Review: “Bear City” Says Gay Bears Are Just Like Everyone else (Except Fatter and Hairier)

Let’s face it: it can be tough to be the kind of gay guy who is attracted more to meatier, hairier men in a world where lean, rippled abs and waxed backs and chests are seen as the physical ideal.

In response, a whole community has built up around these men and those who share their interest: the bear community. And it sometimes must feel like they’re living in a completely different place than the rest of the GLBT community — like they’re living on a different planet, or at least, well, in a different city.

A new movie, Bear City (out on DVD next month), takes bears and non-bears alike into that city.

And like The Boys in the Band (one of the first movies about openly gay men) and the 1978 French-Italian film La Cage Aux Folles (one of the first popular movies about drag queens), the hopes and dreams of many, many people ride on the shoulders of this small, micro-budgeted film.

In other words, there’s a lot to live up to. And because it’s the first movie of its kind (that I know of), a lot of people will be drawn to it. And some of those people will inevitably end up disappointed.

The movie lays out its agenda pretty quickly: "Admitting you like bears is like coming out of the closet twice," a character says near the beginning of the film. "It’s one thing to admit you like Brad Pitt. But John Goodman is something else entirely."

In ensemble-movie fashion, it then proceeds to set up the various stories of a group of bear-friends. They include:

  • A newbie character who’s just beginning to explore his interest in bear culture (who also acts as sort of an audience-surrogate for those unfamiliar with bears).
  • A sexually adventurous rogue who’s not interested in love or settling down.
  • A bear couple where one guy is considering weight-reduction surgery, to the annoyance of his partner, who prefers him the way he is.
  • Another bear couple who are considering whether to open their monogamous relationship up to outsiders.

The good news? The actors are mostly very likable, and the acting is more than passable, especially by Gerald McCullouch (as the rogue), Joe Conti (as the bear-curious guy), and Alex Di Dio (as an airhead-twink friend). Meanwhile, Brian Keane and The Big Gay Sketch Show‘s Stephen Guarino provide able comic relief.

Keep your eyes peeled, because the movie also includes brief cameos by famous bears, including Chris
March, Michael Musto
, and the cowboy from the 1970s band The Village

Much of the dialogue is clever — well above average for a film like this. "Bears can be just as gossipy and superficial as the circuit queens," one character says. And there are lots of clever expressions that seem to come straight from the community — "stroller meat" to describe hot straight dads, for example.

Mostly, the movie has a heart, made by people with no small degree of talent who clearly feel passionately about their topic.

So what’s the bad news?

The stories, none of which are particularly novel, are all pretty slight to begin with, and even then, they sometimes creep along at too slow a pace. Likewise, the timing of the humor usually goes on for a beat or two too long.

It’s also worth noting that this is a very low budget movie, so adjust your expectations for the lighting, sound, and music accordingly.

And can I just say? I know this makes me sound like a total prude, but I thought the movie over-did the sex part. It’s not that I begrudge them eroticizing body images that are not often presented as "hot." It’s just that the in Bear City the bear community sometimes comes across as something of a free-floating bathhouse.

I think this goes back to the fact that this movie is really the "first" of its kind. As such, I think it’s trying to do too many things: celebrate, validate, and humanize the bear community itself, introduce newbies to the community, but also try to sexualize alternative body-types (although the movie is a tad hypocritical: the "erotic" sex scenes
mostly involve very conventionally attractive, if hairy men, while the comic sex scenes tend to involve the fat guys).

For bears or people interested in bear culture, this movie is absolutely must-see (although, as I said, some of you will probably end up a little disappointed). Everyone else? Bear City isn’t necessarily a place you have to visit.

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