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Dare-ing to be Different

Only a few more weeks till Reelout 2012, people! So today, a look at a past Reelout gem available in the resource library. Dare directed by Adam Salky and starring familiar faces Emmy Rossum (Phantom of the Opera) and Zach Gilford (Friday Night Lights), is a high school drama with a twist. Winner of numerous awards at Sundance in 2009, the film is based on a short of the same name. It follows three teenagers in their final semester of senior year: Alexa the good-girl drama keener; her social misfit best friend Ben; and Johnny, the mysterious and unattainable bad boy rich kid, who winds up starring opposite Alexa in the school play after his various rebellions land him in drama club.

After Alexa is told by one of her acting idols that she will never be a great actress because she’s too naïve, she sets out to gain practical life experience and overcome her goody–two-shoes image by throwing herself at Johnny. The ensuing romance causes a rift between Emmy and a very jealous Ben, however the twist comes when a late night encounter between Ben and Johnny reveals that it is not Emmy that Ben has feelings for, but Johnny, and that Johnny’s willingness to go along with the strange romantic triangle is caused by his own carefully hidden emotional baggage. What results is a story which breaks free of the cookie cutter high school romance flick, to take an honest look at the complex dynamics of teenage relationships. Ben and Alexa struggle to negotiate their love for each other with their mutual attraction to Johnny, while Johnny perpetuates his romance with both in order not to lose their friendship.

Writer David Brind emphasizes that Dare does not set out to be a specifically “gay film”, but rather an honest look at the way sexuality of all kinds both shapes and is shaped by relationships. Dare brings together three very different people, with very different perspectives, and breaks the mould by wandering into twistier psychological territory than most teen flicks dare. Admittedly the character’s transformations seem a bit abrupt in parts, (Alexa in particular transforms so abruptly and completely that it seems a bit implausible), but solid acting from the leads glosses over hiccups. Zach Gilford does a particularily convincing job with a difficult role, and the affection between Ben and Alexa is warm and real. And of course, all the necessaries of a legitimate teen move are there: the poolside party, the over-enthusiastic drama teacher, the bubbly girlfriend who specializes in caterpillar to butterfly beauty transformations. Salky has created a movie that “dares” to take the old and make it new again.

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About Reelout

We host an 11-day queer film and video festival in Kingston, Canada in January/February each year!

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