Main cast: Trevor Wright (Zach), Brad Rowe (Shaun), Tina Holmes (Jeanne), Jackson Wurth (Cody), Ross Thomas (Gabe), and Katie Walder (Tori)
Director: Jonah Markowitz
Shelter made quite a splash when it first came out, winning awards and praises from all over town, so naturally I, as a film connoisseur, only watch it more than a decade later when I stumble upon it while looking for random things to watch. I can see why back then it made ripples: gay cinema tends to be either arty films that are nude fests with obligatory sad endings forced in for that artistic credibility or farcical sex romps. This one aims to be something else: a Hallmark film.
Zach is a short-order cook preparing hams and sausages when all he wants to be is an artist. Alas, he’s stuck in the role as the only sane person in his family: his father is not feeling well, and his sister Jeanne is busy looking for men and having fun, often leaving her son Cody in Zach’s care. Things get interesting when our hero meets Shaun, the brother of his best friend, who is a writer, gay, and develop a mutual attraction for Zach. Alas, Jeanne is a homophobe who also doesn’t want to lose the free nanny for her boy, so she tries to guilt Zach into stop craving after Shaun’s hams and sausages. Will she succeed, or will the power of artistic gay pride triumph over the icky wiles of ickier women?
This story follows many tropes of rainbow-flavored romantic drama. Our protagonist is the whiny, flailing one, while his love interest is the heavy-handed anvil that exists only to lecture Zach about being true to himself while making life-altering decisions for Zach behind his back. The women are thinly-drawn plot devices designed to generate conflict for our brave and true rainbow-colored heroes. That kid Cody is also an obvious plot device designed to first become the source of Zach’s conflict and later an accessory for a conventional “We are family!” happy ending for him and Shaun.
By the way, one is going to be a full-time artist and another is a full-time writer. How are these two going to make ends meet again?
While Shelter isn’t anything out of the ordinary, especially in the present year when it’s far easier to find similar LGBT+ films and fiction that incorporate these tropes just as well if not better. What really kills this movie is its lackadaisical pacing. For far too long and far too much of the movie, it is content to focus on Zach doing small little things, often with a constipated look on his face, as if I were supposed to be into looking at Trevor Wright’s face so much or something. When it’s not doing that, the movie is ramming its heavy-handed “Be the true you, or things will force you to do that anyway!” message right at my face, hence my comparison of it to a Hallmark film. While it is a pleasant, throwaway watch, this movie feels more like a message that happens to a film instead of a film with a message.
Oh, and what happened to Brad Rowe? He started out his career being a heavily-discounted version of Brad Pitt, but by the time this one rolls out, he looks rough. I guess age and disappointments can be tough on one’s looks.
I suppose this movie deserves a kind of footnote for being a Hallmark movie when everything else during its time wanted to be a tragedy or farce. Then again, it says more about the state of rainbow-colored movies of its time that going all Hallmark is considered a standout achievement of some sort.