2 1/2 stars = Average
As low-budget romantic comedies go, "Love or Whatever" benefits from better-than-average production values and performances, particularly a cameo performer who makes a strong comedic impression. But these positive attributes can't compensate for a tired romcom story.
Written by Dennis Bush and Cait Brennan and directed by Rosser Goodman ("Holding Trevor"), "Love or Whatever" follows therapist Corey (Carnegie Mellon University graduate Tyler Poelle) as he attempts to juggle work responsibilities with his home life with boyfriend Jon (David Wilson Page), who gets bored and begins dabbling in bisexuality with an acquaintance of Corey's.
Corey and Jon break up and Corey takes up with another out-of-his-league hunk, Pete (Joel Rush, "Eating Out: The Open Weekend"), a pizza delivery guy with a heart of gold.
In between boyfriends, Corey consults with his lesbian sister, Kelsey (Jennifer Elise Cox, "Web Therapy"), who's running her coffee bar into the ground through mismanagement.
There's not much logic to the film's sympathies -- when Jon cheats on Corey with a woman it's presented as a terrible betrayal; when Corey cheats on Pete with a guy, it's just a bump in the road till their eventual reunion -- but "Love or Whatever" evinces more maturity (and less obvious innuendo) than the "Eating Out" films.
Mr. Poelle nails several lines of comedic dialogue with perfect timing and Mr. Rush brings a strong, quiet sensitivity to his role. Ms. Cox plays against ditzy type and her comedic asides are stronger for it.
But the real scene stealer is actress Kate Flannery, best known as soused Meredith on NBC's "The Office." In "Love or Whatever" she plays one of Corey's patients who falls in love with a mountain lion: "Once you go lion, you never stop tryin'," she declares with absurd sincerity.
"Love or Whatever" won't be confused for a great, gay romantic comedy -- the predictable plot invalidates that possibility pretty much from the start -- but better-than-average acting and the cast's comedic sensibilities make the film an entertaining enough diversion for its intended audience.
-- Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV writer
2 stars = Mediocre
There's the core of a good story here, based on a 2004 children's novel by Andre Sollie. Presumably by the intent of director Bavo Defume, it's a gentle, slow-moving rendition, with excellent acting and very little action.
Noordzee, Texas, is a bar-restaurant-gathering place in a 1970s Belgian coastal village, where 14-year-old Pim (Jelle Florizoone) lives with his neglectful mother, Yvette (Eva van der Gucht).
Stout, frumpy Yvette manages to have quite an active social life, allowing Pim to spend time with his handsome older friend Gino (Mathias Vergels). By the time Pim turns 16 (age of consent in Belgium), the two have developed a tender physical relationship, and Pim is deeply in love.
Complications arise when Yvette goes off with a man and Pim moves into Gino's home. Gino, by this time, has left with a girlfriend, and Gino's younger sister develops an unrequited crush on Pim. A bit of conflict (not much more than a gentle push) arises when Gino returns and tries to brush off Pim's attempts at affection.
The happy ending is perhaps a bit too glib, but it's easy to see why this film was recommended by the European Children's Film Network for the way it deals with friendship, love and sexuality.
In Dutch (and occasionally French) with English subtitles.
-- Robert Croan, Post-Gazette senior editor
1 1/2 stars = Bad
There are some promising elements in this self-consciously artsy, ultimately unsatisfying film. Not least on the plus side is a compelling portrayal of James Dean by James Preston, though writer-director Matthew Mishory makes the character so morose and cold-blooded that we might wonder why -- beyond his stunning good looks -- this tragically short-lived actor became a cultural icon in the first place.
"Joshua Tree" is filmed in drab black-and-white, offset by a few inexplicable moments in color. The stilted, affected dialogue is sprinkled with segments in French (some untranslated) that fail to convey any meaningful reason or mood.
In the year before Dean went to Broadway and on to film stardom, he is depicted as bisexual (actually more gay than bi) and willing to use his sexuality to further his career, but lacking the magnetism and sympathy that comes through in the real James Dean's on-screen persona.
Harking back to that homophobic era, Mr. Mishory avoids using the real names of Dean's allegedly gay contacts. So we have a generic "Roommate" (Dan Glenn), whom we are told later made a successful Hollywood career; and "The Famous Director," in a cameo appearance by "Queer as Folk's" Robert Gant, which provides the single segment in which this dreary effort temporarily springs to life.
-- Robert Croan
First Published October 18, 2012 4:00 AM