Is this a knockabout romantic comedy or a soulful, sexual drama? The reason I ask is because if you looked at the cover of the US DVD release, you’d probably expect the former, while the UK version goes for the latter. It’s not too often you see covers that look like they’re for such completely different movies.
The truth is that Kept Boy is somewhere in the middle between comedy and melodrama, as while it certainly has the structure and feel of a rom com, it’s also interested in the more dramatic possibilities of its storyline.
Dennis (Jon Paul Phillips) has been dating famed interior designer Farleigh Nock (Thure Riefenstein) for several years, and has gotten used to be the older man’s toy boy. While he was a hot young twink when they first got together, he’s now reached his 30s, and with Farleigh experiencing a few financial difficulties, Dennis needs to get a ‘proper’ job for the first time in his life. That proves tough as he has no experience.
Then in steps handsome, young, pool boy Jasper (Greg Audino), who immediately seems to catch Farleigh’s eyes. Dennis realises that despite the fact he loves Farleigh, he’s isn’t the first of the designer’s much younger lovers (revealed during a rather Sunset Boulevard moment), and so he might not be the last either. A rivalry grows between Dennis and Jasper, as the former begins to feel everything slipping away, while the latter is handed a life as Farleigh’s assistant that he never expected.
Based on Robert Rodi’s popular 1990s novel, Kept Boy makes the leap to the screen courtesy of George Bamber, the director of the cult gay comedy, The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green. It’s only a partially successful leap, as while the ingredients are there for a fun dark comedy with a bit of soul, other things come along to undermine it.
Perhaps the biggest problem is Farleigh. The movie revolves around the fact Dennis isn’t just with his boyfriend because the designer has lots of money, but because he genuinely loves him. However, for most of the movie it gives us zero reasons why anyone would like Farleigh let alone love him. He’s presented as rude, entitled, dismissive and needlessly unpleasant – indeed, Dennis would probably be better off if he was only there for the cash. There is a reason why we don’t want to be too far on Farleigh’s side, but it doesn’t really work. Similarly, the movie isn’t sure whether to treat Jasper as friend or foe, and again while there is a reason for that, in the early stages it just seems a little confused.
Then, when the plot reveals where it’s headed towards the end, it feels like it’s taken a slightly deus ex machina lurch to one side to get us there and to try to wrap everything up.
Despite the flaws, the movie should be given kudos for taking its characters seriously. Dennis could easily have just been presented as a vapid pretty boy scheming to keep his boyfriend, but the movie is genuinely interested in him and wants to show that despite being a ‘kept boy’, there’s more to him than that. A large chunk of the movie becomes his early mid-life crisis as he works out where he really stands in the world. Jon Paul Phillips puts in an earnest and likeable performance in the role, which helps ensure that while things are a little narratively messy around the central character, Dennis himself works quite well.
Of course, no film of this ilk would be complete with plenty of shirtlessness courtesy of men who’ve spent too much time at the gym, and hot sex scene or two. The movie delivers on those, including a pool party scene at the beginning that does a good job of suggesting that it’s necessary for the story, while largely being an excuse for the camera to slowly pan across a bevy of hot guys in various states of undress.
Overall Verdict: A messy film in many respects, saved by an amiable personality and a good central character in Dennis (as well as being a little sexy at times).
Reviewer: Tim Isaac