In the early 2000s when I first came out, I read every gay book and watched every gay movie I could get my hands on. I think I watched every gay movie that Netflix (back when they sent you a DVD instead of streaming) had in its library. I will admit, most of the movies were independent movies and were decidedly bad. The production value was low, and the acting wasn’t great, or even good in some cases. The books I read fared better than the movies, but there were a few duds there too. However, gay literature has always been a step above the gay movie genre.
I did have a few favorite movies. For comedy, my favorite is probably the 2003 movie Mambo Italiano, a movie about the son of Italian immigrants to Canada who struggles to find the best way to reveal to his parents that he’s gay. While this is probably going to get me some comments from my Canadian readers, one of the lines that always makes me laugh comes from Paul Sorvino’s character, Gino Barberini, the family patriarch. At one point, he describes how his family came to live in Montreal, “Nobody told us there was two Americas: the real one, United States, and the fake one, Canada. Then, to make matters even worse, there’s two Canadas: the real one, Ontario, and the fake one, Quebec.” It’s a cute movie, but not great cinema. Few of these movies were.
In drama, my hands down favorite is Latter Days, a 2003 movie about a gay relationship between a closeted Mormon missionary and his openly gay neighbor. While many might point to Brokeback Mountain as a pivotal moment in gay cinema, I will always believe that Latter Days was a much better movie. While not great cinema in any regard, my other favorite is the 1997 movie Defying Gravity. In the movie, two fraternity brothers have a secret affair. One wants to maintain just a superficial relationship with his all-gay boyfriend, but his feelings begin to change when his boyfriend gets seriously wounded in a gay bashing. It is a heart wrenching movie, but there is one scene where one of the characters says, “Oh, man.” That little line gets me every time.
Because gay movies have never gotten the budget of more mainstream movies, there were also a lot of gay short films made. In 2005, I came across a short film that was getting a lot of attention in gay media called Dare. In the 16-minute-long movie, a high school senior, Ben, secretly lusts after bad boy classmate Johnny. After Ben gives Johnny a ride home one night, the boys end up in Johnny’s swimming pool and have an encounter that is filled with a lustful teen crush and forbidden gay love in high school. Dare played at over 50 film fests and was released as the lead film on gay short DVD compilations and eventually became a Sundance feature. I either watched it on my computer screen or I got one of those DVD compilations from Netflix. The short film has always kept a special place in my heart. You can watch it here:
Saturday night as I was winding down and getting ready for bed, I was watching some TikToks, which is how I often wind down at the end of the day. I came across a clip from this short film, and I looked it up intending to watch it again. What came as a surprise is that writer and producer David Brind and director Adam Salky have done something unprecedented. They’ve brought back the very same cast and creative team from the original short film 15 years later for The Dare Project, a continuation of Ben and Johnny’s story. Yes, I am behind the times on this, since The Dare Projectwas released in 2018. I’m not sure how I missed this news. Once I saw that there was a sequel, I knew I had to watch it, and I did. Usually, sequels come far short of the original, this is not the case. It was just as good as the original.
Writer and producer David Brind describes best why this movie made such an impression on most people who saw it. “When I first wrote the Dare short in film school in 2003, I had no fucking clue what I was doing,” said Brind. “My professor told me to write from the heart and the gut. So, I wrote about ‘Johnny.’ Everyone in the world has their own ‘Johnny,’ the elusive one that seemed untouchable, that made you feel so intensely you thought you would die. ‘Johnny’ existed for me.” There is more to that quote, but it gives too much away of the original short film, and I think would ruin it if you haven’t seen Dare yet. Like Brind, I had my “Johnny,” but we never had an experience anything like in the film.
Brind said that after understanding the fan base that the original Dare had developed over the years, he decided to try and continue the story he had begun. “Fifteen years later, I decided to revisit this world with The Dare Project,” Brind added. “Our legions of fans—13.5M views on YouTube while being suppressed from search by them, but that’s another story—demanded a sequel. They wrote Instagram messages. Like Jack from a small village in Ireland. Jack is 17. He’s gay. He’s suicidal. He wrote to tell me that he watches Dare over and over when he’s feeling like he doesn’t want to live. Because it brings him hope. And that’s more worthwhile than any Netflix or HBO deal could ever bring me.”
After fifteen years, Brind made the decision to try and put together a sequel. In The Dare Project, Ben and Johnny, now in their early 30s fortuitously run into each other at a party in Los Angeles after not seeing each other since high school. Of the sequel, Brind added, “Ben isn’t 17 anymore. And he’s a lot more like me now. He’s good at what he does. He’s successful in his way. He’s more confident. He’s out. But he’s still been unable to find intimacy in a real way. A real and constant struggle for LGBTQ people, especially in the age of Grindr (which is in the new film) and Instagram ‘influencers’ aka hot guys in underwear.”
“Johnny isn’t 17 either,” Brind continued. “And he’s no longer the arrogant bad boy of high school hallways. Life has gotten more complex. And when Ben and Johnny meet for the first time since high school, they talk about it all. And of course, they get back in the pool…”
There also seems to be an expanded full length 2009 version of the original short film. The feature-length version, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, stars Emmy Rossum in a story about how “three very different teenagers discover that, even in the safe world of a suburban prep school, no one is who she or he appears to be.” The film has been described as a cross between Pretty in Pink and Cruel Intentions. While I have always liked Cruel Intentions, possibly only for the pool scene with Ryan Phillippe, I watched the trailer for the feature length version of Dare, and I have no interest in seeing it. However, to add a little to The Dare Project’s ending, there was a “video call” between Ben and Johnny at the beginning of the pandemic, that is, in its own way, just as sweet as the previous versions:
To watch The Dare Project, it is available on Vimeo on Demand. There is the option to rent The Dare Project at a cost of $2.99 for 48-hour streaming period or buy it for $5.99 to stream and download to watch anytime. The $2.99 was worth every penny. I think Dare will always hold a special place in my wide variety of gay cinematic experiences. It is thirty-four minutes I will never forget, and I hope you will enjoy it as well.