Boys is a sweet movie about teenaged boys who run a lot and kiss sometimes, and that’s alright, although I’m not familiar with the legal aspect of things. It’s the sort of movie that’s shot in a way that makes you think “teenaged boys kissing is alright in my book!” and then you think, “I hope no one heard me say that!” and you check your windows.
That’s glib. The 2014 Boys (not to be confused with the 1996 Boys where Winona Ryder stole a bunch of cars and killed a guy, possibly the single most empowering female role in film history) is a coming-of-age story, known to the pretentious as a bildungsroman. It was directed for Dutch television by Mischa Kamp, who IMDb informs me is best known for the extremely European-sounding children’s films Winky’s Horse (2005) and Where is Winky’s Horse? (2007).
It’s a Dutch-language movie, which puts me in mind of my day job localizing manuals for German factory equipment. To my pleasant surprise, not a once are electric heating elements mentioned, nor are scroll compressors, feeding loaders, in-seam hoppers, or Gaylord tilters. Mostly the cast discusses boys, girls, sports, and family, all subjects with which I have significantly less experience. I’m told they’re more accessible subjects for art, but that hasn’t stopped Doubleday from publishing my upcoming collection of sonnets, User Guide for Guntren Electric Factory Cooling Systems (PF Models).
Boys is about a 15-year-old named Sieger, played by Gijs Blom, getting equal practice on-camera with sprinting and yearning. He sprints on the national relay team but this kid could yearn for the American pro yearning leagues, I tells ya. He wastes his considerable talent for the thousand-yard stare on fellow runner Marc, played by Ko Zandvliet, whom he rapidly falls deeply in love with, although for appearances they continue to hang out with girls while they try to figure out this whole gay thing. I’d be lying if I said the women in this film had any depth of character, but, you know.
Though the film is subtitled, I question some translations, which skew toward clinical accuracy rather than characterization. The first kiss scene of the movie seems to be concluded with a character saying the Dutch equivalent of “No homo!” – short, direct, even uses the word “homo,” slang which I did not realize crossed national borders – but the subtitle reads, “I’m not gay or anything.” I guess that’s a perfectly valid way to bring across the line, but speaking as someone who frequently punctuates her kisses with whispers of “no homo” because I’m an obnoxious asshole, I feel poorly served.
But back to the athletic boys kissing. I want to single out for praise the sound mixing of the film, which provides just the appropriate softness to the sound of each kiss. These are kisses you could and should use as sound effects on your phone so every time you get a text message you think of soft kisses.
There’s a lot of fun stuff in this movie! A scene at a restaurant concludes with one of the funniest shots of all time, where a couple kisses in the foreground and in the background a man tosses out his tray of food, sees the couple, and just sort of looks at his feet, embarrassed to have intruded. And the movie doesn’t even acknowledge it; the focus of the scene is on the couple. It’s a very deadpan way to deliver one of the biggest laughs I’ve had in weeks.
Another amazing scene in the movie involves a really clever and effective use of the song You Are My Sunshine, sung in English. It’s already a depressing song, but sung at a group outing from one lover to another, surrounded by people they’re certain must never learn about their love “hit me right in the feels,” as I believe the kids of today would say. This scene was “on fleek.” I found it “cowabunga dudes.”
The casting for the protagonist’s Dad is one of my favorite aspects of the movie, if only because it helps me brainstorm for my “Paul Giamatti is your father and also Dutch” ASMR video. The Dad, widowed and afraid of losing his sons, has some amazing lines, including a running gripe to the effect of, “These damn kids and their mopeds,” a complaint that could only be leveled in Europe. He’s a good movie Dad, joining the likes of Mufasa and Darth Vader for his impact on the film’s emotional story.
The movie has a strange habit of showing the passage of time by jump-cutting within the same shot – you know, people jump in the air, the movie will skip several frames and suddenly they’ve landed. It puts me in mind of how bad children’s TV shows would show something magically appearing by turning off the camera, moving the thing into shot, and then rolling camera, hoping the children wouldn’t notice that everyone’s moved a little.
(An unexpected, yet tragic, side effect of this tradition is even magicians in children’s TV rarely wear capes anymore, as the billowing makes it ever more jarring when something “magically” appears through the magic of cinema. Bring back capes, I say! You’re not fooling anyone anyway, don’t worry about costuming.)
The effect in Boys, to be fair, is not quite as pathetic – no one is summoning rabbits, for a start. It’s not a question of suspension of disbelief, it’s just a jarring attempt at experimentation, like many other media portrayals of teenaged boys kissing. Anyway, I bring this up here so that you do not, as I did, rewind your DVD multiple times to check whether the disk was skipping.
The casting directors, as far as I noticed, seemed to go exclusively with white actors, even for extras. Maybe this is demographically accurate for the Netherlands, but I note this just in case it matters to you. My high school was very racially diverse, by the numbers – if I see too many white people I get very anxious and feel as though I’ve walked into the wrong classroom. I spent the whole film watching the clock and wondering why Mrs. Hillman didn’t call my name for roll.
So I’m of two minds. On one hand I want to bitch about this being yet another film about white cisgender (I mean, as far as I know) gay boys and their problems, but on the other hand, it’s not like those aren’t problems worth discussing, and it’s not like institutionalized homophobia didn’t force several decades of such films to hide their gay elements in subtext, as in Casablanca. I don’t want to minimize the importance of making the queer community more welcoming to people who don’t match the Dan Savage-approved whitebread image, but I also have faith in you as an adult to make the educated viewing choices that are best for you.
Anyway, all this elides my main objection to this film, which you do deserve to hear about:
As far as I can tell, this movie is part of a conspiracy by Big Fun to talk up those claw-grabber games where you pay two dollars to fail to get a badly made stuffed animal you didn’t want in the first place. These circuses of disappointment are made to look so enjoyable in this film. The hedgehog they win looks so cute. These are lies on every level, my friend.
Be not fooled. In those machines lurks only failure and resentment – you resent the machine for screwing you out of two bucks, your best girl resents you for not being able to win the promotional Shrek doll she wanted, your mom resents you for wasting time at the claw-grabber game and also for making her drive you and your date to the bowling alley when you’re 24 years old you utter waste of
Boys is available from Wolfe Video on DVD or streaming.
Abby Denton is a very confused comedian who’s available via Twitter @mizabitha.
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