have more satiric promise or more of a "hip quotient" than anything that's come down the pike since Fahrenheit 9/11. And Fox Searchlight has given it a brilliantly caustic marketing campaign to boot (the posters feature "great moments in spin").
It's the story of Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart), an unapologetic lobbyist (he refers to himself as "the Colonel Sanders of nicotine") for the tobacco industry who can spin ANYTHING his way and how he explains his guiltless job to a disgusted public, a rapacious reporter (Katie Holmes), and especially his questioning son (Cameron Bright). Weekly Naylor meets with two other lobbyists who shill for the alcohol and gun lobbies (they refer to themselves as the M.O.D. (Merchant of Death) Squad) – to discuss strategy and brag. Naylor, as the rep for smoking, who crows "If you can do tobacco you can do anything" is most proud that he represents the industry that inflicts the highest death toll on the nation – even when he's momentarily backed into a corner by a senator (William H. Macy) who's out to get him once and for all.
To his son, Naylor explains his job as requiring "moral flexibility" while in between boffing the reporter he rationalizes it as a way "to pay the mortgage" (aka the "Yuppie Nuremberg defense" he says in voice over) but nothing really seems to please him as much as his ability to talk. Blond and handsome, Eckhart returns to the rat fink character he played in In the Company of Men with Naylor but this character, for all his guiltless glee, has just a dash of soul (barely). It's the son, who easily cons his mother into letting him go with dad on a lobbying trip (a hilarious jaunt to Hollywood with Rob Lowe spot on as a whip smart, humorless agent), who learns perhaps too well the lessons that daddy is imparting.
Based on the novel by Christopher Buckley, Reitman, making his debut, has assembled a cast of characters as rich as those that have populated other great black comedies – Network, The Player, Wag the Dog, Citizen Ruth and Saved! Maria Bello and David Koechner play Naylor's fellow lobbyists for the merchants of death, Robert Duvall goes all out as the head of a cigarette company, among others.
The film is terrific fun but oddly, for all its cleverness, doesn't resonant as these other great satires have. It's not that it's so cheerful about its mean spiritedness nor that it's badly made (the film zips along and appropriately, is shot in blood red, white and rich shades of blue). Unlike its leading character, the film doesn't have that dash of soul necessary to give it a bit of contrast. Even Altman's as bitter as arsenic The Player offered Cynthia Stevenson as a counter to Tim Robbins' icy movie executive. None of the characters (not even really the kid) in Thank You for Smoking seems to have any trouble with that slippery "moral flexibility" Naylor brags about. That small lack of balance is enough to keep the film from lasting greatness. But while it lasts, it's certainly an entertaining, audacious ride. Ironically, it has the same effect as smoking a cigarette – quick, pleasurable in the moment and then stamped and crushed out.