Dorian Blues

“Dorian Blues” is one of the best gay-themed films to come out (pardon the pun) in the last few years — and it was written and directed by one Tennyson Bardwell, who, despite being named Tennyson Bardwell, is straight. I don’t have any theories on what that means, I just think it’s interesting.

The film covers a few years in the life of Dorian (Michael McMillian), a suburban kid struggling, at the end of high school and into his college career, with his sexuality. He undergoes the usual events — acting straight, pursuing religion, choosing asexuality, a bad first boyfriend — in what amounts to a funny and pleasant character arc and a highly enjoyable film.

Set around 1990, Dorian lives in upstate New York with his blowhard father (Charles C. Fletcher), wallflower mother (Mo Quigley) and favored-son younger brother Nicky (Lea Coco). Where Dorian has always felt “different” and certainly didn’t have much in common with the other boys, Nicky is a football hero and a handsome trophy for his proud father to display to the neighborhood.

Dorian’s realization that he is gay only serves to widen the gap between him and his father, but his brother loyally defends him and tries to understand him — at least he does after his initial advice that Dorian hide his orientation.

“Just keep denying it,” he counsels. “Remember what Hitler said: You tell a lie long enough and loud enough, eventually they’ll believe it.”

Dorian replies, “So your advice is, be more like Hitler?”

Bardwell’s screenplay has more than a few laugh-out-loud lines, drolly delivered by the mildly sardonic Michael McMillian and the somewhat more earnest Lea Coco. One small problem lies in the casting, though. Nicky is Dorian’s “kid brother,” but the actor who plays him looks several years older. I don’t buy them as brothers at all, much less with Nicky as the younger one.

Which is too bad, since both McMillian and Coco are perfect otherwise. McMillian, who looks like a skinnier, shaggier-haired Topher Grace, makes Dorian smart and sweet, completely sympathetic even if what happens to him is the same series of plot points that gay characters go through in all coming-out films.

Coco, meanwhile, is exactly what the target audience wants: a hunky jock with a sensitive streak who protects his brother and who’s a good-enough actor to pull it off.

The film becomes maudlin later on as the melodrama with Dad and a few improbable scenarios threaten to ruin its honesty, but it ultimately survives the crisis and ends smilingly. It’s a sweet and likable movie, if not an expert one, and a respectable entry in the genre.

B (1 hr., 25 min.; Not Rated, probably PG-13 (maybe R) for a little harsh profanity, a couple mild sexual references.)