Zachary Haines ’14
“Geography Club” played at Cinestudio this week as part of the lineup for the annual EROS Film Festival. The Entin brothers, Gary and Edmund, adapted the 2003 novel by Bret Hartinger, in which gay teens find themselves struggling to find acceptance in their high school. The film opens with Russell Middlebrook’s (Cameron Deane Stewart) attempt to meet a clandestine hookup in a local park; instead, he runs into Kevin (Justin Deeley), his school’s star football player. Terrified of having his intentions uncovered, Russell flees. It is clear that in this cookie-cutter suburban neighborhood, the gay community must operate covertly or risk social ostracism.
On a school fieldtrip, the two become closer as Russell begins to help Kevin with his science homework. However, it soon becomes evident that the two harbor much more than feelings of friendship for one another. When they finally kiss, they are horrified to discover that their classmate Min (Ally Maki) has seen. They return to school petrified that she will reveal their secret and shatter their illusion of heterosexuality.
However, Min has a secret of her own: she too is gay, and, with a handful of classmates, has formed a secret support group under the guise of the “Geography Club.” She invites Russell to join, offering a safe place to confide in his peers without fear of judgment. At the same time, Kevin convinces Russell to join the football team, immersing him a community that is anything but accepting of the crowd they have deemed “different.”
As if Russell couldn’t get more confused, he is also pressured by his best friend Gunnar (Andrew Caldwell) to go on a date with one of the high school’s tween starlets, Trish (Meaghan Martin). Straddling two social extremes, Russell attempts to maintain the façade of straight football player while still secretly dating Kevin and attending meetings of the Geography Club.
Russell’s breaking point comes when he is compelled by his teammates to do harm to one of his fellow Geography Club members. He begins to feel that he can no longer stay silent; unfortunately, the rest of the Geography Club members are not on board: none of them trust that their revelation will be well received by their peers, none of them are ready to sacrifice their chances of “fitting in.”
On top of all this, Russell cannot convince Kevin to take a stand with him. Their relationship is put under immense strain as Russell becomes fed up with secrecy, yet Kevin believes it to be vital to his existence. Russell is to make the difficult choice that many high schoolers in his position have been faced with before: whether to bend to social pressures or take the risk of making his true self known.
“Geography Club” is no feat of art cinema: admittedly, it is incredibly corny and formulaic. It comes across exactly like your average teen movie, which, in a way is its genius. This is exactly the kind of movie that needs to draw in a large teen audience. It is so important for young people to internalize the film’s message: that there will always be a greater pay off in being yourself than in conforming to supposed “norms.” As someone with teenage siblings, I feel as though I am acutely aware of the importance of this sentiment. Obviously, this is not specific to gay teens, but anyone who has ever felt marginalize or outcast by their peers, which is something that the film does an excellent job of addressing. I would love to see “Geography Club” reach a wide audience of young people: I believe that a drama that promotes self-acceptance in such a communicative, accessible way is longer overdue, especially for the young audience that needs it most.