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Shelter
cast: Trevor Wright, Brad Rowe, Tina Holmes, Ross Thomas, and Katie Walder

writer and director: Jonah Markowitz
85 minutes (15) 2007
widescreen ratio 16:9
TLA DVD Region 2 retail
[released 11 August]

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Barbara Davies
This engaging gay romance unfolds against a sunny California backdrop of surfing, beach parties, and street art. Zach (Trevor Wright) lives with his sister Jeanne (Tina Homes) in a rundown part of San Pedro and works as a cook at the local diner. He's relinquished his dreams of becoming an artist and his scholarship to Cal Arts so he can help Jeanne look after her five-year-old son. Cody now considers Zach more father than uncle, and a selfish Jeanne takes it for granted that her brother will always be at her beck and call. But what about Zach's own wants and needs, especially his love life? If he's confused, his on again/ off again girlfriend Tori (Katie Walder) is even more so. Something has to give, and when Shaun (Brad Rowe), the hunky novelist brother of Zach's best friend, comes to town, it does.

Both men have matured since they last saw one another, and Shaun's physique and self-confidence are instantly attractive to Zach. Their surfing trips provide an opportunity for something deeper to develop, and it duly does, marred only by Zach's fear of being outed. With Shaun's encouragement, Zach's dreams re-emerge, though he can currently only satisfy them by producing street art. Shaun wants Zach to be true to himself, but an increasingly disturbed Jeanne has other plans. Torn between the conflicting impulses of familial duty and passion, which way will the martyrdom-prone Zach jump?

This is a film about making your own choices, and there's never any real doubt how the story will end. But director Jonah Markowitz makes the journey an interesting and scenic one, without overdoing the surf action or the tastefully done sex scenes. If Shelter has any faults it's that Zach's father seems to disappear after one scene and play no further part in his family's life, without adequate explanation, and that Shaun often feels like little more than an idealised, convenient solution to all of Zach's problems rather than having feelings, ambitions, and flaws of his own. Even when Zach treats Shaun badly for a second time, he remains almost heroically understanding, accommodating, and forgiving, and in spite of claiming to be broke, he seems to live in considerable splendour. More a case of wish fulfilment than reality, perhaps.

Wright and Rowe make totally believable surfers, and the chemistry between the pair is convincing. Wright does a good job of conveying Zach's youthful confusion and frustration (verging on petulance) while Rowe makes an amiable, relaxed, easy-on-the-eye Shaun. But it's Holmes who accomplishes the most difficult task, that of softening the often unlikeable, selfish Jeanne by showing us the beginnings of a long overdue self-awareness. As for Cody, floppy-haired Jackson Wurth (Heroes) makes an engaging five-year-old.

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