Drawing inspiration from his own awkward teen years, writer-director Corey Sherman makes his feature debut with the sweet and slyly perceptive Big Boys. Much like Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade or Todd Solondz’s Welcome To The Dollhouse, Sherman has chosen to announce himself as a champion of the invisibles, the ones who typically don’t find themselves at the center of a story.
Jamie is one such outsider, a chubby gay 14-year-old who would rather whip up a nice meal than discuss baseball stats. As played so winningly by Isaac Krasner, Jamie is living with his mother Nicole (Emily Deschanel) and older brother Will (Taj Cross) when he learns his cousin Allie (Dora Madison) is bringing her new boyfriend Dan (David Johnson III) along on their planned camping trip. Upset at first that he was promised a family only trip, Jamie changes his tune when he meets Dan, a sexy young Daddy bear who stirs all sorts of feelings in him.
Will, however, remains one of Jamie’s biggest obstacles, a 16-year-old intent on finding girls to fool around with and using his younger brother as his wing man. It’s crushing when he carelessly tells his brother that if he were gay, then they couldn’t share a tent. Cross, who so beautifully played the lovestruck Sam on Pen15 does a one-eighty here as an insensitive, oblivious jerk who seems to enjoy humiliating Jamie. I can’t wait to see what this actor does next.
This film relishes its shifting power dynamics. Allie notices Jamie’s attraction to Dan and it’s a testament to Madison’s performance that she conveys so much of this with a glance here and there. Same goes for Johnson III, whose Dan could have easily been written to take the easy road and spew toxic insults, but Sherman is a much smarter writer than that. Dan, a truly lovely soul, clearly sees himself in Jamie and begins boosting his confidence. It starts with appreciating his cooking skills, moving on to his ability to play trivia games, but then their bond gets truly tested when they go off together on a hike. The stakes get raised and emotions run hot, but where it goes is unexpected and quite lovely. The scene at the end is a knockout.
In fact, what I really appreciated about this film is its lack of snark and its ability to give us a main character who isn’t just the sum of his traumas. We all go through tough, painful times in our lives, it seems to say, but that doesn’t mean that’s all we are. Jamie has a fire inside him and feels like a person you’d want to know. Witness the way he talks to the young girl he’s set up with, in a fantastically written and acted scene, and you’ll see a profoundly kind human. I kept thinking to myself, I bet Jamie will grow up to be someone who’ll have the coolest friends and he’ll say the funniest things at parties. Jamie will be the guy who you’ll ask what movies you should see or what new music you should buy. He’ll know all the best restaurants and probably have the most exciting, loving boyfriend of all time, and this is all because a guy like Dan, another big boy, was super nice to him, and all because a filmmaker like Corey Sherman, decided to tell his story. How often do you walk away from a movie thinking about a character like that?
By Glenn Gaylord, Senior Film Critic
Big Boys screens in person at the 41st Outfest Los Angeles LGBTQ+ Film Festival on Saturday, July 22nd and is available to stream online on Monday July 24th.
The 41st Outfest Los Angeles LGBTQ+ Film Festival runs in person until Sunday, July 23rd 2023 and some selections continue virtually until July 30th. For the full lineup and to purchase tickets head to the Outfest LA 2023 website.