In suburban high schools, the G.B.F. (or Gay Best Friend, for those not up on the vernacular) is the hot new thing. The only problem for the students in G.B.F.? There are no gay students at the school—at least not openly gay. But Brent Van Camp (Paul Iacono) plans to change all that by coming out and using the most popular girls in school to launch him to the top as Prom King. What ensues is a pop culture-infused meta comedy with Game of Thrones manipulation.
The high school is run by three very different yet equally popular (and, of course, powerful) girls. ‘Shley (Andrea Bowen), short for Ashley, is a fiery redhead with a passion for her Mormon beliefs. Her goody-goody gang of prep students are appalled that ‘Shley thinks gays should be befriended, but that won’t stop this determined girl. Heading up the clique full of drama students and minorities is sassy Caprice (Xosha Roquemore). She just wants a gay friend to put on musicals with and help bring some diversity to prom royalty with her. Lastly, there’s blond and beautiful Fawcett (Sasha Pieterse—embodying her Pretty Little Liars persona), who only wants someone she can open up to without fear of being stabbed in the back.
As thirsty as these are for their very own gay, it’s the G.S.A. (Gay Straight Alliance) that most wants an out student they can prop up and fight for. G.S.A. leader Soledad (Joanna “Jo-Jo” Levesque) is so desperate for a gay she hunts one down on a faux-Grindr app. Yet it isn’t eager Brent whom she outs at the school but his hapless sidekick Tanner (Michael J. Willett)—a hoodie-wearing comic geek gay who is one makeover montage away from looking like hot stuff. Through a series of mishaps, Tanner, perfectly comfortable hiding in the background, becomes the most popular person (accessory? prop?) in the school, with everyone vying for the right to call him their very own GBF—except his own best friend, from whom he becomes estranged.
From there, writer George Northy takes us on a roller coaster ride of high school film clichés—but in the best possible way. Bouncing between a never-ending series of pop culture allusions and biting—frequently self-aware—quips (reminiscent of those Eating Out films) is a high-speed plot of duplicity and friendship.
Tanner is forced to accelerate his homosexual maturation as the girls try to pigeonhole him into a stereotype. Whether for nefarious or noble purposes, these characters have pre-conceived notions of what a gay guy should be and try to foist that onto Tanner. But as Tanner—and everyone else—inevitably must learn is that he just needs to be true to himself. This is a high school film after all.
G.B.F is at times grating, but it has enough charm to make up for it. Director Darren Stein keeps the mood lighthearted (more so than his other cult hit film Jawbreaker) yet incisive. He’s also populated the film with familiar adult actors (to round out the already great teen cast). Megan Mullally gives a moving (and hilarious) performance as Brent’s super supportive mother. Jawbreaker alum Rebecca Gayheart pops up as Tanner’s stepmom. Plus there are random appearances by American Pie’s Natasha Lyonne, Weekend at Bernie’s Jonathan Silverman, and SNL vet Horatio Sanz. Not to mention a stellar soundtrack that includes Tegan and Sara’s “Closer” and Ellie Goulding’s “Anything Can Happen.”
With so few LGBT-themed narratives at the Tribeca Film Festival this year (the others are Floating Skyscrapers and Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?), this is the standout one. It’s got a broad audience appeal and enough campy fun to warrant repeat viewing. But what makes it stand out the most is that Stein brilliantly centers the film around Tanner and Brent’s relationship. Their close relationship is tested, and their sexual yearnings—for each other, for someone—provide some great tension. They’re the true heart of the film, and the true reason you should see it.