Eager to both please and educate, Get Real goes about its business with an earnest tunnel vision that’s almost endearing. But it’s mired in a fantasy that’s become a regrettable staple of gay movies: sensitive, alienated boy falls for ostensibly straight hunk who—swoon—loves back. Beautiful Thing pulled off this wish-fulfilling premise thanks to its crazily romantic streak. Directed by Simon Shore and adapted by Patrick Wilde from his play, Get Real has broader coming-of-age issues on its mind, and clumsier ways of expressing them.
The setting—suburban Basingstoke—is significantly posher than the South London flats of Beautiful Thing, though arguably more stifling. The protagonist, gangly 16-year-old Steven Carter (Ben Silverstone), is smart, reflective, and reasonably self-possessed—he clearly knows his way around a public toilet. (Shore plays a cruising scene for maximum cutesiness, scoring it to the Troggs’ “Love Is All Around.”) Steven’s only confidante is his neighbor, Linda (Charlotte Brittain), who is, predictably, overweight and a source of comic relief. The fun starts when drooled-over jock John (Brad Gorton) turns out to be sexually confused, and open to suggestion: as Steven’s feelings intensify, so do his frustrations at having to keep them private. He writes an anonymous coming-out manifesto, which sets up a very public, cathartic burst of truth-telling—hence the title. Which, in retrospect, makes most sense as an injunction to the well-intentioned but hopelessly glib filmmakers.
Wilde’s script, which has a weakness for mild, snickering double entendres, is notable for its near-total reliance on archetypes. But, to be fair, Steven’s predicament, for all its clichéd trappings, does ultimately feel real, and it’s all down to Silverstone, a talented young actor who can effectively and economically convey surges of overwhelming, paradoxical emotion. It’s as thoughtful and complex a performance as the setup allows, and by far the main reason to see the film.