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REVIEW: Geography Club Features Lesbian Couple - Doesn't Quite Make the Grade

REVIEW: Geography Club Features Lesbian Couple - Doesn't Quite Make the Grade
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If you’re familiar with the ‘Queer Teens in High School’ genre, Geography Club doesn’t bring a whole lot of new ideas to the table. But at 73 minutes total, it is a short, sweet little nugget of a film that, even at its most grating, isn’t a bad way to spend a little over an hour. Geography Club tells the story of a group of young LGBT outsiders led by Russell (Cameron Dean Stewart), a shy, questioning high schooler with a great jawline.  Right from the start, Russell falls for football star Kevin (the charming but clearly not high school-aged Justin Deeley). Even though his parents are accepting, Kevin can’t let anyone know about his sexuality, which becomes more and more validated as throughout the film it seems everyone else in the school/town is aggressively homophobic. For example, this is a school in which a picture of a boy declining a hand job from a girl becomes immediate proof that he is gay and an invitation for the students to bully him. So it’s a bit understandable that Russell and Kevin see each other secretly while Kevin continues to hide his sexuality to his friends. Russell, however, takes a very different route and joins the school’s secret GSA, the “Geography Club.”

Deemed a subject so boring no one would actually join for real, the “Geography Club” consists of Min (Ally Maki), her girlfriend Terese (Nikki Blonsky of Hairspray fame), Ike (Glee’s Alex Newell), and Brian (Teo Olivares). Each student comes with their own set of typical quirks and agendas. Min wants the group to finally express its true purpose publicly, even if it means disrespecting the wishes of Terese, who is reluctant to out herself. Throughout the film Ike struggles with his gay ‘percentage’ and says things like “Bitch is fierce” and “They don’t have what we have...fabulousness!” which unfortunately takes away from his character as all his lines seem taken from a book of sitcom stereotypes. Brian is a nervous wreck trying to discover himself and the butt of several horrible jokes. Terese finds every opportunity to sing, so kudos to Nikki Blonsky on that one. Filling out the rest of the mandatory ‘teen movie types’ are Gunnar (Andrew Caldwell), Russell’s super-straight friend who’s selfish, irritating, but I think supposed to be like able, and, surprisingly, Ana Gasteyer as a peaceful hippie teacher who doesn’t wear shoes. Yes, you have seen all of these characters before.

The problem with Geography Club is that it only touches on the surface of all these issues. Sure, Kevin is a popular football player who’s scared to come out. Yes, Russell is confused about his sexuality and doesn’t know what to do when girls come on to him. But there’s really nothing more to the story then that. Issues are established and talked through or just gotten over, but it doesn’t go to any deeper level of humanity. I do appreciate Terese representing teens who are comfortable with their sexuality but don’t want to or aren’t comfortable enough to come out, as often the idea that it’s okay to wait until you’re ready is overshadowed by the ‘be out and proud!’ sentiment.

The movie is so short and tidy that it seems almost like a first draft that could benefit from some major fleshing out. It doesn’t exactly help that the writing leans towards lazy and obvious cliches that make it difficult for the characters to exist believably. When Russell asks a football player why he’s bullying Brian, the guy responds, “This is how we roll.” Even villainous characters need something to work with other than purely existing to challenge to protagonist. I did just learn that Geography Club, which is based on a novel by Bret Hartinger, is actually the first in a series, so maybe the series goes on to explore these issues and characters in more depth. However, the film doesn’t have that opportunity, and we’re left here with just the sketch of what could have been a much more layered and engrossing film. 

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Preston Max Allen