WATERCOLORS — ...Or, Pee-Wee's OTHER Big Adventure
Director: David Oliveras
Writer: David Oliveras
Music: Marcelo Cesena, Dorian Rimsin
Actors: Tye Olson, Kyle Clare, Ellie Araiza, Casey Kramer, Ian Rhodes, Greg Louganis, Karen Black
Run Time: 114 mins | Country: USA | Release Date: November 15, 2009 (in Germany)
Best Uses: I can't really think of a good use for this one. Maybe a 'Mystery Science Theater 3000' session with drunken friends?
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In the 1990s I'd go see every LGBTQ-themed movie that opened at the cinemas. I was interested in what sorts of gay-themed movies were being made, and discovered filmmakers like Gregg Araki, Patricia Rozema, and François Ozon that were doing really interesting work. As the years wore on, the Seattle theaters that used to show independent LGBTQ cinema (Broadway Market and The Harvard Exit, mainly) lowered their final curtains, so now I occasionally pick up an LGBTQ film from Scarecrow Video to watch on DVD. Most of these films, sadly, are not very good...but every now and then you find a gem. WATERCOLORS is not one of those gems.
If you're reading this, which you probably aren't...and if you care, which you probably don't...there are going to be "spoilers" in my review...as if the writer/director and whoever came up with the music haven't spoiled the film already.
Here's a quick outline of the plot: The film begins at an art gallery opening...it's one of those indie-movie gallery scenes that just doesn't feel quite right, even though people are standing in the background holding wine glasses and talking without any sound coming out, like they're supposed to. Anyway, we meet the handsome gay artist whose work is on display, which is supposedly everything he has ever wanted. Yet still he sulks. Why? We flash back in time to find out.
In an awkward, far-fetched set-up, Danny (Ty Olson), the gay artist-nerd at the local high school, suddenly gets Carter (Karl Clare), a troubled and angry teen-aged jock-swimmer with pouty lips and Maddie Hayes hair, plopped into his bedroom when Carter's dad goes out of town on business. (Carter's dad met Danny's mom at an AA meeting.) The hot jock-swimmer initially taunts the gay nerd, but soon there develops a secret affair. The gay artist nerd has finally found the meaning of life, but the hot swimmer falls apart (suffering, it would seem, from a total eclipse of the heart. Plus drugs.) Hot swimmer ultimately rejects gay nerd after one night of "passionate sex" by candle-light...and by rain-storm; gay nerd gets beaten up by school bullies; hot swimmer dies; gay nerd lives on, forever tormented, and has an art show.
When we flash forward again to the grown-up Danny (played in present-day scenes by Ian Rhodes) at home after the art show, his hunky new boyfriend, in tacky black satin shorts, declares that it's time for Danny to get over the the dead swimmer from high school. So Danny does, and then he paints on his new lover's naked chest (waxed, I bet) with...WATERCOLORS.
So right from the get-go, in the gallery scene, the dialogue in this film made my face go like: 😬 We see the artist sulking, and then his hunky-but-not-very-interesting boyfriend says something like, "What the fuck is wrong with you? Isn't this everything you've ever wanted? (He motions to the exhibit all around them.) You need to fucking pull yourself together and be professional," or something like that. (The F-word is peppered needlessly throughout the script...usually what writers resort to when intelligent, realistic dialogue eludes them.)
The problems with this film are many, so it's hard to choose where to begin. Let's start with Danny and Carter and their relationship. Regrettably, Tye
Olson plays Danny, the nerd, with just a touch of Pee-Wee Herman. You imagine that his slacks are pulled right up beneath his armpits. It's hard to think of him as a sexual person. Olson,
admittedly, gives his Danny everything he's got as an actor, pulling out all the stops in the scenes of suffering, when he's wailing from the agony of a broken
heart. But audiences may suspect, as I did, that these scenes provide cathartic opportunities for Olson to vent the pent-up anguish he's feeling over having gotten himself mixed up with this movie to begin with.
Danny's scenes with his understanding mother (played by Casey Kramer)
are the film's best, as Kramer is the only one on screen that moves and behaves in a natural, realistic way. Her performance is refreshing.
[ Danny, with Carter's hair ]
The relationship between Carter and Danny is shallow and silly. The audience is first introduced to Carter from behind as he...what. Weeps? Concentrates? Awaits? beneath the steady stream of water from the locker room showers. At this point, with his glistening buns so carefully and delicately lit, we've seen just about everything Carter has to offer in his relationship with Danny and, indeed, just about all he has to offer any of us who are watching this film.
[ Carter's introduction ]
Swimming in pools is a recurring theme here, so we've got to endure the obligatory flirtatiously-splashing-each-other-in-the-pool scene. (Did the filmmakers not once think, "You know, that's been done SO many times before...maybe we actually SHOULDN'T do that") There's also a late-night skinny-dipping
scene, of course.
And then there's the way-over-the-top—like, cow-jumped-over-the-moon—centerpiece lovemaking scene. First of all, the "tender music" is slathered all over it like butter frosting on a cake. The scene may as
well have been set to Handel's "Messiah." There's lots of touching going on here and, admittedly,
some stellar views of Carter's glistening derrière, but when Danny later confesses to his mother that he
and Carter had sex, she asks, "Was it safe?" and I couldn't help but
supply my own dialogue: "Oh, yes, mother! We didn't even see each others'
Have I mentioned that the love scene takes
place in a rainstorm...in Danny's bedroom? This of course makes no sense and only distracts from the scene by raising a host of puzzling questions: How do those candles stay lit in all that rain? Is Danny's alarm-clock waterproof? Was the boys' sexual encounter so incendiary that it set off the house's sprinkler system? Did any of this even really happen, or is it just another one of Danny's wet dreams?
[ Love scene in the bedroom, with a 90% chance of showers ]
Anyway, after the soggy bedroom scene, Carter becomes increasingly paranoid that the other dumb jocks at school will find out about his
relationship with Pee-Wee...I mean Danny. There's a scene in which these same dumb jocks (who all look like they're around 35) approach Danny in an empty lot and gay bash him mercilessly. (The scene is set, for some reason, to action music. Should we be rooting for the beating?) Up to this point the story seems to be set nowhere in particular, but after seeing the torment LGBTQ students endure at this high school, we intuitively feel they must be in rural Colorado, or
maybe somewhere in Arkansas or Oklahoma. But then at the big swim meet (which isn't
even worth going into), we discover that their school is in Los Angeles! (WHAT!!?) Where in L.A. anytime after the year 1975 does anyone give a
hoot about their classmates being gay?
WATERCOLORS features supporting turns by some relatively big names: Olympic medalist Greg Louganis appears as Carter's demanding swim coach, and Karen Black plays Danny's influential high school art teacher. Unfortunately, Louganis is alarmingly unnatural in front of the camera. He's like a deer in headlights. He shouts his lines, then freezes in place, seemingly unsure of what body movement or expression in the face would come next if an actual person had shouted the things he was just instructed to say. At the other end of the spectrum we find Karen Black, who seems to pin her hopes on WATERCOLORS as the last great chance at that Best Supporting Actress Oscar that slipped through her fingers back in 1971.
[ Greg Louganis, frozen ]
Even so, it's great to see Karen Black in an inspiring role, playing the one person who really 'gets' Danny and his art. Well, until that scene toward the end, that is, where Black's character berates the African-American English teacher for holding Carter accountable for plagiarism on his final essay. She scoffs when the English teacher says that letting Carter's cheating slide wouldn't be fair to the others. She then recalls in great detail an incident from the English teacher's distant past (wait...how does she know this? Are they siblings!?) where everyone KNEW he had cheated in his French classes (and then he married his French teacher? But she was 15 years older than he? Or something?), but nobody dared say anything for fear of being called a racist. (WHAT!!?) It seems unlikely that writer/director Oliveras wanted audiences to turn against Danny's formerly admirable art teacher at this point and suddenly find her reprehensible, so we find Oliveras reprehensible instead, since he came up with the unfortunate drivel Karen Black has to deliver in this scene.
[ Karen Black introduces Danny to Caravaggio ]
I'm pretty bummed (no pun intended) that WATERCOLORS isn't a better film. I've tried considering that, when first exploring same-sex relationships in high school, one is likely to cast their pearls before swine. I mean, his perpetually glistening buns aside, Carter really is a prick. He's cruel to Danny in his rejections, yet Danny keeps coming back for more. And Carter is a hot mess. (Just before his demise, we're treated to a manic all-night drug-taking montage where Carter pops pills, snorts coke, pops more pills...I was hoping they'd throw in a midnight cab ride to Chinatown so Carter could visit an opium den!) This sort of athletic disaster probably would hold some fascination for an inexperienced gay high school nerd with artistic tendencies, but do the rest of us have to watch? There's likely a good LGBTQ film out there somewhere that develops these same themes, but with characters who are genuine, interesting, and moving. If Danny had learned anything from his experiences with Carter, that would have helped...but the guy Danny ends up with in the final reel is just another boring, manipulative jock with a mean streak. I bet he's got a nice pair of buns though underneath those shiny black satin shorts.