Australian surfer boys — need I say more? Well, yes, actually. Filming surfers in action is an incredible challenge, because the camera operator has to be out in the water, right alongside his or her subjects. The surf photography in Newcastle is top-notch, enough to make me hop on a surfboard for the second time in my life. The central characters are a trio of brothers. Vincent, the oldest, was rising in the world of competitive surfing when an accident sidelined him; he takes out his bitterness and frustration on his two younger brothers, his creepiness softened only a bit at the end of the story. Jesse and Fergus are fraternal twins and near polar opposites. Jesse is a natural athlete, torn between his love of surfing and the feeling of being overshadowed by his brother, and hitting on the bikini babes in his free time. Fergus (a.k.a. "Faggus"), on the other hand, is an introvert with a bit of a goth sensibility — black fingernails, black and purple hair, and an all-black wardrobe counterpointed only by his really spiffy accessories. He develops a sudden, out-of-nowhere interest in surfing one day when he sees one of Jesse's buddies at the door. Jesse winds up having to take Fergus along on a weekend camping and surfing trip in order to get past Mom's well-placed misgivings about the real object of the excursion. The others mock him, but Fergus holds his ground and the other boys soon occupy themselves with other matters, like which of the four straight boys will pair off with the two girls.
The bottom line, as the director noted in the Q&A at the screening, is that Newcastle isn't so much a gay film as a surfer film with a gay character, striking a careful balance of being gay enough for a gay film festival audience — and you can be damned sure gay outlets like Wolfe Video will carry the DVD when it comes out — but not so gay as to scare away a significant straight audience, especially surfing fans. It works as a surfer movie, it works as a coming-of-age family drama, it works as a deftly worked gay subplot, and it has plenty of eye candy, both in the positively tubular surf scenes and in the rest of it. An excellent choice for InsideOut's "Centrepiece Gala" slot. MUST SEE.
Newcastle, dir. Dan Castle, Australia 2008, 95 min. 35mm
Technorati tags: Newcastle, Surfing Movies, InsideOut, Toronto, LGBT Film