Smile Politely

Get your bear on: review of BearCity

“It’s one thing to say you like Brad Pitt,” confesses Tyler (Joe Conti) to his cute twink of a roommate, Simon (Alex Di Dio), “and another to say you want a mouthful of John Goodman.”

With gay culture and same-sex marriage a part of today’s constant news cycle, BearCity provides an unexpected jolt of something unfamiliar: a view into the sub-sub-culture world of bears, the beefy, bulky, flabby, muscular, macho, weighty, woofy men and those who like the same.

“It’s like coming out twice to say you like bears,” says Tyler.

“Romance can be hairy,” as the movie’s tagline sums things up.

The second coming out of Tyler, a “cub” in the parlance, is just one of three narrative threads smoothly woven throughout director Douglas Langway’s 2010 film. While Tyler musters the courage to act on his Santa Claus fantasies, the overweight Michael (Gregory Gunter) contemplates surgery against the wishes of his devoted (and hunky) boyfriend Carlos (James Martinez), who loves all 400 pounds of him just as he is. And the most devoted couple on the scene, Brent (Stephen Guarino) and Fred (Brian Keane), consider the possibility of spicing up their committed relationship by inviting a third party into their bedroom and shower, with comic and hazardous results.

Set in summer in New York during an annual week-long celebration of bear culture, the visually fine film makes stops at all the city’s prime beef past and present references of gay life: the Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen, the Ramrod, and shopping down Christopher Street. The movie is more than a look into the scene; it’s also a lexicon of labels: bears, cubs, otters, polar bears, stroller bears, bearded, back lawns, and more fuzzy puns than you can count. You may want to take notes. We’ve come a long way since “chubby chasers.”

Gregory Gunter (right) and James Martinez

Once one overcomes the taboo of Madison Avenue body types, BearCity offers an explicit, but ultimately sweet and affecting panorama, with inevitable happy endings. The cast seems to be having a great time, with director Douglas Langway pulling good enough performances from the game and committed, if perhaps largely amateur, cast.

In a curious twist, the cute, twinky, and frequently nude Simon — as he accompanies Tyler into the strange (to him) culture — openly expresses the fear and distaste of bear culture that might be the perspective of much of a straight audience. How often do you see a super-swishy stereotype represent mainstream attitudes?

“Welcome, ursine creatures,” he says as he braves his way into the bear bar, “I come in peace.”

Spain produced an excellent movie about bear parenthood with Cachorro (Bear Cub) (“Parenthood is about to get a little hairier”) in 2004, and there are bear and nudist bear celebrations taking place from Mexico City to Barcelona, Chicago and San Francisco, year round.

BearCity won awards at many film festivals and found a following enough that a sequel, with same cast and crew transplanted to a Provincetown event, called, (surprise!) BearCity 2, is to be released later this year, with Kevin Smith and Kathy Nijimy enlisted into the cast. Check out the teaser trailer for a taste.

The one standout actor in the cast is standup comic Stephen Guarino as Brent, the reluctant half of a committed duo. His episodes are the truest in the film, and Brent’s relationship with Fred reminds me of the gay couple, Mitchell and Cameron, from TV’s most popular comedy, Modern Family. With a bear and otter couple in prime time, and parenting role models no less, can bear culture really be that far from the mainstream?

Stephen Guarino (left) and Brian Keane.

BearCity helped me stop worrying about keeping to the South Beach Diet this summer, and I have to admit that it did arouse in me the urge to go out … and go bowling.


BearCity is part of the Reel It UP LGBT Film Festival. It is showing at The Art Theater on Saturday, June 9, at 9:25 p.m. For more information about the festival, go here.


All stills taken from the film’s Facebook page.

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