After the death of his father, Andrew (Andrew Glaszek) returns from the city to the Catskill Mountains where he grew up, taking his rather fey boyfriend, Kyle (Jeremy Neal), along with him. They head to Andrew’s father’s house/cabin, only to find that rough-hewn mountain man/hunk Birch (Chris Graham) is living there.
Birch was a childhood friend of Andrew’s, however they haven’t spoken for many years, partly due to the fact Andrew’s father, Walter, was difficult and had trouble accepting his gay son, which led Andrew to leave the mountains behind completely. Birch and Walter grew close though, which Andrew has a difficult time dealing with, feeling that Birch essentially became the son Walter wanted, as he could never accept the one he had.
Andrew and Birch therefore have a rather fractious reunion, but they can’t deny there’s a connection, which grows the longer they spend together.
Leather is a movie that gets full marks for effort but far fewer for execution. Everybody puts their all into it, with director Patrick McGuinn and screenwriter Greg Chandler putting masses of sweat into creating a gay indie art film infused with a 70s aesthetic, which they hope will look deep into the characters and issues it raises. However it’s all a little too precious and often comes across as false and as if it’s trying too hard.
The movie often feels like a stage play, both in the way it’s written and how it’s presented. Unfortunately it’s not a great play, as it has a bit of a student-writer feel, where someone knows they want to say great things about their characters in profound ways, but doesn’t quite know how to do it in a convincing way. It may hit all the points of dramatic theory, but not in ways that work in practice. Indeed, even though it’s a small scale character drama, there were numerous moments I felt were faintly ridiculous.
It picks up themes and then drops them, and people do things that feel more as if they’re driven by the needs of the plot rather than coming from the characters. For example, much of the early part of the film is about Andrew’s anger about his father, as well as the fact he’s a city boy returning to his country roots. By the end though these things haven’t really been resolved other than in a sleight of hand fashion, which is a result of the fact that by the middle of the film, Leather has tied itself in knots over these things to such a degree, there’s no other way out.
While these things undermine the movie, the dedication shines through, both from those behind the camera and in front. Chris Graham in particular is excellent as mountain man Birch, with both the hairy physicality and simple, open style the role demands. Less successful is Jeremy Neal as Andrew’s boyfriend, Kyle. It’s not really Neal’s fault though, as he’s lumbered with a character who’s never met a gay stereotype he hasn’t embraced.
The movie isn’t entirely sure what to do with Kyle and keeps contradicting itself over how it feels about him. This results is that it eventually perpetuates the idea that camp gay men are needy, pathetic, emotionally incontinent yet stunted creatures who should be kept locked up in urban gay ghettoes. Plus it doesn’t really matter if you do something you know will hurt them, because afterwards you can distract them with the promise of new shoes and they’ll be completely happy again.
It’s all a bit of a shame really, as there’s so much within the film that could have made for a great movie. It’s almost as if this should be considered the try-out, and now they need to go back and have another go with a rewritten script and different aesthetic, as I really, really want to see the movie Leather so clearly wants to be. There is a lot of possibility here, but the film itself is very underwhelming.
Overall Verdict: Leather knows what it wants to do and strives incredibly hard. Unfortunately knowing and doing are two different things. While Leather shows endless potential, it’s a rather frustrating, slightly confused movie, which has its moments but overall is pretty weak.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac