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Defying Gravity
IMDB Rating: 6.7/10 from 1,370 votes
Release: 9 July 1999 (USA) /

Defying Gravity

Genre: Drama, Romance, Sport
Director: John Keitel,
Stars: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Synopsis: Griff wants to maintain just a superficial relationship with his all-gay boyfriend, who gets seriously wounded in a gay bashing.

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Critic Reviews

Once in a while you run into a movie that packs a wallop not because it is flawless, but in spite of, indeed almost because of, its flaws. I found the first 20 minutes or so of `Defying Gravity' very hard to sit through, and was still uncomfortable halfway through the film. The depiction of frat life seemed all too convincing; how could we have any sympathy for a main character who would buy into such cheesy `male camaraderie' at its most off-putting? (There is a coarse common term for these frat boys and their behavior, but I'll avoid using it here.) Even when the action moved beyond the suffocating atmosphere of the frat house and the tailgate party -- the evocation of said atmosphere being the first sign, perhaps, that writer-director John Keitel knew what he was doing after all -- I had the uneasy feeling I was watching yet another well-intentioned paint-by-numbers Afterschool Special about coming out, especially when the inevitable clichéd gay-bashing (right down to the baseball bats) took place.

But that is precisely when `Defying Gravity' begins to take an unexpected turn, gathering momentum when you least expect it. Once Griff has to face the reality of the consequences of his hiding, this film starts to soar. That's not because the plot ceases to be fairly predictable; it doesn't. What lifts this above most other movies, and certainly many gay-themed flicks, is how squarely and unapologetically it addresses and depicts love in its many forms. There's the true love of friendship between the closeted Griff and the straight, trying-to-understand Todd. (Why is any gay-themed movie with sympathetic straight characters derided as fantasy? Hello! – understanding straight friends and family really do happen in `real life.' Talk about self-hatred …) There's a brief, but extremely potent, display of parental love (kudos to Kevin P. Wright as Pete's father). And above all, there's the belated but knockout realization of the love between Griff and Pete, in the final hospital scene and the beautiful little coda – the most powerful emotional payoff I've seen onscreen in quite a while. In terms of conviction, it all puts the more recent, vastly overrated "Big Eden," for instance, totally in the shade.

Clearly Mr. Keitel deserves credit for turning this movie around the way he does. And then there's the cast. Nicklaus Lange's finely tuned performance makes Todd a real person, not a buddy wish fulfillment. Don Handfield as Pete has a smaller role than one might anticipate but, crucial to the film's impact, he underplays this more grounded character to perfection. "Defying Gravity" ultimately rests, however, on the shoulders of Daniel Chilson as Griff, and boy does he come through: I see something very different here from those who commented on supposedly amateurish acting. Chilson can do more with his face – particularly his endearing, slightly off-kilter smile – than many much more highly touted performers. Watch the extraordinarily nuanced play of emotions across that face when Pete's housemate tells Griff `he really cares about you,' and in the aforementioned final two scenes between Griff and Pete. That's what film acting is all about. Bravo, Daniel! When will we see you onscreen again?

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