Movie Review of Geography Club & Thoughts on Queer YA Film

A Discussion of Geography Club, directed by Gary Entin; written by Edmund Entin, based on the novel by Brent Hartinger

Geography Club

by REBECCA, July 24, 2013

Q Fest, Philadelphia’s annual queer film festival, has just ended, and among all the great indie films and shorts, I also got a chance to see Geography Club, based on Brent Hartinger’s YA novel of the same name, which came out a decade ago. Hartinger’s novel was one of only a few YA novels featuring queer characters at the time, and its rarity is often held in contrast to the decade-long expansion of queer YA fiction that would follow it. I remember reading Geography Club when it came out and found it a fun, charming read, if nothing particularly deep or surprising. It blended together in my mind with Alex Sanchez’ Rainbow Trilogy (2001-2005); the cover of the first in the trilogy, Rainbow Boys, I just realized, features a baby Matt Bomer:

Geography Club by Brent Hartinger Rainbow Boys by Alex Sanchez Order of the Poised Oak by Brent Hartinger

One thing that’s interested me in watching the increase in queer characters in YA lit has been the inevitable (and welcome) shift from every book that is about a queer teen being a coming out story to the presence of books like Alex London’s Proxy and Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens—stories that begin from the premise that there’s more to being queer than just realizing it and informing others of it. That is: a queer character no longer necessitates the structure of a problem novel, where coming out structures the main drama of the narrative. And this, I think, is a development in publishing more than writing. There have always been people writing awesome, complex queer characters; there just haven’t always been people who were willing to publish them. For a list of my favorite queer YA reads and to-reads, check out my guest posts over at Housequeer: “Queer Young Adult Fiction To Curl Up With,” and “More Queer Young Adult Fiction To Curl Up With: My To-Read Edition.”

GleeAnyway, watching Geography Club had me thinking about why, in 2013, Hartinger’s novel would be the book to get the green light. In a film festival full of (for better and for worse) searching, experimental, and unique films, Geography Club stood out as the slickest, most easily consumable, mainstream film in the bunch. In large part, the film is firmly on familiar ground for anyone who watches Glee: it’s a feel-good story of attractive, non-threatening gay and lesbian high schoolers who have straight best friends and are figuring out who they are and what role their sexual orientations play in their lives. So, it makes sense that this would be the kind of movie that a studio would want to make: in a way, it doesn’t matter that it’s queerness that is the central struggle for these characters; this struggle results in the same dramatic action as another coming of age struggle would.

I don’t say this to dismiss the film at all—to the contrary, it’s nice that we are now able to have films featuring queer characters where their queerness is pretty . . . normal. Rather, I say it to point out that YA film, in 2013, is still about a decade behind YA publishing when it comes to the kinds of stories it’s able/willing to tell. And this isn’t really surprising, considering that the sheer material requirements for a film (money, bodies, time, space) are much greater than that of a book. Still, I hope that the awesome queer YA lit that’s come out in the last five or ten years—not to mention the enthusiasm about it that readers have expressed—will inspire the YA film powers that be to take some more risks on stories that don’t all follow a coming-out narrative structure.

Geography Club is a sweet, well-made feel-good film. The acting (particularly the adorable Cameron Deane Stewart as Russell and Andrew Caldwell as his manic, girl- and junk food-obsessed bestie) is solid, and there are some really funny moments. It’s a well-paced and self-assured movie, and was exactly the kind of confection I wanted to watch on a hot summer Sunday afternoon. But, just like Hartinger’s novel, it’s not a story that will stick with me, nor is it one that shows us anything we didn’t already know. And, for me, despite being sweet and funny, that makes it a bit of a disappointment.

What do you think? What are the queer YA books you’d love to see come to the silver screen? Tell me in the comments.

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