The latest feature film by writer director Patrik-Ian Polk is a film about Black gay men, for Black gay men – no apologies. Then again, why should there be. Far too infrequently, filmgoers have to be satisfied with the same stories, the same characters, the same situations; not because everyone loves the same things oh so much, but primarily because there is so little to choice from in terms of speaking directly to a niche audience. Well, Polk does exactly that in his latest film The Skinny. And judging by the wild and warm reaction it received during a screening at Outfest Fusion in Los Angeles, he is giving his audience exactly what they want.
The Skinny introduces us to Magnus (Jussie Smollett) a New York medical student living in his parents loft. With new boyfriend Ryan (Dustin Ross) in-tow, he hosts a reunion weekend with four other friends from his college days at Brown. English born Langston (Shanika Warren-Markland) has an unabashed interest in women, but no lesbian game; so she is relegated to being a spectator. Joey (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman), is a conscious, fashion forward Black man who is also trapped in a life of mediocrity in Atlanta, with no man and no real means of escape. On the opposite extreme is Kyle (Anthony Burrell), your friendly neighborhood man-whore (I say it with love) who has one priority and not too many other cares in the world, expect his tight circled of college friends. Unfortunately, that latter priority is quite fluid. The baby of the bunch, Sebastian (Blake Young-Fountain) has been globetrotting, trying to find himself. But this weekend, his sights are set on losing his virginity to Kyle, despite everyone’s objections and Kyle’s complete oblivion to Seb’s crush.
Things get off to a rocky start when Kyle’s nightly online hook-up search turns up an invitation to a sex party – from Magnus’ new beau Ryan. When Magnus confronts at the sex party, Ryan professes his innocent, despite being caught with his pants down. Magnus thought he had found the one, but ends up having to deal with this new heartbreak. He must spend the rest of the reunion weekend grappling with whether he can believe or forgive Ryan’s deception.
As the weekend progresses, Magnus, Langston and Joey all give Sebastian pointers on how to have the perfect seduction and sexual experience with unsuspecting Kyle. What they never anticipated was Kyle leaving Seb alone in a club, high as a kite, with no one to watch his back.
Joey and Langston lament their singleness over cocktails and cruising, both seemingly unable to find someone themselves. And all the while, a smokin’ hot go-go dancer and beautiful bartender (Jennia Fredrique) at the club they frequent nightly patiently wait for them to figure it out.
The Skinny is a great film that does, upon occasion, creeps into TMI territory. But remember, Patrik did make this film to celebrate and educate about the experience of being a Black gay men. For the rest of us, Polk crafts a beautifully shot film, which is both hilarious and poignant, with a centerpiece message being the power of love, acceptance and enduring friendships. Look for cameo appearances from Polk project alums Wilson Cruz and Darryl Stephens.
The Skinny has been in limited release in select cities, opening wider on April 20, 2012. Director Patrik-Ian Polk is “four-walling” it kids! That means he’s bringing it to you on his own dime, without the support of a distributor, much less a major or mini-studio. If you are tired of seeing more of the same - if the voices and images in the movie theaters have all but become a blur - then support filmmakers and stories that are about something different, something new. And start with The Skinny.