It’s back into the world of gay bears and their admirers in BearCity 3, which had its international premiere at this year’s Iris Prize Festival in Cardiff. Things have moved on from the last instalment, with Michael’s (Gregory Gunter) boyfriend having died. He’s trying to get his life back together with a new boyfriend, Dalton (Garikayi Mutambirwa), who loves him. However, Michael is having trouble letting go of the past and fully committing himself to this new future, which isn’t made easier when Dalton’s distrustful daughter arrives in the picture.
Fred (Brian Keane) and Brent (Stephen Guarino) meanwhile are preparing to have a baby – with Fred’s sister as the surrogate – but Fred’s worried Brent is too obsessed with finishing his Beartopia documentary and isn’t taking it seriously, while Brent thinks Fred is being too uptight and fearful. There’s also Roger (Gerald McCullouch), who’s finished with his boyfriend and feeling a bit lost, and so sets out to find the ex he still has feelings for. However, the young ex, Tyler (Joe Conti), has issues of his own, as his fireman boyfriend Jay (Tom Hooper) is hiding the fact he’s gay, afraid of what his colleagues will say.
All these problems and people are brought together at a bear camp called The Woods, where everyone heads for a few days of relaxation, debauchery and a fair amount of drama.
In a world where mainstream-style gay-themed films often seem like they’re only about the frilly problems of the young and beautiful, the BearCity films have always stood out for their celebration of alternative forms of beauty and looks at issues that are often ignored elsewhere. That continues with the third instalment.
Admittedly there are flaws, such as the fact that each couple going through a ready-made modern gay issue feels a little contrived. It’s also true that whenever BearCity 3 goes for an emotional crescendo that will provide some catharsis to the main character arcs, it really, really goes for it to such an extreme the audience is as likely to laugh at it as with it. Explaining more would provide a few too many spoilers, but you’ll see what I mean when you watch it, as even the movie’s tendency towards farce can’t stop it feeling like it’s taken things a little too far at times.
That said, the movie is still fun, with some good laughs – many of which are provided once more by the quick-wit of Stephen Guarino – and a script and actors who genuinely seem to care about the characters. What it also manages, thanks to being firmly set in the bear community, is showing a real sense of unity between gay men, which often seems absent in other movies.
The fact is, the vast majority of us don’t have incredibly sculpted bodies, chiselled jaws and an entry card to the Beautiful People’s Club, so that even if you’re not a card-carrying bear, it’s nice to see a movie about people who are more like the rest of us. Even films that say they’re about an ‘average’ guy, usually use an actor you can’t imagine would have difficulty attracting men on Grindr, but that’s not always true here. I know that makes it sounds like I’m saying the BearCity 3 actors are ugly, but I’m definitely not, it’s just that they are believably normal and they’re not in the stereotyped twink/muscular mould so often used in gay-themed movies.
As you might expect, it’s a case where if you enjoyed the first two films, you’ll probably like this one, but if you didn’t, BearCity3 won’t make you a convert. If you like your men a bit buffer than your average bear but still with some hair on their chest, you’ll be pleased to hear Eating Out and Paternity Leave’s Chris Salvatore show up in a small role, while Kathy Najimy, who first appeared as Brent’s mom Rose in BearCity 2, makes a welcome reappearance.
BearCity 3 marks the end of the series, which many will feel is a shame. While none of the trio of films were masterpieces and each had a tendency to take things a little bit too far, they’ve also all been amiable, amusing and have an affecting, genuine affection for and understanding of the subculture they’re set in. This last instalment is no exception.
Overall Verdict: It may have the subtlety of a brick when it’s sorting out its characters’ emotional crises, but BearCity 3 is still a lot of fun and should keep fans of the series happy.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac