Defying Gravity

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Because you didn’t know she felt the same way about you… or if she did, for some reason it wasn’t okay… thought that people wouldn’t like it. And one day, after months, years, it’s just another day, nothing special, just the two of you. For some reason everyone’s out of the house. You can’t turn back, you can’t let go, you can’t stop – as if you were one person, defying gravity, together.

–John ‘Griff’ Griffith, Defying Gravity

I came across an article the other day about the MPAA creating a new website so that people can find legitimate and legal movies for download. I noticed that one of the websites was Wolfe Video. If you’ve ever watched a fair amount of gay cinema, you have no doubt come across Wolfe Video, the oldest and largest exclusive distributor of gay and lesbian films in North America. As I was looking through WolfeOnDemand, I came across one of my all time favorite LGBT movies, Defying Gravity.

Defying Gravity was filmed in just 13 days using a cast largely of first-time actors, the film played the gay and lesbian film festival circuit in 1997 and 1998. It is an earnest, heart-felt movie. While its edges are rough, both in terms of the performances and the filmmaking, it’s these rough edges that actually make the movie feel more real in a way that polished Hollywood acting and production values would undermine. One could complain that it is yet another coming out story, and in many ways it is, but it’s an effective one.
John ‘Griff’ Griffith (Daniel Chilson) is a college student who lives in a frat house with your typical college guys. Everyone is assumed to be straight, and the majority of brothers are. Griff wants to belong, but as a young gay man, he feels a certain amount of isolation. Because of his wanting to fit in, he remains in the closet despite the efforts of his boyfriend Pete (Don Handfield) to help him come to terms with his identity. Finally, a crisis forces Griff to take a stand for himself and for Pete. Yes, anyone who has seen more than a few gay-themed movies or TV shows will have seen this plot. But it is handled in such an honest and affecting way that you will forgive it.
What sets this movie apart are the character relationships. Griff’s interesting relationships with best friend Todd (Niklaus Lange), with Todd’s girlfriend Heather (Leslie Tesh), with fellow student Denetra (Linna Carter), and with Pete’s father are what helps us to forgive the cliched elements of the plot. Of particular note are the relationships with Todd and with Pete’s father. Their reactions to Griff’s relationship with Pete are not what you have come to expect from coming out films. It makes for a refreshing change of pace, and writer/director John Keitel deserves credit for putting new spins on these stock characters.
The acting never really rises above college drama student level, but that works for a movie about college students. Chilson, Lange, Tesh, and Carter all act earnestly and come across as believable college kids in ways that technically-trained performers might not. There is one particular scene when Griff goes to see Pete in the hospital. Griff utters one word, “Man….” He utters it in a long drawn out way, that melted my heart. Any flaws in the film were forgotten for me when I heard that line.
I hope you will give this little movie a chance.

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces. View all posts by Joe

One response to “Defying Gravity

  • Larry

    I’ve always really liked this film, had it since it first came out. It kind of reminded me of me – unfortunately it was 25 years earlier and I wasn’t as successful in dealing with the pressures of a tight knit group of friends. It was a different time.
    I’m not a professional, but just from a viewing standpoint I thought the couple of weird places were more in the director’s lap than the actor’s (but I know nothing about any part of making a movie, so…). I thought Chilson did a pretty awesome job with it. Just the way he was shaking the first time he was in a gay bar was really believable. (Because I was shaking like a leaf on a tree on my first time) And how did they get Chilson to give some of those affectionate looks he gave Pete (Handfield), especially toward the end? From frat rat to boyfriend, I bought it.
    The one scene I had a hard time believing was when Todd wanted to leave the frat house and go with Griff when he was moving out. I know they were really close, I just didn’t buy that one.
    The story was believable, it seemed real. And you are probably right, the young and rough actors probably made it believable. I always thought it was one of the best male “coming out” movies because of the story and the characters, sometimes its just two regular guys who don’t fit the stereotypes.

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