TIFF 2013: ‘Gerontophilia’ a surprisingly heartfelt comedy from Bruce LaBruce

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Gerontophilia
Written by Bruce LaBruce and Daniel Allen Cox
Directed by Bruce LaBruce
Canada, 2013

Gerontophilia, or the sexual preference for the elderly, is the eponymous subject of the new film by Bruce LaBruce, iconoclastic Canadian director of subversive narrative porn such as The Raspberry Reich and Hustler White, among others.  Given what goes on in other LaBruce films, amputee sex, “terrorist chic” sex, zombie sex, etc., the subject matter of his newest didn’t necessarily alarm the way it would for nearly other living filmmaker, Lars von Trier being a potential exception. What’s surprising is how incredibly normal and unshocking the film is, especially given LaBruce’s history and the subject at hand. Many critics call this his bid at mainstream, and it could be perceived as such. But if the title doesn’t scare off most audiences, a quick trip through the director’s filmography probably will. Still, there’s nothing scandalous about what happens onscreen in Gerontophilia, and it’s a welcome change and portent of LaBruce’s future endeavors.

The younger participant in this sexual dynamic is Lake (Pier-Gabriel Lajoie), a nice young guy in a relationship with Desiree (Katie Boland), ardent feminist and the kind of girl every gay guy wants as a best friend. Their relationship is fine but not particularly dynamic. In one of the earliest scenes, Lake, acting as lifeguard, resuscitates an elderly man in a swimming pool by giving him mouth-to-mouth. At the end of this lifesaving act, Lake is sporting a noticeable erection, clearly played for laughs as bystanders laugh in shock and awe. While this is happening, LaBruce draws attention to the sound of life being literally breathed back into the old man, a nice metaphor that carries itself throughout the film. For not only does Lake have a desire for the elderly male figure, he’s also keen to help inspire such men to live their last days to their fullest, an admirable trait by all accounts.

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The facilitating setup begins when Lake gets a job at a senior center and befriends Mr. Peabody (Walter Borden), a loquacious and erudite octogenarian living his life in between forced medicating and rubdowns. His zest for life is mostly tempered due to his solitude and estrangement from a son who doesn’t like having a gay father. Once the two have done the deed, Lake busts Mr. Peabody out and they set off on a cross-country road trip in pursuit of the Pacific Ocean, an item on Peabody’s bucket list.

Contrary to what you might expect, there’s nothing salacious or off-putting going on here. In fact, there’s a rather conspicuous absence of sex and nudity, especially for a LaBruce film. What transpires is a funny and heartfelt romantic tale clearly inspired by Harold and Maude, the classic May-December romance directed by Hal Ashby. The relationship between Lake and Mr. Peabody is never condescended to or treated as an oddity, nor does it feel particularly subversive, an incredibly refreshing take on a subject that could easily be played as a joke. All these strengths also add up to one of the film’s primary flaws: outside of the thematic conceit, there’s nothing new or interesting on display. Still, Gerontophilia is a film that might find a cult following, and one that signals that LaBruce might be heading towards more commercialized pastures.

— John Oursler

The Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 5th to 15th, 2013. For a complete schedule of films, screening times, and ticket information, please visit the official site.

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