Give or take an “FLQ BBQ” tee-shirt, director Bruce LaBruce’s Gerontophilia seems more interested in being arch about controversy than deliberately provocative. Main character Lake (Pier-Gabriel Lajoie) meets and falls in love with Melvyn Peabody (Walter Borden), an 81-year-old man who lives at the assisted living home where he works. The strangest image in the film is a fantasy where Lake imagines himself, lit up by a strobe, licking the sore-infested flesh of Melvyn’s back. It’s a vampiric allusion that seems out of place—perhaps there were supposed to be more fantasy sequences but the rest of them were cut? Possibly because almost every actor in this film takes three times longer than necessary to say lines? Gerontophilia: a master class in the absent-minded pause.
The cue-card listlessness of the dialogue makes it hard to love anything here; the bland story doesn’t help. LaBruce—an underground filmmaker, writer and actor based out of Toronto, most known for transgressing independent cinema by blending it with pornography—has suggested that Gerontophilia is his attempt to reach out to more mainstream audiences; for some reason the way this impulse manifests is that the story of Lake coming to terms with his love for older men closely parallels a fairly typical film dramatization of coming out. Of course coming out stories—even the relatively large amount of stories about men coming out as gay—are still hugely underrepresented in media. With that said, it’s hard not to think that this coming out story was deliberately framed within the beats of a story with which audiences are already somewhat familiar—and to which they know how to respond—to resist ageist reactions. Which isn’t a problem in and of itself; it’s just…everything here becomes formula, and outside of the gerontophilia of it all, LaBruce isn’t adding anything to the narrative. And because Lajoie (the audience surrogate who is supposed to be going through this experience) gives such a bland performance, disinterest sets in long before the film cuts to the political chase about whether or not you think 60 or so years is too large a gap for love to blossom.
The film’s position—that 60 years is not too large a gap, and that Lake is in fact a radical who is subverting outdated social etiquette about age and beauty—is explicitly framed that way by Desiree (Katie Boland), Lake’s girlfriend (or ex, by the time she makes this speech). Other than Borden as Melvyn, Boland’s giving the only really good performance of the film, but she’s doing so despite the fact that her character, or at least the thematic space her character occupies, doesn’t really make sense. Her “revolutionary politics” are played for laughs right up until it suddenly becomes clear that we’re supposed to take her seriously. It’s understandable why LaBruce thinks it’s funny to have Desiree list—and get off on listing—Lizzie Borden, Kim Gordon, Bernardine Dohrn, Angela Davis and Wynonna Ryder as examples of radical women while she’s making out with Lake, as well as why he has her respond to everything with a series of earnest and largely outdated feminist references. What doesn’t add up is why he thought he could get away with this comedy and also have Desiree deliver the morale of the film. Then again, there’s a scene where Desiree gets really excited that her bookstore boss has copies of books by the same three Canadian women all Canadians have to read in high school anyway, as well as a first edition copy of Valerie Solanas’s The SCUM Manifesto, to which she is all, “I’m impressed.” Which she says to a guy played by an actor who is old enough to have purchased a first edition of The SCUM Manifesto.
It’s likely that the point of those Desiree scenes is to further explore the topic of ageism, but they’re also clearly motivated by how dynamic Boland’s performance is; she is given far more screen time, and particularly more screen time apart from Lake, than her character probably merits. Her scenes seem to distract from the main plot, but the fact that they are an incredibly welcome distraction is probably all you need to know. With a stronger actor in the “Lake” role this probably would have been far more enjoyable; as it is, it’s hard to judge this as much more than a PSA for certain audience members: Hey everyone, gerontophilia is a thing that exists.
Director: Bruce LaBruce
Writer: Bruce LaBruce, Daniel Allen Cox
Starring: Walter Borden, Pier-Gabriel Lajoie, Marie-Hélène Thibault, Katie Boland
Release: May 1, 2015
Mark Abraham sometimes teaches history in Toronto, is sometimes an Editor at Cokemachineglow, was at one time the co-founder of The Damper, and is always a Bedazzler aficionado. You can follow him on Twitter.