Get ready to crush hard on Michael J Willett. You’ll recognize him as Marshall Gregson’s bleached-blond gay friend Lionel from United States of Tara. In GBF he plays Tanner, a teenaged boy accidently outed thanks to his best friend Brent (Paul Iacono), who signs up Tanner for “guydar.” Through some creative licence with the way GPS technology works, Tanner is discovered and finds himself thrust into the spotlight as the new trendy accessory – the gay best friend. He gets stuck in a tug-of-war battle between his high school’s three queen bees, all of whom want him to be their GBF for various nefarious purposes, primarily so they can win the prom queen crown.
Willett plays Tanner with an unassuming charm that feels refreshing, honest and perhaps even unexpected. He’s a regular kid at school who happens to be gay and likes comics, and we get to witness his bemusement, reticence and eventual acceptance at being a star in the school’s social scene.
This Darren Stein-directed movie plays with the genre much as Scream played with horror, making references to other classic teen movies and giving the plot format of friends broken apart and used by bitchy, beautiful, popular girls a gay twist. It’s not a parody; it’s a pastiche that builds on movies such as Clueless, Mean Girls and Jawbreaker, which was also directed by Stein. Classic scenes, like the slow-motion walk down the high school corridor seen in Jawbreaker, make an appearance in GBF, along with a makeover montage, which is set to Ellie Goulding’s “Anything Could Happen.”
“Those sequences are always about wish fulfillment,” Stein says. “It’s fun to play dress-up, and we got to be loose and improvise with the outfits and reactions. It’s such a classic construct.”
When it comes to his own prom, Stein says he’s mostly blocked it out. “It was bizarre. I knew I was gay. I went to an all-boys school and had shipped in a girl from Florida that I knew from a film program. My mom did her makeup.”
Fans of the 1999 black comedy will enjoy Rebecca Gayheart’s appearance in GBF. In fact, the young and talented cast is supported by a peppering of more widely known faces and names, including Jonathan Silverman (Weekend at Bernie’s), Evanna Lynch (Harry Potter), Natasha Lyonne (But I’m a Cheerleader) and Mia Rose Frampton, who played the girl in the jewellery store whom Kristen Wiig calls “a little cunt” in Bridesmaids. Stein had asked specifically for Frampton when casting. The spectacular Megan Mullally stars as Brent’s mother, and it’s her description of the sex scene in Brokeback Mountain that almost steals the whole movie. “Megan watched the full scene and ad-libbed everything. She’s mind-blowing to work with,” Stein says. “I thought, ‘I’m going to be meeting Karen from Will and Grace; how will I handle this?’ She was very collaborative and supportive.”
It’s hard not to enjoy GBF because it plays with everything we loved about those that paved the way before it. “After Jawbreaker,” Stein says, “I said I’d never make a movie of this sort again, but it’s a case of never say never.” GBF may just become a cult classic – and it’s definitely not to be missed at this year’s festival.