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Mulligans
cast: Dan Payne, Charlie David, Thea Gill, and Derek Baynham

director: Chip Hale

92 minutes (15) 2008
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
TLA DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 4/10
reviewed by Jonathan McCalmont
Oh, TLA Releasing. I thought that we were cool. I thought that we had an understanding. I thought that you were going to release more films like Cholodenko's High Art, and I was going to stop complaining about how your films are little more than formulaic excuses for watching guys take their shirts off and seduce supposedly straight people. What happened? Needless to say, you've let me down. You've let your parents down. You've let the whole school down. But most of all, you've let yourselves down. For shame...

Mulligans is a film that pretty much does what it says on the tin. There's a lot of golf and a lot of people deciding that they want a second chance at life. It is mostly formulaic and very much cut from the same cloth as most of TLA Releasing's back catalogue but it comes closer to redemption than a lot of gay indie films thanks to an occasionally witty script and a director who actually knows what he's doing.

Tyler Davidson (Derek Baynham) is an utter cock. We first encounter him leaning against his sports car bragging to a couple of girls. He's supposed to be a college jock but instead he looks like a microwaved waxwork of Steve Sanders from Beverly Hills 90210 modelled on a series of vague descriptions uttered in blank verse by a blind schizophrenic. Somewhat mystifyingly, Tyler has a friend. A best friend named Chase (Charlie David), whom he decides to take home with him for the summer holidays like a lost puppy or some kind of fungal infection.

Tyler's family are unsettlingly clean-cut. Broad-shouldered dad Nathan (Dan Payne) is supposedly some high-powered something-or-other but he seems to spend most of his time mooching around the golf course while highly-strung wife Stacey (Thea Gill) frets comedically about her eight-year-old daughter Birdie - a) seeing a penis and - b) falling in love with her female tennis coach. Tyler and Chase arrive and for a while, their existence seems idyllic: they attend parties, they flirt with girls, they work an undemanding job and they bask in the unquestioning love and domesticity of a wonderful and supportive family life.

However, all of this clean-cut goodness is up-ended when Chase reveals to Tyler that he is gay. He does this while wearing a sleeveless t-shirt with 'versatile' written on the front. For most people simply wearing that kind of t-shirt would be enough but Tyler needs someone to spell it out for him. Tyler is taken aback and turns to his father for advice on how to deal with this matter and his father responds by promptly having sex with Chase. This leads to much emotional hair-splitting and people storming out of rooms until Nathan and his family come to terms with his sexuality and find a path forward to peaceful coexistence.

While Mulligans is not a bad film, it is not a particularly good one either. Charlie David's script is littered with enough jokes that some of them stick, and Chip Hale knows enough about framing a shot and setting a scene that the film is at least interesting to look at if rather monotonous in its golden warmth. Queer As Folk USA's Thea Gill also does particularly well as a fragile and slightly eccentric woman starting to come apart under the strain of pretending to be the perfect wife. Indeed, Mulligans would be an entertaining film if it were not for the fact that both the drama and the characterisation are unbelievably stilted.

Simply put, the characters are hollow and behave in ways that are simply not believable. For example, Tyler and Chase are close enough that Tyler invites Chase home with him for the entire summer, and yet Tyler does not even suspect that Chase might be gay despite his being quite camp and clearly having no interest in women. Obviously, keeping Chase's sexuality a secret allows his coming out to serve as the catalyst for change and emotional turmoil that supports the second half of the film, but how likely is it in this day and age that a man with no real family ties would attend a campus university and yet feel obliged to keep his sexuality so under wraps that even his best friend thinks that he is straight? And if he did feel so compelled to stay in the closet, why would he suddenly come out while painting a fence? Also improbable is the fact that when Nathan cheats on his wife with Chase, the debate is not about his being a cheating husband but about his having been secretly gay. Also bizarre is the fact that both Nathan and Chase go from being completely in the closet to being completely gay. They are not bi-sexual, or curious, or questioning or so turned on from having watched porn all day that any port looks good in a storm. They are instantly and utterly gay.

The reason why these characters and events come across as unbelievable is because they are obviously just a means to the end of allowing Mulligans to deal with the kinds of issues that have been safely mapped out by dozens of gay indie films before it. Oh, Chase is gay... how will his straight best friend react? Oh, Nathan is secretly gay... does that mean that he never actually loved the woman he married? These are the kinds of questions asked and answered in most gay indie films and to see otherwise promising characters shoe-horned into these kinds of simple-minded moral and psychological quandaries is utterly wretched.

The joy of gay films is that not only is the gay experience different to the straight experience but that the experience sheds lights on parts of our shared human condition that are frequently ignored in mainstream films and dramas. Great gay films such as High Art, Celine Sciamma's Water Lilies, and Jacques Nolot's Before I Forget (2007), sparkle because they show us something real and something new. Their strength comes directly from their specificity. Their characters are believable individuals who face their own challenges and their own motivations. We learn about the characters by watching them as their desires interact with the harsh realities of the world, but it is always their desires and always their worlds.

On the other hand, Mulligans has characters with entirely generic problems. We never learn why it is that Nathan and Chase felt obliged to stay in the closet, we never learn what it is that Nathan got out of living a lie for the best part of two decades, and we never learn why it was that Chase decided to come out to Tyler at that particular time and place. Instead of being real, living and breathing characters, Nathan and Chase are empty place-holders for a simplified and processed view not only of sexuality but of human psychology. They're walking FAQs, providing boiler-plate answers to the kind of simple-minded questions that nobody should require an answer to anymore.

I suspect that the reason for the generic nature of Mulligans is that it is ultimately a film that is primarily concerned with wish-fulfilment. The problems faced by the characters are generic so as to help the audience identify with them and they are simple enough that the idealised lives of the characters are not besmirched by the unhappiness of truth. We can even see wish-fulfilment in the film's bizarre casting decisions. Charlie David is in his late twenties and is clearly way too old to play a college student, while Dan Payne, in his mid-thirties, is way too young to play the father of a college student. The closeness of the ages are all about creating a cute screen couple and evading any nasty moral questions that might arise from someone having sex with their son's best friend. Those kinds of moral questions tend to kill a fantasy stone dead.

Note that I say 'fantasy' and not 'hard on' as, unlike many gay indie films, there's not even enough nudity in Mulligans for it to work as a piece of soft-core pornography, begging the question as to who and what this film is actually for.
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