Mile is a gay teenager, who’s out but not feeling vast amounts of angst about his sexuality. What he’s really desperate to do is get away from his small hometown and head to Chicago for college. However, when his father dies and they discover all their cash has been spent on a fancy car for his dad’s mistress, Miles has to confront the fact he may have to put his dreams on hold.
Then he discovers there’s a volleyball scholarship on offer, but he’s got a major problem – his school only has a girls’ team. He decides he’s going to try out anyway, and while his teacher (Missi Pyle) is happy to pick him, other schools are less impressed with their female team having to play against a guy.
Miles’ mother, Pam (Molly Shannon), meanwhile is having to deal with her husband’s death and the revelations about where their money’s gone. She knew he was a bit of a pig, but is filled with rage about what’s happened, and also somewhat fearful about what lies ahead, having been constrained and controlled by her husband for years. Then she meets Lloyd (Paul Reiser) at a bereavement support group, and while they like each other, the situation gets more complicated when it turns out Lloyd is the one who’ll decide if Miles is allowed to continue to play volleyball.
Loosely based on the experiences of director Nathan Adler – who previously helmed the charming, gay-themed Nate & Margaret – Miles is certainly a slightly larger scale project than his previous effort, although still holding onto its low-budget indie roots. It brings in well-known actors, such as Molly Shannon, Missi Pyle, Paul Reiser and Stephen Root, alongside newcomer Tim Boardman, who put in a great central performance in the title role. What is perhaps surprising though is that despite having the talents of the very funny Pyle and Shannon, they’re given more serious roles than you might expect.
Although Shannon has a few moments when she’s allowed to let rip – not least when she does a bit of urine-based revenge – mostly her character is comparatively restrained. It allows her to show that she’s a very creditable dramatic actress, but does perhaps make the film a little more subdued than it needed to be. Indeed, with a plot with this much potential for humour, as few more laugh out loud moments certainly wouldn’t have hurt. It often feels like its stretching for the pathos of a drama but with the credibility-stretching story beats of a mainstream underdog tale. As a result, while entertaining, it has some slightly movie-of-the-week moments, which ocassonally makes it feel uneven.
When it is fun, it works really well, such as the fact it’s set in 1999 and Miles is having online chats with guys he’s never met, which is something that gets a little X-rated when his mother accidentally goes online. You also can’t help but wish the best for Miles, as while his denunciation of his hometown sometimes goes a bit far and his idea of getting a volleyball scholarship is a bit OTT, he’s still sweet and fighting for what he wants.
It’s also interesting how some viewera have reacted to the fact Miles is gay. Some have said it’s pointless, with suggestions it was only done to get interest from gay film festivals. Ultimately though, why should a film about a gay person have to be directly about them being gay? The film doesn’t completely ignore its main character’s sexuality – there are certainly hints his desire to go to Chicago is at least partly so he can connect with other gay people – but it’s far from being central to the movie. The director has said the character is gay because Miles is partly based on him and he’s gay, but irrespective of that, there’s no reason he shouldn’t be gay. Saying his LGBT status is ‘pointless’ is irrelevant, as why shouldn’t he be gay? After all, if all gay-themed films are directly about people’s sexuality, it tends to continue the idea that ‘gay’ is still somehow separate and aside from other everything else. Indeed, it would be good if a few more films could have major gay characters whose sexuality was part of who they are but not a key aspect of the film.
It is a shame the film isn’t a bit more even, as it’s very close to being the sort of movie that could have had some crossover, mainstream appeal. However, it ultimately can’t quite decide exactly what it wants to be. For my money, a few more laughs and less of a tendency to seem slightly abashed at its more mainstream elements, would have gone a long way to making it an outright success. It’s certainly not a bad movie, but the fact it’s so close to be an excellent one but doesn’t quite make it, is a little frustrating.
Overall Verdict: With some good actors and a lot of heart, there’s entertainment to be had from Miles, but a lack of synthesis between its more mainstream comic elements and its indie drama side mean it’s not all it might have been.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac