Eighteen

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Do you remember what it was like to be eighteen?

Writer, director, Richard Bell’s nostalgically titled “Eighteen” is less an exploration of common ground experiences at the milestone age between pubescence and young adulthood as the title suggests, and more a narrative of Pip Anders’ (Paul Anthony) burdened journey.

After witnessing a disturbing act committed against his brother by their father, and that brother’s subsequent death in a car accident, Pip is unable to face his father or to deal with his own guilt. Now living homeless on the streets, he involves himself with gay hustler Clark (Clarence Sponagle), and Jenny (Carly Pope), an aspiring social worker. Both of whom show a strong interest in helping him, but neither of which he trusts initially. Interspersed throughout the main storyline are a series of flashbacks, brought upon when Pip listens to the audio cassette left to him by his grandfather, which relates Jason Anders’ (Brendan Fletcher as young Jason Anders) ordeal at eighteen as a British soldier in the second World War.

Pip’s wit and cunning combined with his perceptive nature and repressed anger often show in the form of cutting remarks or instigative behavior whenever he feels vulnerable or threatened; making viewers question his likeability. Paul Anthony gives an impressive debut performance as a court jester with a back-story.

I’m sure that there must have been some symbolism behind the fact that every scene with Jenny involves a knife or sharp object. At any rate, the camera loves Carly Pope, whose soft features and full brow caress the lens. Though her beauty compared to Paul Anthony’s unconventional looks does make their characters’ pairing less plausible. Even less credulous is Clarence Sponagle as a teen, or even ‘tween.’ His portrayal of a hustler was convincing enough though, right down to the mysterious scar (whether real or painted on), but audiences will undoubtedly be off put by his Shakespearean delivery. Thea Gill (“Queer As Folk”) is lounge singer Hannah, who seduces the much younger, and significantly shorter, blonde bombshell Brendan Fletcher. One can’t help but wish to see a from-the-gut actor like Fletcher in a more contemporary dramatic role. Gill’s spotlight performance might have been more climactic if her dress had been properly fitted, and with makeup that breathed life into her unusually colorless palate. Allen Cumming is almost completely overlookable as Father Chris, the kindhearted listener whose intentions are questioned. Most notable is his passive but firm clarification of fag versus pedophile. Probably the most charming and unexpected performance comes from David Beazely as the adorably chaste Jeff. Here is a clear example of the importance of casting. Where Sponagle doesn’t strike the eye as being particularly youthful, Beazely, who is clearly above the age of eighteen, is enthralling as a young-at-heart virgin looking for love.

The poster and DVD cover for “Eighteen”, featuring the cast in costume, were foreboding signs that Queer Cinema’s current “flashback to yesteryear” trend is a persistent one (e.g. “Brother to Brother”). Bell lulls his audience back to the 1940s with Victorian-voiced narration courtesy of Sir Ian McKellen (voice of older Jason Anders), only to try to impress us (most unsuccessfully) with intense action scenes featuring unseen attackers and blood ad nauseam. Bell’s century swapping is especially distracting because there are two equally absorbing but separate stories, with each only interfering with the progress and totality of the other. Bell’s success in keeping the film middle-of-the-road between gay and straight is questionable. “Eighteen” is most relevant to gay audiences because of Clark’s subplot, and Daniel; Pip’s brother. The brotherly love between young Jason Anders and a wounded soldier alone isn’t enough to completely engage a same gender loving audience–mainly because of the brevity of the scenes.

What also fails in this film is the notion of supposed parallels between the lives of the Anders men. It’s clear that the World War II storyline was weaved into Pip’s story as an expression of Bell’s own admitted reverence for legacy, and to pay homage to his grandfather; a WWII veteran. The two stories together only work because we’re happy to have seen them both, though not necessarily happy to have seen them simultaneously. High reaching cinematography graduates the film to a level beyond amateur Indie point and shoot. I hardly believe that a few gems in an archive of hustler biopics cover wholly the American GLBT experience. “Eighteen” has within it at least three stories of interest. Director Richard Bell chose to combine the three with focus on the heterosexual story. After a little division and addition, and I’m sure he could add two more gems to the archives.

Title: Eighteen
Genre: Drama
Rating: Not Rated
Runtime: 101 min.
TLA Releasing
Grade Scale: C+