Film Reviews: Backwards; Hollywood to Dollywood; Liberal Arts; The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Frontiers Staff

Hollywood to Dollywood
Starring Gary Lane, Larry Lane, Dolly Parton
Opens Sept. 7
The follow-your-dreams documentary Hollywood to Dollywood is a disarming, heart-warming and occasionally wrenching story about gay twins Gary and Larry Lane who travel to Dollywood in an RV named Jolene to slip their idol, Ms. Dolly Parton, a first screenplay written expressly for her. Good Southern boys, they left their home 10 years earlier to live openly (or as openly as possible) away from their Bible-fearing mother. And though they still obviously love her, they embark on their screenplay, Full Circle, as a way to bridge the gap between who they are, the woman who raised them and their family’s shared love of all things Dolly. The Lane twins are a joy to watch; their enthusiasm is infectious, even to the handful of Hollywood interlopers they turn to for advice: Chad Allen, Dustin Lance Black, Beth Grant and that Southern dynamo Leslie Jordan. Along the way, we’re treated to coming out stories of every stripe—maddening (one father tells his son he’s going to die of AIDS), accepting (that same father finally comes around) and tear-inducing. And when the boys finally get to Dollywood, it’s as if they’ve come across the holy grail—with extra hair and bigger boobs, of course. 4/5 stars —Dan Loughry

Starring Sarah Megan Thomas, James Van Der Beek, Margaret Colin
Opens Sept. 21

Backwards is the position crew members row in, but it is also the direction Abigail’s (Thomas) life is going after she quits her Olympic team having been selected as an alternate—again. She returns to suburban Philadelphia and moves in with her sacrificing mom (Colin), eventually getting a job coaching rowing at a high school where her ex-boyfriend Geoff (Van Der Beek) works. As the competitive Abigail gains the trust of her athletes and teaches them to “find the art in rowing,” Backwards proves itself to be a completely unsurprising sports drama. Thomas, who wrote, stars and produced, is only adequate in the central role; she never really makes Abigail’s internal struggle towards self-discovery palpable. Her flirtations with Geoff also fail to ignite sparks, though Van Der Beek is adorable and affable in his limited role. If emotions are given a backseat in Backwards, at least the rowing scenes are winning. The scenes along the Schuylkill river and Boathouse Row show the beauty of the environment, and one of the races generates some real dramatic excitement. However, too much of the film, which is appropriate for teenage girls, focuses on physical training montages that stretch out the running time without really moving the drama forward. 2/5 stars —Gary M. Kramer

Liberal Arts
Starring Josh Radnor, Elizabeth Olsen, Richard Jenkins
Opens Sept. 14

Give Radnor only a passing grade for his sophomore outing as a feature film writer/director/actor. Despite its aggressive promotion of books and reading, this benign romantic comedy-drama about innocence and experience and the getting of wisdom feels overthunk. Jesse (Radnor) returns to his Ohio alma matter when his favorite professor, Peter Hoberg (Jenkins), retires. He meets an alluring drama student, Zibby (Olsen), and they form an intense connection. While Jesse worries about the 16-year age difference, their attraction grows deeper—until it comes to a head. Yet Jesse is an “effete, over-articulate man-boy,” and she is wise beyond her years—unapologetically adoring bad bestselling vampire novels, handwritten letters and classical music. (And has Daddy issues, perhaps?) Liberal Arts uses this May 1977-December 1993 relationship to address facing the future—however uncertain and scary it is. Both Jesse and Peter dream of turning back the clock, a theme hammered home repeatedly and rather needlessly. Yet Liberal Arts does have some bright moments. A scene featuring Jesse being dressed down post-coitus by his lit professor (Alison Janney) is fantastic, and Zac Efron injects some youthful goofball charm as Nat, even if his character spouts banal and obvious platitudes, like “change is never easy.” 3/5 stars —Gary M. Kramer

The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Starring Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller
Opens Sept. 21

Stephen Chbosky’s 1999 young adult novel about an awkward high school freshman, Charlie, who falls in with a clique of Freaks & Geeks-y seniors, touched many hearts, minds and nerves—sort of like a Judy Blume book set to an ‘80s alternative radio station. The film adaptation, which Chbosky also wrote and directed, is very true to the source and its generation, from a romantic take on The Rocky Horror experience to Pittsburgh setting. Lerman, credible as an emotionally damaged frosh, plays Charlie, who falls for Sam (Watson) while also growing close to her charismatic gay stepbrother, Patrick (Miller), who is having a secret affair with closeted football team star, Brad (Johnny Simmons). Watson completely leaves Potter in the dust, proving an actress of range, while Miller proves the antithesis of his We Need to Talk About Kevin sociopath. Patrick is likeable, hot in Frank N. Furter drag and is never a passive victim, even when Brad betrays him (kudos to Simmons for also avoiding stereotype as the conflicted jock). While a major revelation during the film’s third act is perhaps depicted a bit too gently onscreen, there are plenty of perks to this wallflower—including the soundtrack, featuring XTC, Cocteau Twins, The Smiths and Bowie. 4/5 stars —Lawrence Ferber

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