The gay-themed drama Tiger Orange premiered a couple of days ago at LA’s Outfest, and luckily we got a preview of the movie.
Normally when you hear that a gay-themed film has a porn star as one of its actors, it seems like stunt casting that cares more about hinting at titillation than because that performer is the right person for the job. However Tiger Orange challenges that by having Frankie Valenti – aka gay porn star Johnny Hazzard – in one of the lead roles and giving him the space to give an extremely creditable performance.
You may go in expecting stilted acting of the ‘I’m a plumber, do you need your pipes checked?’ variety, but Valenti is actually really good in what is quite a difficult role, as the character has to constantly sit on the edge between being endearing and seeming like an asshole.
He is Todd, who’s been living out and proud in the big city, but returns to his hometown a short while after his father dies to stay with his brother. He’s not been having much luck and is perhaps hoping for a new start. The brother, Chet (Mark Strano), is in two minds about having his sibling around, as while they definitely have a connection, he’s bitter about the fact that he nursed their somewhat bigoted father towards the end, and Todd couldn’t even be bothered to turn up for the funeral. Chet is also gay, but in the town he grew up in he’s largely closeted about it, only revealing his sexuality to those close to him.
Todd’s brash behaviour – which sits somewhere between being determinedly open about his sexuality and self-destructive narcissism – shakes up Chet’s quiet existence, forcing both brothers to re-evaluate their life choices and their ideas of why the other is the way they are.
There aren’t too many movies about gay brothers out there. Even so, Tiger Orange doesn’t stretch too far into territory you wouldn’t expect, but it nevertheless does it well, touching on all sorts of ideas and subjects, from the benefits of both being brashly out or being in the closet, to the human tendency to rationalise the things we’d like the change but which scare us.
Both Valenti and Mark Strano give assured and heartfelt performances, and while it’s initially a little difficult to believe them as brothers, as we learn more about their characters and the way their lives have gone, the more sense it makes.
Tiger Orange also looks extremely good, with great production values that belie its very small budget. Its mix of subdued small-town life and the beautiful rural wilds reflects the characters’ journey and provides a very effective backdrop to the often moving story.
The film does start to lag towards the midpoint, largely because it seems to be trying to make up its mind up about what it’s trying to say. Indeed at this point it feels like it’s going to paint itself into a corner, by showing the importance of Todd’s in-your-face gay pride, even though he’s actually being a total ass a lot of the time. However when it gets to the point where it seems like it’s got nowhere to go but to say we should all run around shoving our sexuality in other people’s faces – no matter the repercussions for us and those around us – it finds a smart, believable way through by bringing things back to the relationship between the brothers and what they can learn from one another.
This leads towards a very effective and rather moving ending, which pulls you in and makes you think.
Overall Verdict: ‘Porn star turned actor’ might seem like a stunt, but both Valenti and the film around him are an effective, thought-provoking take of gay life seen through the eyes of two brothers.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac