The obligation to make a coming-out/coming-of-age film must weigh heavy on gay filmmakers. The obligation to review them often weighs heavy on critics, since so many of the movies are heartfelt but badly made. That’s why it’s such a pleasure to come across a film like Shelter, which offers a better-than-average script, chemistry between the leads that goes beyond the usual “they’re both hot” level of many gay movies and some genuinely complicated family dynamics.
As 20-ish Zach, who has postponed dreams of art school to help care for his ailing father and his nephew (sis Holmes is more interested in partying than child-rearing), Wright perfectly conveys the mix of frustration and competence of a guy who’s had to grow up too fast. Aside from art, Zach’s pleasure comes from surfing. On the beach, he renews a friendship with Shaun (Rowe), the older brother of a high-school friend (Thomas) now away at college. Shaun has retreated to Orange County to escape the stress of his life as a television writer, but also to mend a broken heart. Surfing leads to liplock, which leads Zach to face his own desires. Of course, the usual obstacles to love and self-actualization appear; Zach has to come out to his family. Shaun has to figure out if he can date a hot, talented 20-year-old (um…). Wright and Rowe are both very strong, and Markowitz is shrewd enough to give us the beefcake that defines the genre, but he’s also talented enough to deliver something more.