o very nearly a really good film, Patrik Ian-Polk's third feature, The Skinny, isn't nearly as bad as it sounds on paper.
Five friends - four guys and a dyke (now there's a title for a sitcom) - reunite in the Big Apple a year after college - ostensibly to celebrate gay pride. In reality, we get a bunch of rich kids drinking (lots) and fucking (lots).
By all means celebrate another addition to the canon of black gay cinema. But... four hot, young gay men (and their obligatory female friend) living hedonistic lives in the big city? Is the needle stuck in the groove? It can't even be said, "Oh, but it's black guys this time," because we've already had (the virtually identical) Finding Me and its sequel. It's been done. To death.
(It's worth noting that I saw The Skinny at the London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival, where Leave It On The Floor - a picture about the ballroom scene - was also showing. Now that is an idea. Iconic documenary Paris Is Buring notwithstanding, that is something we haven't seen before.)
The Skinny has many positives, but the script - a confused jumble of half-baked ideas, loosely strung together - isn't one of them. The lesbian character has been shoehorned in not for any narrative reason, but to get more bums on the seats. We get the usual rich/poor love story - between Jussie Smollett's rich college kid Magnus and his (yawn) thug boyfriend - the jumbled exploration of which (the thug goes to sex parties because he had a tough upbringing. Magnus thinks this is Really Sad but can't forgive him) is just baffling. Polk really had something with the male-on-male rape aspect (a neglected subject that deserves thoughtful examination), but it's an idea that's largely discarded with a shrug, and "Next!"
What saves The Skinny is a genuinely charming (and very easy on the eye) cast, including the Bambi-like Blake Young-Fountain (Blueprint), and former child star Jussie Smollett. Despite little help from the script (the characters are Polk's stock cardboard cutouts: the slut, the sensitive one, the bitchy queen, the innocent one) the cast manage to make us care. Look out for cameos from Noah's Arc stars Darryl Stephens and Wilson Cruz, a scene-stealing B. Scott, and a blink-and-you'll-miss-it turn from porn power couple Angyl Valentino and Hotrod.
The Skinny also boasts a sizzling soundtrack (Forever Guy, by Polk himself, has been on repeat all day), and the movie looks amazing. Polk shot his film quickly and with little money, and deserves full credit for pulling it all together. That's the frustrating part: The audience deserves better. The cast deserve better. Most of all, Polk deserves better: as he said himself during the Q&A after the screening, doing everything yourself is exhausting. That's why he should stick to what he's best at - getting a fantastic looking film onto our screens, against all the odds - and leave the script writing to others.
"The Skinny" was screened at the 26th BFI London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival on 1st April 2012.