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""Defying Gravity" is an earnest, heart-felt movie. While its edges are rough, both in terms of the performances and the filmmaking, it's these rough edges that actually make the movie feel more real in a way that polished Hollywood acting and production values would undermine. One could complain that it is yet another coming out story, and in many ways it is, but it's an effective one.Griff (Daniel Chilson) is a college student who lives in a frat house with your typical college guys. Everyone is assumed to be straight, and the majority of brothers are. Griff wants to belong, but as a young gay man, he feels a certain amount of isolation. Because of his wanting to fit in, he remains in the closet despite the efforts of his boyfriend Pete (Don Handfield) to help him come to terms with his identity. Finally, a crisis forces Griff to take a stand for himself and for Pete. Yes, anyone who has seen more than a few gay-themed movies or TV shows will have seen this plot. But it is handled in such an honest and affecting way that you will forgive it.What sets this movie apart are the character relationships. Griff's interesting relationships with best friend Todd (Niklaus Lange), with Todd's girlfriend Heather (Leslie Tesh), with fellow student Denetra (Linna Carter), and with Pete's father (sorry, I don't recall the actor's name) are what helps us to forgive the cliched elements of the plot. Of particular note are the relationships with Todd and with Pete's father. Their reactions to Griff's relationship with Pete are not what you have come to expect from coming out films. It makes for a refreshing change of pace, and writer/director John Keitel deserves credit for putting new spins on these stock characters.The acting never really rises above college drama student level, but that works for a movie about college students. Chilson, Lange, Tesh, and Carter all act earnestly and come across as believable college kids in ways that technically-trained performers might not.I do wish that the DVD had more to offer. The film is in 1.33:1 ration. I don't know if it has been panned and scanned, a matte removed, or originally shot for a TV screen. There is no commentary track. I would like to hear Keitel talk about the choices he made as writer and director. There is a "pictorial" soundtrack, meaning that the song's from the film can be accessed and played like a CD while images from the are played like a slideshow. As there were a couple songs that I particularly liked, I appreciated this feature and found myself wishing other films did the same thing.Overall, it's a solid film and one that I have found myself watching several times. I recommend it to people who enjoyed "Get Real", "Edge of Seventeen", "trick", "Broadway Damage", and "Torch Song Trilogy.""
An Important Contemporary Film
Daniel J. Maloney | Saint Paul, MN United States | 06/02/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
""Defying Gravity" is a touching drama centered around two college fraternity brothers, Griff and Pete. In the midst of raging hormones, constant partying and the girls who hang out, the two become lovers.Pete has a much more developed sense of himself and realizes his environment doesn't exactly match his emerging sexuality. He moves out of the frat house in order to be true to himself, to his emerging sexual identity.Early in 'Gravity', it becomes pretty evident that beyond their friendship and sexual attraction, the two boys are at very different places as far as addressing the reality of who they are.After each encounter with Pete, Griff redoubles his efforts at seeking out girls for dates. He works hard at convincing himself that what he has with Pete is "just sex" and that he's not gay. Yet, it's apparent that he isn't concentrating on his schoolwork with any success and that somewhere inside himself, he is indeed in conflict and is becoming increasingly aware of his true sexuality. Despite his efforts with women, Griff's attraction to Pete is transparent.In the meantime, Pete's doing well in school and making friends at the local gay coffeehouse. He's actively working toward having his life match his identity. Pete clearly loves Griff and would like more of a commitment from him.Following an argument between the two at the coffeehouse, Pete is critically injured and ends up in a coma after he is the victim of a gay bashing. Griff feels terrible about what happened but is so afraid of the personal implications, that he stays away. He doesn't tell the police that he and Pete were together just before the beating, or that they argued or that he saw a suspicious truck at the time Pete was leaving. Yet, he doesn't do well in denial either. He grows depressed and withdrawn. He is paralyzed by his abandonment of Pete and his own internal struggle with his sexuality. Todd, a fellow fraternity brother and friend of both boys, won't let Griff get lost in himself. He spends time with him, offers his help, encourages him to speak. Pete is reluctant. He fears losing Todd the second he lets him know what's on his mind. Griff comes clean. When he is finally able to say that he loves Pete more than anything else he is sure about in life, Todd immediately hugs him. His support for Griff is automatic and unconditional. Todd helps Griff begin to undo some of his betrayal of Pete. He goes with him to file a police report on the suspicious vehicle and takes him to the hospital to visit the still unconscious Pete.Life at the frat house takes an immediate turn for the worse in Griff's discovery that guys in his own fraternity are responsible for beating up Pete. They are arrested, but nothing can be the same for Griff. He can't continue hiding who he is, and he knows he has to move out of the house in order to get honest with himself. Griff's major breakthrough happens quickly after this realization. He moves into Pete's house, even though Pete is still in the hospital, and he starts to begin to spend time at the gay coffeehouse.When Pete finally comes out of the coma, Griff apologizes for his abandonment and cowardice. Pete is reluctant to believe that Griff has changed. Yet, Griff, no longer sitting on the fence, makes his love absolutely clear to Pete. He acknowledges that coming out is scary. He tells Pete he's going to need a lot of help along the way. He Pete for his help."Defying Gravity" ends on the most hopeful of notes. We fully expect Pete and Griff to make a go at being an openly gay couple. While on one level, Gravity may sound like the same old story of boy denying - boy coming to terms with his sexuality, yet, this simple and beautiful film does an excellent job in depicting the challenges of discovering oneself gay in a very straight world.Writer and director, John Keitel has created a compelling contemporary story. He does well in being faithful to presenting a film that conveys the essence of this story, keeping the lurid or sensational deliberately spare. The film can be shown in a multitude of settings for entertainment and educational purposes. The college fraternity setting is quite believable for the story being told. Getting honest with oneself about being gay in an all-male, extremely heterosexual, and highly homophobic environment is a daunting challenge. The major players each courageously come to terms with themselves, and do a fine job in their portraits.Pete, played by actor Don Handfield, is out of the action for much of the film. However early on, he manages to convey his character as a likeable and courageous young man struggling through a very difficult passage in his life.Dan Chilson has the challenge of playing Griff and he does it well. We first meet a boy who is fearful and dishonest with himself. His character grows up through the film and Chilson convincingly evidences this transformation. The most outstanding acting in the film is in the character of Todd, Griff and Pete's good friend. The role is played by Niklaus Lange. Lange has the looks and bearing to play the hulking heterosexual, all-American boy-next-door. He gives us a sensitive and empathic performance in the role of Todd. Defying Gravity is enjoyable entertainment. It deals with serious issues with tremendous sensitivity and realism. I hope this film is shown in homes, high schools and frat houses throughout the country. It can be a platform for lots of values clarification, and hopefully some changed minds in those who see it.Highly recommended!"
Thoughtful, touching, wonderful!
W. Oliver | Alabama | 07/24/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This film was a pleasant surprise. It was made on a low budget (so you have to excuse the poor audio at times) but the acting and sheer honesty of the script make up for all that. Griff (Daniel Chilson) is a member of a rowdy group of frat boys who is secretly having an affair with another guy named Pete. Griff shuns any suggestions from Pete about having a true relationship until Pete is the victim of a brutal gay bashing. As Pete lies in a coma, Griff re-examines his feelings and slowly begins to come out. The film examines lots of issues including friendship and homophobia. But most of all, it is a touching gay love story. There are some extraordinary "quiet" moments in this film such as a night drive out into the wilderness between Griff and his best friend (who is not gay). These scenes convey strong emotions with very little dialog. Again, the audio does seem weak at times, but I found nothing wrong with the photography or the acting, and Daniel Chilson should have a bright acting future ahead of him."
'Coming out' drama has its heart in the right place
Libretio | 08/01/2000
(3 out of 5 stars)
(USA - 1997)
Aspect ratio: 1.37:1 Theatrical soundtrack: Mono
Closeted frat boy Griff (Daniel Chilson) is forced to come to terms with his sexuality when his boyfriend (Don Handfield) is the victim of a violent assault. Writer-director John Keitel's debut feature is an earnest, likeable portrait of campus life where conformity is the norm and gay students are implicitly discouraged from finding their true identity. However, the underwritten script stumbles badly over a number of crucial scenes, which means the intended dramatic sparks never really ignite, and the performances are merely OK. That said, characters are sympathetic and the narrative still has a lot of social relevance. Ultimately, the film's heart is in the right place and it works on its own modest level. "
Great Gay Film That Even Straight Audiences Will Love!
Libretio | 04/22/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"WOW! This is one of the Best Gay Films That I have ever seen. Very thougthful and subtle film that doesnt beat you over the head like alot of Gay Themed Movies! Doesnt have any of the Stereotypical "Swishy" characters that you usually see in gay films! Story is about two guys from a college frat who fall for each other! When the one is gay bashed, the other doesnt want to come forward with information for fear of being outed! The Lead Actors in this film all all unknowns but that wont last for long because the acting is top notch and you can really feel the various emotions that the characters are going through! This Film really sets itself apart from other gay films in so many ways but the most surpising way is that there is only one brief tastefully done sex scene and even that scene doesnt show anything. Dont let that description turn you off though because this one scene proves that you dont have to show various body parts in order to get an eroticly charged scene! This is such a well made film that after I viewed the video, I went straight(no pun intended)to amazon and order the DVD. This is a film that I believe cna actually cross over to the straight audience being that all the characters act straight! Very Touching Film about Love, Friendship, Acceptance and most of all, getting ones priorities in order! Do yourself a favor and watch this Gem!"