Eric D. Snider

Home of Phobia

There are some raucous good laughs peppering the otherwise standard proceedings in "Home of Phobia" (retitled "Freshman Orientation" for theatrical release), about a college guy who pretends to be gay in order to get a girl to like him.

If that plot summary doesn't make sense to you, then this is not your movie. Take the movie's word for it that women love gay men: They're sensitive, fashionable, hygienic, polite, and they're not constantly trying to have sex with them. They're every woman's dream, if every woman's dream doesn't involve sex, which maybe it doesn't. I don't know; I'm a man.

Anyway, Clay Adams (Sam Huntington) is a Wisconsin native newly enrolled as a freshman at a big-city university. He finds the atmosphere less party-oriented than he had hoped, though, with many of the women (or "wimmin," as their fliers call them) being feminists, activists, lesbians, man-haters, or some combination thereof.

Then two college initiation rites synergize to give Clay an idea. The fraternity he's pledging puts him and his roommate Matt (Mike Erwin) in a public and compromising situation as a prank, causing the entire student body to think they're both gay. Meanwhile, the sorority being pledged by Amanda (Kaitlin Doubleday) -- the object of Clay's affection -- plans its "In the Company of Men"-style festival of cruelty, wherein each girl has a month to find a particular type of man, make him fall in love with her, and then dump him. Amanda's assignment is to find a gay guy. She thinks Clay is gay. Clay knows she thinks he's gay. Clay pretends to be gay in order to get close to her. It's a foolproof plan!

Sam Huntington is an effective lead, resembling a young Craig Kilborn with the same smarm-posing-as-charm demeanor. He works the material (written and directed by first-timer Ryan Shiraki) like a pro, never giving into clownery or over-the-top theatrics as many young comedic actors would do in similar situations.

Providing many laughs is Heather Matarazzo as Jessica, Amanda's less-popular friend. Jessica, a Jewish girl, is assigned to find and destroy a Muslim man for the sorority prank, and the sight of her dressed in full Islamic regalia outside a mosque, trying to flirt with men, is priceless.

Rachel Dratch has a similarly undignified but entertaining role as Very Drunk Chick, a perpetual college student (going on 10 years now) who is perpetually drunk and generally hitting on Matt.

And is there anything funnier than a gay John Goodman? I don't think so. He plays a local bartender who helps Clay gay himself up enough to convince Amanda, a sort of Queer Eye for the Allegedly Queer Guy.

There's some fairly shrewd social satire in all this, notably in the segment where Clay is believed to have been the victim of a gay-bashing, leading all the campus minorities to rally together in his defense. The hysteria of political-correctness run amok is amusingly re-created here. I particularly like the declaration of a militant African-American lesbian, when told she needs to stop screaming and quiet down: "I have been quiet -- for THREE THOUSAND YEARS!"

But the film's abundant humor and sharp tongue give way to watery romantic-comedy conventions in the end. This is, after all, the basic Two-Lie Scenario of the rom-com template: Clay is lying about being gay, and Amanda is lying about why she's hanging out with him. The truth is bound to come out, whereupon they will be bound to split up and then miss each other in a montage while a hip love song plays on the soundtrack. It's disappointing that a film must give in to expectations like that, especially when it means the humor nearly evaporates. But up to that point, it's a winner, a goofy, marginally meaningful comedy with a lot of energy to it.

Grade: B-

Rated R, lots of harsh profanity, some crude humor, a bit of nudity, some strong sexuality

1 hr., 33 min.

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