Sixteen-year-old Russell is still going on dates with girls while having a secret relationship with football quarterback Kevin, who will do anything to prevent his football teammates from finding out. Min and Terese tell everyone that they’re just really good friends. And then there’s Ike, who can’t figure out who he is or who he wants to be. Finding the truth too hard to hide, they all decide to form the Geography Club, thinking nobody else in their right mind would ever want to join. However, their secrets may soon be discovered and they could have to face the choice of revealing who they really are.
Disclaimer: I’m not reviewing this as an adaptation. I have yet to read the book, so I’ll get back to you if I do. Also, as always, slight spoilers ahead.
Geography Club attempts to tackle the struggles, internal and external, that come along with coming out of the closet. It has central themes of fear clearly represented in all of the major characters, as well as the difficulties that come with deciding to be yourself within an environment that all but demands you conform. In this endeavor, it was almost successful.
From the start of the movie, I was hooked. I identified and connected with most of the main characters. I am very much a character person, willing to forgive shortcomings of a movie or book or game if it has compelling characters that I can relate to. In that effect, the movie was solid. Each character had their own story; each character was interesting in their own way.
Russell, the lead character, had an interesting conflict. At that start, he is only mostly sure he’s gay, but the thought still makes him uncomfortable. He’s nervous to explore the possibility, and won’t even consider the idea of telling anyone else about his struggle. His story arch remains quite real, and does a great job at portraying the struggles of coming out. Unlike many films on the topic, his love interest is not on the opposite side of the coin. Kevin, star quarterback of the school, was raised in an environment where it was perfectly acceptable to be gay. Despite this, he is not ready to come out. He has many reasons, the chief being he knows he will be persecuted and he doesn’t want to have to deal with it. Also, it may actually ruin his life. Both of these stories were presented with real conflict and real sympathy. Each character, gay and straight, had their own interesting story, and that made the movie worth watching.
That being said, by the end of the film I was left wanting. Not wanting more at the end, as much as wishing that there would have been more throughout the movie. It did trouble me that Min, originally written as bisexual, was made gay for the purposes of the film. Brian, while his clear abuse at home and school sat comfortable on the sidelines of the story, it was eventually used as a conflict for Russell, and resolved in a ‘no consequence’ faction. The movie had time to take that extra step, to go just a bit deeper into each of the characters and give many more shades to the central conflict of the film.
As for the ending, while I was glad the movie avoided the ‘happily ever after’ scenario, the way the ending was portrayed left me feeling a little sick to my stomach. And by that, I mean I was angry.
The last twenty minutes of the film seems to do everything it can to belittle Kevin’s conflict, almost outright stating that what he believes in and what he loves do not matter. When Russell is ready to come out, he seems to lose all sympathy for Kevin, who still isn’t ready. This is understandable, as dating someone in the closet can truthfully be compared to being back in the closet. However, Russell never even considers the idea of supporting Kevin through his struggle. He tells Kevin that ‘if he really cared about him’ he would come to the GSA meeting after school. The film does nothing to question this statement, drifting over that fact that it is unreasonably selfish. When Russell comes out, he is kicked off the football team. If Kevin comes out, the same thing will happen. Unlike Russell, who has always been very strong academically, all Kevin has is football. Not only does he love it completely, it is essentially his only hope for getting into a good college. Russell asks him to throw it all away, and the film proceeds to make Kevin out to be the bad guy when he can’t do it. There is almost a scene of redemption for the filmmakers, as we see Kevin come to the hall to attend the GSA meeting. But, as much of the football team is standing outside the door to haze the people who enter, Kevin cannot go into the room and leave. This fleeting moment of sympathy for Kevin is all the film offers.
While I enjoyed much of the movie and connected with many of the character, the film missed many key layers of what it’s like to come out, even brushing over the fact that Goodkind High School is a dramatically unsafe place for people who are different. It had character and conflict, but it lacked consequence and a sort of depth it definitely had the potential to achieve. I would recommend it for the general fan of LGBT films and conflicts, and especially for fans of Glee.