If you’re not American, you might be wondering whether ‘Akron’ is a foreign word, perhaps denoting passion, anger or desire. Well, it’s actually the name of the fifth-largest city in the US state of Ohio, which is where most of the film is set.
Benny (Matthew Frias) is a freshman at the University of Akron. He meets the sexy Christopher at a football game and the two start dating. Things go so well that they decide to spend Spring Break together in Florida, visiting Christopher’s mother, Carol. Once there, Benny discovers that his family and Christopher’s have a history, as many year’s before Carol ran over and killed Benny’s brother in a parking lot.
Although that event had nothing to do with either Benny or Christopher, this revelation puts immense pressure on their relationship. Benny realises that at some point Christopher must have realised their families’ shared past but decided not to tell him. He’s also aware that his own parents will have a major problem with the news, especially as his mother, Lenora, has never gotten beyond the death of her first child.
From that synopsis you might have already guessed that there’s a bit of an obstacle that Akron needs to get past – the coincidence that the young lovers unwittingly had such a dark connection many years before. There are moments when how unlikely this is becomes a bit of an elephant in the room, partly because whenever the movie tries some sleight of hand to try to stop you thinking about it, it actually just ends up highlighting it.
Although some people might not be able to get past this, it’s worth looking beyond the fact this coincidence isn’t dealt with that well, because the rest of the film is pretty good. While it takes a while to get going – to the point where you start wondering whether it’s going to be a movie about a nice, sweet romance where nothing much happens – when the drama hits it becomes far more interesting. The film negotiates how the young men deal with the revelation, and whether their love can find a way through it.
Of course it’s not just about the Benny and Christopher, as Carol hasn’t really dealt with what happened either, even if it was an accident. More pressing are Benny’s parents, with his dad pressuring him to stay away from Christopher as he believes his wife will never be able to accept it. Since the death of his brother, Benny has always felt pressure to be a ‘good boy’, but he may have reached the limit of what he’s prepared to do to keep his parents happy.
There are a few too many scenes that involve Benny getting angry and storming out of places, but largely it’s an involving melodrama that genuinely cares about its characters. It doesn’t hurt that the two leads are pretty cute either. Akron isn’t anything earth-shattering, but it’s not a bad watch. Those who bemoan that gay-themed films are too often about ‘being gay’, will appreciate that in this film, despite being largely about young people, it’s a bit of a non-issue. Indeed, the film sometimes seems to be trying to make a subtle point, that there are potentially far bigger things to consider than the gender of the two people in love.
Overall Verdict: Although the coincidence at the heart of the film isn’t handled that well, the fallout from it makes for a heartfelt gay melodrama.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac