Bruce LaBruce, Canada’s most shocking film director and queer zombie porn auteur, has officially mellowed. That doesn’t mean he’s got nothing left to say or shout about, but it does mean that in Gerontophilia he isn’t doing it with his tongue wagging around. Looking at a synopsis on paper, you’d expecting something edgy, cynical or menacing from his latest, a story of a young boy who discovers his attraction to old men, but that would only have you second-guessing the sentiment, as slow motion embraces between the young and the old are actually more sincere than sinister.
Lake (Pier-Gabriel Lajoie), a young and quiet French Canadian, is trying to evaluate a secret shame. He has an overwhelming attraction to seniors, hiding away a sketchbook full of erotic portraits and renderings of senior citizens around him at the public pool. When an opportunity arises to work in a care home, Lake does not hesitate. It’s in this new placement where he meets Mr. Peabody (Walter Borden), a lively old soul under heavy sedation. Breaking him from his medicated prison, Lake takes Peabody on the lamb to see the ocean and live a little; the first chapter of Lake’s new life and the last leg of Mr. Peabody’s. In Peabody, Lake finds a kindred spirit, beginning a relationship that’ll have to weather social norms.
It’s an unexpected flip for LaBruce to pursue a story about the old and living instead of the young and dead or dying inside. It’s even more bizarre that he’s created a genuinely warm romance instead of strictly acting the provocateur. Maybe this is actually his greatest subversive act yet. It’s a feel-good movie from Bruce LaBruce, and while it’s hard to say there are firm lines that make most of LaBruce’s portfolio is independently memorable, Gerontophilia in all of its nice-ness doesn’t have to fight the viewer very much to leave an impact. In fact, the subversive element, exemplified by Katie Boland’s revolutionary minded girlfriend, seems to be more the point of mockery than alignment here.
It’s a film only about living against the norm, but done in a very normal way, with rotundas of conflicted emotions cut by shoegaze. Social barriers are shattered pretty swiftly, and at times the age gap between Lake and Peabody is nothing more than which one of them has more stories to regale. Meaning that, as the old saying to make old sayers feel better goes, age can just be a number.
Gerontophilia isn’t the mainstream opening to the rest of LaBruce’s catalogue. If this is the first of his work you see, it doesn’t pry open the smouldering pit of Otto and L.A. Zombie or make any of his earlier work any more accessible to outsiders. Gerontophilia is very isolated. The taboo that exists here isn’t dramatized for long bouts at a time, and eventually it washes away. It’s very sweet, but close to mild, something you couldn’t say about the rest of Bruce’s work even if you loathed all of it.