Dog Days of Summer Movies: Summer Storm
by John Ramos
As a gay man, I know I am not alone in sometimes feeling victimized by the bulk of queer cinema. My strong desire to see films that intelligently and sensitively explore gay themes coupled with an equally strong affinity for cute guys interacting in, um, legitimate movies has unfortunately resulted in my sticking out numerous grim offerings, and I'm talking as much about the narrative competence and often the production values as the enjoyableness of the subject matter. Queer cinema can be horribly guilty of taking itself too seriously, so I was quite gratified to find that Summer Storm is a film that's not only competent but also fun. It's not like it got robbed of any Oscars, and there is certainly no small amount of angst, but given the subject matter, some of the latter pretty necessarily goes with the territory, and for someone who's seen much, much worse, those parts actually were kind of hilarious rather than painful. In the end, Summer Storm manages to balance a pretty engaging coming-of-age/coming-out story with a whole lot of hot guys in various stages of undress.
After an opening-credits training montage set dreamily and evocatively to "Blonde On Blonde" by Nada Surf, the stage is set early: Cute Aryan teen Tobi, the (unofficial?) captain of a successful Bavarian (yes, you should know the film is in German with English subtitles) rowing team, is in love with his best friend, Achim, who adores him back but seemingly is unaware there's anything more there, even as he says things (admittedly while stoned) like "I love the way your ears wiggle when you laugh." Nothing for a closeted, hormonal teenage boy to read into there. And it's true they engage in a little side-by-side jerk-off action while staring at each other, but the two guys did that in Y Tu Mama Tambien and that never led to…wait a minute. Anyway, this setup brings us to the…
Summer Mission: The teams (boys and girls, including Achim's girlfriend and Tobi's, um, "girlfriend") head to rowing camp, the culmination of which is the annual summer regatta, and if they win the race, not only will they be the pride of Bavaria for fünfzehn whole minutes, but they will be rewarded with not one but TWO new boats, courtesy of the team's resident homophobe's presumably rich-like-Darcy's-father-in-Bring It On dad. (Even after ten years, that film pervades my references.) The stakes, however, get a whole lot gayer when a team called Queerschlag shows up, apparently only having become eligible for the competition when some Berlin women's team conveniently got sick with illness, like, knowing Germans (I actually do; my whole mother's side is German and it's where I get my occasional sense of ordnung), I'm sure there is a telephone-book-sized set of rules governing regatta eligibility, but it still seems fairly contrived that these boys and their well-developed deltoids barely made the cut.
Regardless of how they got there, though, the gay boys cause varying levels of consternation among Tobi and his teammates (the scene where they explain the second meaning of the English "queer" is pretty hilarious in a needle-scratchy way), with the girls predictably yet awesomely dismissive of their boys' homophobia. I will say, too, that the film does take the time, however brief, to have scenes with just the girls, just the gay boys, and combinations of characters that you wouldn't expect, and their pointed, well-written interactions definitely make them feel more like characters in a story and less like attractive and well-muscled ornaments. (There's even a fun little romantic subplot between the male, put-upon coach of Tobi's team, and the no-nonsense female coach of the gay team.)
In the end, whether their will is magically sapped by all the fairy dust in the air or because the gay boys are better athletes (I'm leaning toward the latter), the gay team wins, although, thanks to a plot development I won't bother explaining, the über-homophobe ends up having to row on Team Queer. So maybe Tobi's team get their boats after all, but they have to put rainbow stripes on them? Emphasizing this idea is the choice of the cover of "Go West" by the Pet Shop Boys to play over the final competition, but while this may not be the most inspired selection, I prefer it in this instance to the dour score over the crew scene in The Social Network. I mean, this is rowing we're talking about.
Enviable Vacation Locale?: If you like lakes, absolutely. Personally, lakes are something I can generally take or leave (usually very dependent on how buggy they are); however, lakes with smoking young German men looking for a fairly uncomplicated good time in between boat races definitely fall more in the "take" category.
Coming of Age/Fast-Burning Summer Romance?: Most definitely to both, in the "Coming Out" subset. Early on, Tobi tries to tell Achim about his feelings for him, but Achim misinterprets his hesitation and jumps to the conclusion that Tobi had sex with his "girlfriend," when in fact for him the mere thought causes shrinkage more effectively than a dip in the team's training lake. Later, a quick succession of events — Tobi planting one on Achim, who recoils like, say, they've never even jerked off together; Tobi following this performance by having some (hopefully splinter-less) sex on a dock with an adorable floppy-haired gay boy; and Tobi's "girlfriend" trying to get him to bone her (actually, she hilariously waits in a random secluded and basically invisible spot in the reeds until he happens to come by, so I'm not convinced she really wants it either) — leads to everyone realizing he's about the dudes.
After a summer storm (!) forces them away from the lake into a nearby youth hostel, Tobi, in a scene that rockets past angst straight into the hilarious annals of cinematic cliché, sits fully clothed in a running shower; thankfully, this descent into aquatic lugubriousness doesn't last, and after a rather lovely night in a bunk bed with the floppy-haired Dock Prince, he shows up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to the breakfast table, ready for whatever gayness life and rowing may throw at him. I kind of wish my first hookup was even one percent like that.
Best Summer Ever?: I mean, when was the last time you had hot dock sex with a sensitive, floppy-haired member of a rowing team called Queerschlag? (Email me.)
Summer Fashions: What you'd expect — t-shirts with brand logos, half-fastened overalls, and spandex that can and does peel off at a moment's notice. So, especially given the hardness and shapeliness of the bodies to which said fashions cling, they're pretty awesome.
Melodrama/Hitting The Gay Movie Marks: It's not that everything I'm going to mention here is necessarily a staple of gay movies, nor, as I opined earlier, does any instance of melodrama really weigh the film down. However, in the interest of fair reporting, there are definitely moments that may make you roll your eyes in recognition if you're a battle-scarred veteran of queer cinema, so I'm going to list a few moments like I'm giving the clues on $25,000 Pyramid and you can judge for yourself: The dance-party montage around a campfire. The tearful confession to the girlfriend after an aborted attempt at sex. The girlfriend's hard lecture about coming out instead of living a lie. The brooding while sitting by the lake in dim light. The thousand-yard stares between unrequited lovers as stringed instruments play meaningfully. The gay protagonist announcing to everyone in the film that he's not gay right before he comes out for good as lightning rages around him. The montage of the gay boy crying interspersed with shots of the boy he's in love with screwing his girlfriend for the first time. The aforementioned lightning striking a tree, which in turn falls and destroys one of the team's boats. The montage of various characters lying awake in bed as stringed instruments once again meaningfully play.
Seriously, it sounds a lot worse on paper than it actually is. And: Dock sex.
Worth the A/C?: Certainly. It needs to be turned up high, actually.
Overall Suitability As A Summer Movie: A
John Ramos is a film producer and co-owner of 7A Productions. His most recent film, East Fifth Bliss, starring Michael C. Hall, Lucy Liu, and Peter Fonda, will be in theaters in early 2012; if you're so inclined, you can learn more and support it on the film's Facebook and Twitter. He also writes for Television Without Pity under the handle "Couch Baron" (he's also @couchbaron on Twitter), and occasionally has time to update his blog, Pull Up A Chair. He'd just love for you to stop by and say hello!
Tags: Couch Baron dock sex Dog Days of Summer Movies homophobes of film and television Nada Surf Pet Shop Boys Summer Storm