Sassy, sappy, and warm as November in L.A., the super-mellow comedy Punks is propelled by writer-director Patrik-Ian Polk's impressive desire to accurately portray gay African American life on film. If he leans too heavily on cliché and sidesteps irony and insight in the process, Polk at least has something new to show, if not exactly say.
Shy West Hollywood photographer Marcus (baby-faced Seth Gilliam, from HBO's Oz) pines quietly for the perfect man, while his club-hopping friends Hill (Dwight Ewell), Chris (trannie diva Jazzmun), and Dante (Renolay Santiago)who generally plank anyone who comes within 20 feet of themwork to bring him out of his self-imposed shell. Marcus, who considers handjobs high-risk behavior, is smitten by his new next-door neighbor, Darby (Rockmond Dunbar), a fleetingly hetero record producer who hangs with the fellas despite the resentment of his girlfriend (Vanessa Williams, who works her five or six lines for all they're worth). She clears out of the picture soon enough so that Marcus and Darby can hook up, which they do only after Marcus's pals and a motherly health clinic counselor (played by butter-voiced Loretta Devine) cajole him into just being himself. He takes their advice, and nirvana descends upon Boys' Town.
Thanks to an uninhibited screenplay and the easy, unforced chemistry of its ensemble cast, Punks is mostly good, snappy fun. That said, the senses can take only so many bitchy confrontations and gushy reconciliations in one sitting; after almost two hours, you're right there with Dante when he declares "Thank God for brevity!" near (but not near enough) the film's conclusion. Polk more than makes up for this with his uncommonly fluid camerawork and solid pacing, and he's an assured pop ethnographer to boot. Should he choose to work with less wispy but no less committed material, his next project may be worth looking forward to.
New York Comedy Film Festival
November 6 through 10
Irving Plaza and Anthology Film Archives
I keep hearing about the restorative powers of humor (usually from desperate-looking comics on TV), so you'd think that the lineup at the New York Comedy Film Festival would help take our minds off the world's woes. Alas, the entries available for preview only made me more depressed.
The program's 11 shot-on-DV shorts, among them Janeane Garofalo's tossed-off Housekeeping and SNLer Rachel Dratch's cloying The Vagina Monologues Monologues, are at least mercifully brief. The features, like Vlas Parlapanides's soporific Everything for a Reason (whose lovelorn yuppies are funny in roughly the same way that comatose strangers might be), fall almost exclusively in the featherweight rom-com camp. HBO sponsors the festival, so maybe expecting more than creeping sitcom-ism and faux-risqué relationship humor is foolish. But the country's at war, for chrissakes; couldn't they do any better than this? Come back, Bob Hopeall is forgiven!
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