To start with, let’s dispel the idea that Bruce LaBruce’s Gerontophilia is somehow the “Gay Harold and Maude.” Since there aren’t that many comedies, or dramas for that matter, about the subject of young men romantically linked to senior citizens, I can see why looking for a comparison to the best-known example on film would be natural, but these really aren’t the same film. I guess one can say that in both films a rather distant young man learns about life from an a senior citizen lover so they are loosely equivalent. But I think that the fact that we make such comparisons points to the fact that there aren’t many films out there on the topic. Just because the pairing of Lake (Pier-Gabriel Lajoie) and Mr. Peabody (Walter Borden) happens to be of two men doesn’t diminish or increase the unease we may feel about their relationship. LaBruce isn’t making a “gay” anything here. Instead he’s making a fairly straightforward film about a type of relationship that isn’t often put on film. Unlike Harold and Maude the young male isn’t learning to appreciate life, but trying to understand and act on his desires and learn how to deal with the trials of dating men in their 70s and 80s.
LaBruce is fairly well known as a director of films that are designed to shock with gore and sexual content. Thankfully he puts both on-hold and produces a fairly mainstream film. When the movie opens, Lake is a typical aimless youth with a girlfriend (Katie Boland). He’s been hiding an emerging sexual interest in the elderly from both his girlfriend and his mother, however. An unfortunate incident rescuing an elderly man in his job as a life guard forces him to quit. He is basically living a life of quiet shame that his girlfriend mistakes for saintliness.
All of this changes when his mother gets him a job as an orderly at a nursing home where he is introduced to indignities of aging in the confines of a total institution. This helps transform his interest into sense of purpose and perhaps a feeling that he is after all being a revolutionary protecting the interests and fulfilling the emotional needs of the patients. He is introduced to Mr. Peabody, an elderly gay patient who is suffering from an unknown illness. As an orderly he isn’t privy to information on his medical condition, but his willingness to spend time with the patients may be useful for his care. That social caring crosses the line into dating and a sexual relationship, costing him his job, as well as leading him to “rescue” Mr. Peabody from the home to take one last trip to the ocean.
The movie is in parts funny and poignant and LaBruce clearly isn’t milking the story for shock value alone. He covers such topics the indignities of aging, over-medication and control of competent adults, and the problems inherent in forming relationships with the elderly. It is very low key and when the script raises questions, they aren’t critical ones. Is what we are witnessing revolutionary? Is it against nature? Is it praiseworthy or always to be condemned? Does it make sense to expect commitment from an 82 year old? The film doesn’t answer any of these questions and if there is a criticism of the film it is that it is so light that that it may cross the border into being too slight. Better slight than exploitative, I suppose.
The movie follows the development of Lake’s understanding of the limits of his desires, and Lajoe plays the role appropriately as young man burdened by a secret and learning how to proceed. His character is difficult to connect with, with very little of the brashness we associate with youth, which I think is part of the point. His character is too burdened and circumspect to lead the movie himself. Instead film is really held together by the inestimable Walter Borden, an actor who hasn’t appeared in many films but has a long pedigree on stage. He brings to the role of Mr. Peabody a presence and charm that more than makes up for the hesitancy of the younger man. He is quite a character.
Overall, the movie is fine, but without much beyond Walter Borden and rare subject matter to recommend it. It is set up to avoid certain questions such as the potential for abuse, senility and the ethics of medical caregivers involved sexually with their patients. Instead it tests the limits of our commitment to social norms, but does so with such light humor and grace that we are barely aware that we are being tested.