Geography Club (2013)
When closeted high school student, Russell, goes looking for himself in a park he’s not sure what he’ll find. But like the name of the club, things and people aren’t always what they seem.
Russell, like every other teen, is trying to find himself. The complication here is that he is gay. As he’s trying to figure things out he meets another gay guy at his school, but are they looking for the same things? Another student who sees what is happening with Russell gets him to come to the “Geography Club,” which is a secret club for LGBT students. We get to see Russell continue to struggle with who he is and who he wants to be, until finally he makes a decision.
I liked that the film isn’t a dark, brooding coming out piece, and it has a positive vibe to it. It’s light and easy to watch, but also has specific themes to it that make it interesting. Cameos by Ana Gasteyer and Scott Bakula also brought humor and attention.
The characters were a little narrow and undeveloped though. Some seemed to play the role of a caricature, serving an intended purpose but not much more. The best friend, Gunnar, is remarkably one-dimensional given that he and Russell had been “friends since kindergarten.” Even the romantic interest seemed like there wasn’t much development to the point where I wondered what the nature of their relationship actually was. I’m not saying I needed to see them boinking, but was there an actual relationship or just the occasional kiss or rescue? There were some plot holes and out-of-the-blue moments, but overall the story was cohesive.
A bit of metaphor that I appreciated was when Russell looks at the door to the Geography Club classroom, you can see the sun through the window. But from the angle of the shot and intensity of the light, it seems like heaven may be on the other side of the door.
There are some relatively common themes in this film like coming out, internalized homophobia, and bullying. There’s also more about being your own person instead of what others or family may want for you.
[spoilers & analysis ahead]
One thing that repeatedly comes up is about Russell’s dad wanting him to go to Yale and follow in his footsteps. Having a wife is apparently part of this arrangement. We never meet Russell’s family, but there are montages that suggest this plan has worked its way into Russell’s head. So perhaps this is why he doesn’t want to admit that he’s gay. But in this day and age that’s not the biggest alteration – gay people go to Yale.
What I think is almost more of interest is Kevin. He really just wants to play football, and if his insane teammates find out that he’s gay they’ll kick him off the team. The end of the film seems to suggest in a way that Kevin lacked the courage to come out like Russell did as we see him walking away from the club. But in reality, Russell didn’t chose to come out – he was outed. He embraced it afterwards, but would he have come out otherwise?
Kevin has made a choice that he wants to be a football player, and that’s what his identity is about at this point in his high school life. He doesn’t want to be defined as gay. He doesn’t even have a repressive family, as they talk about his gay uncle pretty openly and without judgement. So his choice is about the environment at school, pressure from his friends, and his simple desire to play football. Is that a better or worse choice than where Russell found himself? I’m not sure.
I see a trend of younger LGBT people who don’t want to be defined by their sexual orientation. They refuse labels and pigeon-holing. There is a time and a place for that (visibility, civil rights, etc). But the overall hope could be that some day we don’t have to be a gay football player, but just a football player.