Farce is a difficult genre to review. While, by nature, they're overdrawn with absurd characters and situations, it's easy to go too far. When you that happens, you've got small-town dinner theater. "You Should Meet My Son!" is a little over-the-top, as the exclamation point and cover photo suggest. But for a first feature by a director whose previous shorts were essentially PSAs for gay and lesbian acceptance, it's a fairly entertaining film whose message is softened effectively by the humor.
Mae (Joanne McGee) is your basic Bible Belt mom who has been trying to find a wife for her only son, Brian (Stewart Carrico). In an overlong montage that belabors the point, director Keith Hartman frames Mae and her ever-present sister, Rose (Carol Goans), on either side of each prospect. It's way too precious and staged, but the bite is back in the satire when the camera settles in on the latest young woman who wants to know why a good-looking guy like Brian isn't already married. What's wrong with you, she wants to know, when the other women leave the room. Then, it a segment that made it onto the trailer, she asks if he wants to see her "tits" and leans way across the dining room table, challenging his personal space. "I knew it," she says, watching him recoil in horror.
It's not as if Brian hasn't been looking for the right time to tell his mom that he was gay, but from the script and Carrico's understated performance you come to believe that his mother wouldn't have known for years had she and Rose not overheard this forward young woman talking to him on the front porch after dinner and using the "G" word.
What happens next is reminiscent of the kind of well-intentioned actions that Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance mined for mischief and mayhem on "I Love Lucy." Mae decides that she wants her son to be happy, and of course he'll never be happy without a partner. She and Mae go straight for a "reverend" who runs an intervention program called "Gay Be Gone," and though we don't get a look at what goes on behind closed doors, the sounds we hear and the narration we get is enough to poke fun not only at extremist organizations like that, but against the outdated thinking that homosexuality is a choice and not biological determinate over which people have no control. All it takes is one look at this misinformed way of thinking to remind Mae and Rose that they love Brian just the way he is, and wouldn't want him to change, certainly not the way that Gay Be Gone would have him change--as a sexist pig whose testosterone level is higher than his IQ. That leads to an instant change of plans, with the pair turning their efforts to finding a "husband" for Brian--including a pretty funny scene where we see the two of them peering into a computer screen as they read personals on the Internet.
The fulcrum comes in Act 2 when Rose and Mae start asking around where gay men meet other, and we get an extended scene at a gay bar in which each woman meets "friends," among them several drag queens who go by the names Fantasia (Acquah Dansoh) and Salsa Rojah (Matt Palazzolo). From that point on, "You Should Meet My Son!" takes on a distinctly "Birdcage" kind of vibe, and it has the same broad appeal because of it. It's the kind of film that gays and straights can watch together without any discomfort. Well, unless you're the sort that believes in Gay Be Gone.
The three leads do a nice job, and credit Hartman for managing the pacing nicely. Some scenes go on a little too long, but again, for a first-time feature director the results are surprisingly good, especially when there are so many actors you've never heard of and nothing apparently shot from a soundstage. Yes, it has a kind of homemade feel to it, but "You Should Meet My Son!" is also slicker than most films in its budget range. Hartman says in a press kit that his director of photography, also gay, is a wizard who managed to do "a lot with very limited time and resources. There was one desperate evening when we were behind schedule, and he managed to light and shoot an entire sequence in half an hour. And somehow it came out looking great."
"You Should Meet My Son!" has been doing well at the festivals, winning Best Feature at the Ontario Reel Out Film Festival, Best Men's Feature at the North Carolina Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, and Best Domestic Feature at Memphis Out Flix. Conservatives will not be amused by a large painting of George Bush as the Emperor with no clothes, but then again, conservatives won't watch a gay- and lesbian-interest film. There aren't as many laugh-out-loud moments as you'd expect from a farce like this, but it's amusing from start to finish. The biggest shortcoming is the obviousness, and I can't help but wonder if it felt like a TV sitcom at times because of that or because of the low budget. If it's the former (and I suspect it is, since the who-knows-who's-gay denouement goes a little overboard), I would expect that the more we see from Hartman he'll learn to squash those Oliver Stone impulses.
For a low-budget film, "You Should Meet My Son!" looks very good, visually, with a pretty sharp picture and not nearly as much grain as you'd expect for guerilla-lit scenes. Colors are bright and garish at all the appropriate moments, and in the darkness of the night outside the gay bar and inside, as well, not all that much detail gets lost. Surprising good video quality here. "You Should Meet My Son!" appeared to be presented in 1.78 widescreen.
The audio is a little more inconsistent. Some scenes feel as if they were under-miked, while others seemed a little heavy on the ambient sounds. Overall, though, there's nothing here that's so bad that it takes away from your viewing experience. No audio options are listed, but it seemed like a Dolby Digital 5.1. Believe it or not, there are subtitles in Spanish, French, German, Japanese, and Russian.
Included here are separate cast and crew commentaries that would be pretty standard if this were a standard movie. What they have to say is more interesting because it's an indie film shot on a shoestring. Other bonus features: "Gratuitous GoGo Boy Footage" that feels like a deleted scene, along with an extended scene of the women in front of the computer (which, by the way, was the right length in the film), and three short films by Hartman--several of which are dynamite, the kind of things you wish would turn up as a pre-feature warm-up at church basement potlucks. Finally, there are cast and crew bios.
There's a little of "The Birdcage" and a lot of "I Love Lucy" in "You Should Meet My Son!," a gay/lesbian-themed film that aims for a broader audience.