“I’ve had young, good-looking friends that might be 18 or 19 years old who have an exclusive fetish for hairy, Jewish, white guys over 55,” says bad-boy director Bruce LaBruce, discussing the subjects of sex and age in his new feature film, Gerontophilia. “The way that it’s portrayed in the media is always either super-sentimental or, in the new kind of gross-out comedies, as grotesque, with older characters that are hypersexual and predatory. I don’t find that very entertaining, and I wanted to do something that wasn’t sentimental, that had some humour in it but was also heartfelt.”
LaBruce’s film gets its name from the sexual fetish defined as “a sexual attraction to the elderly,” and it tells the story of Lake (baby-faced newcomer Pier-Gabriel LaJoie), a young, sensitive straight boy with a punky feminist girlfriend named Desiree (Katie Boland). Lake comes to grips with his developing sexual attraction to elderly men by getting a job as an orderly at a nursing home. There he befriends Mr Peabody (Walter Borden), a gay dandy with a flair for trouble who becomes the object of Lake’s newfound desires.
“It started out as this kind of gay Harold and Maude, but it ended up being more like this reverse Lolita,” LaBruce says. “It was important to me that Lake’s fetish came first and that their relationship grew out of that, because the tendency is to show characters who just happen to be different ages and happen to fall in love in spite of their ages.”
Selling such an unusual, sensuous and sensitive story requires, above all else, a cast with chemistry; LaBruce says he got lucky with his lead actors and how well they related to each other onscreen. “I immediately fell in love with Pier-Gabriel’s spirit; he’s so open,” LaBruce says. “He in some ways is like Lake, the character he plays, and he needed to be very young and have this kind of innocence that really does come across in his performance.”
Casting Mr Peabody, the elderly man who captures Lake’s sexual curiosity, however, proved to be a more difficult process. “We did talk to a lot of name film-star actors, but there is a certain vanity when actors get older about how they see their looks and their body. This character had to be free of self-conscious impulses when it came to showing their body because the character is the object of desire in the film, but we also didn’t have to have them look like something they aren’t physically,” LaBruce says. “When Walter came to our attention, we were intrigued. He’s an accomplished stage and film actor, he’d won the Order of Canada for his stage work and political activism, and he also has this open quality and was game for everything.”
The film takes narrative and stylistic cues from 1970s character dramas and is full of poetic tracking shots, soft lighting and nuanced erotic close-ups. While free of LaBruce’s trademark explicit sexual content, Gerontophilia is by no means a tame experience.
“I really love the scene where Lake jacks off to the old man while he’s asleep. Lake is such a sweet, kind character, but when you examine what he actually does, it could be construed as a little creepy. He gets a hard-on while he gives an old man a sponge bath, sure, but it’s done in this straightforward way that’s believable and not shameful,” LaBruce says. “It’s never shown as a perversion or some hideous affliction; it’s shown as something really natural, and I love the romance of those scenes.”