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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

DVD Review: Monster Pies

Monster Pies is an absolutely wonderful film about first love and the troubles of growing up, finding one’s place in the world and asserting oneself. It features excellent performances, particularly by the two leads, but also by all of the supporting players. It stars Tristan Barr as Mike and Lucas Linehan as William, two gay teenagers who develop a relationship and learn about themselves through a class assignment on Romeo And Juliet.

The film opens with Mike riding his bicycle to school. He’s late, and the teacher makes him go to the office to get a late pass, which apparently is a regular thing for him. While waiting, a new boy comes out of the office, and the two make eye contact. All of this is set to gorgeous piano music, and is the opening credit sequence.

In class, the teacher holds up a copy of Romeo And Juliet (the Signet Classic edition, for those who are curious). William doesn’t have a copy yet, so the teacher asks Mike to share his. William, at the teacher’s request, then reads aloud from Act I Scene i: “Alas that love, whose view is muffled still.” The shot is from the side, with William in the foreground, but the focus being on Mike who is next to him in the background, looking toward us. It’s a nicely framed shot of the two of them.

The teacher assigns the students a project. In groups of two or three, they must do their own modern interpretations of Romeo And Juliet, which will be due at the end of the semester. It’s nice that Mike doesn’t immediately try to partner up with Will. But all the other kids get other partners, showing Mike as a bit of an outsider. So then Mike asks Will, who is also without a partner, being the new kid. They decide to do their project as a horror film (as Will says, “The only kind that can be so bad but still be good”).

The film does a good job of establishing the two characters’ worlds by cutting back and forth between shots of their individual lives, showing them with their families. Will’s dad thinks he should be working instead of in school, and his mother is in a hospital after suffering a brain injury. She is nearly catatonic. (There is a great shot of Will’s mother alone, after Will and his dad have left.) Mike’s parents are divorced, and his father is upbeat through a bit awkward.

When Mike and Will first get together to work on the project, Mike asks Will what his mom does. Will responds: “She’s just a mom. She doesn’t really do anything.” Of course, Mike at that moment has no idea how accurate that statement is. It’s a humorous line that is (thankfully) not played for laughs.

They decide to use the Wolf Man and Frankenstein as the two characters for their project. It’s interesting that they’ve chosen two men. Will says, “Maybe the Wolf Man wants to share his transformation with Frankenstein, like a way to get closer to him.” Obviously, whether they’re yet aware of it or not, they’re using this project and those characters to speak for themselves. To explore and tell their own true tale through fiction.

Mike plays Frankenstein, which ends up being the Juliet role, and Will plays the Wolf Man, taking on the lines of Romeo. The first scene we see them film is the meeting between the two (which of course includes several kisses). When the film goes to their footage, it is in black and white, to differentiate it, and also to draw parallels to the old Universal horror films, from which they draw their inspiration. It also helps to show how they view themselves, as separate, as outsiders.

The boys begin to get very close (with Mike unintentionally ignoring his only other friend, Jenine). Will even takes Mike to meet his mom. That scene comes a little too quickly, without any dialogue first about this between them to set it up. And they become closer still, Mike seizing a moment to kiss Will.

In class, Mike describes their project: “Our film tells the story of two traditional movie monsters who find love with each other while acting out Romeo And Juliet. Our main characters are Frankenstein, born as a monster but not accepted for being different, and the Wolf Man, trying to overcome his new changes as he enters into the world of the monsters. They’re not out to hurt anybody, though they’re cruelly misjudged and hunted down by the villagers, who fear them.” As he speaks, we see footage of the two of them joyfully fooling around. On “not accepted for being different,” we see a shot of Mike and Will kissing. It might seem obvious, but it really works well.

What I love about this film is that these are believable characters. It’s often tough to portray teenagers accurately without overdramatizing certain elements (especially as teenagers themselves often overdramatize their lives). This film does an excellent job showing that all teens struggle, regardless of sexual orientation (we see Jenine struggling as well). But then it also shows how being gay can make simple rites of passage seem as large obstacles. For example, the simple act of purchasing tickets for the school dance ends up causing a rift in their relationship, as Will does not want to fight that fight. And so they separate just when they seem to need each other most. It’s heartbreaking. And not even Jenine knows that Mike is gay (she clearly has a crush on him).

This film is sweet and humorous and honest. It is a testament to the performances as well as to the writing that we come to care deeply for these characters. When the film began, I did not expect to be crying by the end of it. But there you are.

By the way, the film’s title comes from something Mike and his brother did when they were children. They believed in monsters, and so would make monster pies, so the “monsters would eat them instead of eating us.”

Special Features

The DVD includes several brief deleted scenes, including one late scene with Mike and Jenine which probably should have been left in.

There is also a short film by Lee Galea titled Karmarama, as well as the trailer.

Monster Pies was written and directed by Lee Galea. It was released on DVD on November 12, 2013 through TLA Releasing.

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