It's been 10 years since the publication of the young adult novel "Geography Club." In that time, gay teenage suicide hit an all-time high, bullying found its way into cyberspace, and gay marriage became a national debate. And yet, the film dramatization manages to scrub the screen adaptation of the heart and political importance of the novel.
Russell Middlebrook (Cameron Deane Stewart) tries to meet another gay teen from a chat room. Instead, he runs into Kevin Land (Justin Deeley), the school quarterback. On a school trip, they become unlikely friends and share a kiss. When Min (Ally Maki) sees them, she confesses The Geography Club is a secret support group for gay teens. Meanwhile, under pressure from his friend Gunnar (Andrew Caldwell), Russell tries dating Kimberly (Allie Gonino). Under pressure from Kevin, he also joins the football team. Teen angst ensues.
The film lacks the poignancy of the original novel. The book focused on the importance of gay-straight alliances and the courage of accepting yourself. It was driven by the tension of trying to fit in at school, accepting who you are, and is a love story between two teens. The film relies on liking a character with no discernable characteristics, but who has an overwhelming need to go to a good college and a willingness to do whatever people tell him. The "love story" borders on an abusive relationship as Russell must alter himself to be loved and accepted by a boy who will not even be his boyfriend. This is a dangerous message to send to gay teens.
Despite being called "Geography Club," the film barely focuses on its members. Min, Russell's best friend and a major part of the book series, is downgraded to the leader of a club of misfits with no members. Nikki Blonsky of "Hair Spray" and Alex Newell of "Glee," despite their notable credits, get very little screen-time, no character development, and little importance in the story. As evidenced from the movie poster, this "white-washing" looks intentional. Why would a film aimed at the teen market not showcase any of its star names (Blonsky and Newell) in favor of showing in-shape white teenagers and marketing the film like a "90210" retake on "The Breakfast Club."
To add insult to injury, despite the film being about gay self-acceptance, few of the gay teens actually do accept themselves as they are, trying instead to be "normal." There is no attempt to provide a larger message about accepting each other, ending bullying or even a general understanding of the importance of gay-straight alliances. It can be seen as unfair to expect a film to provide gay youth with inspirational portrayals of gay teens accepting themselves in a multicultural environment. However, this film is based on a book that did just that.
"The Geography Club" does demonstrate equality for gay teens... by providing them with a poorly written, ill-conceived film targeted at their demographic. Before seeing this film, check out the original book, which provides more in the way of entertainment, character development and closure for its characters. Then perhaps see the film if only to provide Hollywood with proof that more successful gay fiction should be made into films... and then hope for the best.