Bruce LaBruce’s films feel intensely personal. Whether exposing Bruce LaBruce’s fetishes, political leanings, or emotional depths, it feels impossible to separate LaBruce from most of his films. Bruce LaBruce was 48 when making Gerontophilia. He wants to fuck a 20 year old.
Gerontophilia centers around Lake, a young man who discovers he has a fetish for older men. Well, not just older men, but men old enough to be his grandfather. As the film opens, Lake hadn’t yet come to terms with his homosexuality. He has a girlfriend, Desiree. The film opens with Desiree kissing Lake intensely as she rattles off a bunch of radical feminists while perhaps having an orgasm. It’s her list of female revolutionaries. Men not allowed.
Lake’s blossoming sexuality begins with his job as a lifeguard. While placidly monitoring swim classes, he sketches old men floating in a manner that borders romantic and erotic. Suddenly, he’s spurned into action as one geriatric man is floating upside down. Lake rescues him, administrates mouth-to-mouth CPR, and gets an erection. Finally, he’s forced to come to terms with his sexuality.
At home, Lake’s single mother starts dating an administrator at the local nursing home. The administrator is able to get Jake a job as an attendant, starting out with bedpan duty and then upgraded to sponge baths. On the job, he befriends a firey old queen, Melvin Peabody, who is being drugged within an inch of his mind. Secreting away Melvin’s medications, they embark on a relationship that goes well past friendship.
Bruce LaBruce isn’t being his usual provocative self here, but that doesn’t mean that he isn’t provoking. He’s just provoking differently. LaBruce finally has a budget – reportedly $1 million – and finally makes a conventional-feeling film. He isn’t filling Gerontophilia with hardcore pornographic gay sex, as he is wont to do. He isn’t filming with an ultra-low-budget punker-than-thou aesthetic. Instead, LaBruce is challenging what we think about youth, youthful desires, and cradle robbing.
To say there isn’t hardcore sexuality isn’t to say there is no sexuality. LaBruce’s camera leers over both Lake and Melvin’s bodies as objects to be fetishized. Lake is a traditionally beautiful object of male youth, and Melvin is a traditionally attractive man of a certain age. To put them next to each other in such fetishistic manners challenges the current state of media of obsessing over youth as beauty.
Of course, LaBruce spends more time leering over Lake’s body than over Melvin’s body. Lake is frequently shirtless, either in shorts or underwear. But, when the time comes to leer over the older men, LaBruce leers with equal zealousness. By scanning over both bodies, LaBruce implies that all bodies are beautiful, yet he also has the rather naked ulterior motive of bedding young boys as he gets older.
LaBruce has indeed dropped his low-budget look to fashion a film that resembles any number of polished indie films. This new style is somewhat reminiscent of a cross between Winter’s Bone, Short Term 12, and the music video for Cold Star, which is to say it is full of lush cinematography capturing cold imagery. That’s not to say that he completely abandoned his style; he still makes room for very LaBrucian images of blunt symbolism. Lake’s bedroom is adorned with a floor to ceiling image of Gandhi, instantly dwarfing Lake’s psychosexual drama. Even with those captures, Gerontophilia is still the softer side of LaBruse. Even the acting and editing are softer and more viewer-friendly than in his previous efforts. Is LaBruce trying to say that he can make an average movie? Or, is he finally conceding the point that audiences need certain familiar trappings and respond well to movies that could be described as common?
None of the sugar coating truly hides that Gerontophilia is a cliche-ridden work that seems almost to loathe his fans. LaBruce seems to have a certain amount of hatred for Luke’s feminist girlfriend, Desiree. Desiree is all about revolutionary ideas and who and what is a revolutionary, at one point saying that Lake can’t be a revolutionary because he’s a man. Yet, she has her own older man fling with her boss, who just happens to have a bunch of feminist writers on his personal bookshelf, making her all gooey with excitement. Desiree falls for her boss’ “feminist” behaviors, even though his motives are simply to bed her.
If you replace Desiree with a homosexual, then LaBruce seems almost to be pissing all over his fans who see something political in his overtly political movies. LaBruce has been trying to piss off audiences for years. In Gerontophilia, he creates a montage-laden, cliche-ridden movie and places the words of his more ardent fans in the mouth of somebody he has utter contempt for. In a way, he’s testing to see if people actually notice what he’s doing. He’s simultaneously provoking and preventing idolatry.
Gerontophilia is not what you expect from a Bruce LaBruce film. It’s pretty, it’s mannered, it’s measured, and it’s typical. Despite kowtowing to traditional tastes, Gerontophilia still manages to provoke thoughts about sexuality and ageism without being boring.