B&B is a gay drama thriller that’s weirdly self-loathing about its homosexuality, dramatically inert, and lacking much in the way of thrills.
Disclosure: This review was made possible thanks to a screener provided by the film’s UK distributor, Four Square.
It really is quite something to witness a seemingly well-intentioned movie completely and totally fall flat on its face in real-time as it goes on. Sometimes said faceplanting occurs as a result of it slowly turning out that said intentions are a lot less benevolent than first appears. Other times, it’s due to the film attempting to deliver that message not being up to par on a technical sense. And then you get your films by people who simply don’t have the talent required to navigate the tightrope they’ve set for themselves, creating something that’s muddled at best and potentially inadvertently hateful at worst. It is that last trap into which Joe Ahearne’s newest feature film, B&B, has managed to fall with such admirable gusto that, if it weren’t for Ahearne’s technical proficiency and a cast trying their darndest to make the tripe that they’re dealing with work, watching it may have been ironically entertaining instead of mildly dull.
On paper, there’s a lot of promise here, particularly since it comes with the kind of deliberately stripped-down conceit that I often like. One year ago, Marc (Tom Bateman) and his husband Fred (Sean Teale) successfully sued the owner of a remote Christian B&B, Josh (Paul McGann), for discriminating against them and their homosexuality during their stay. Now, they’ve come back for the weekend, apparently so Marc can rub their victory and continuous presence in Josh’s fundamentalist face. There’s history between the trio – as well as Josh’s son, Paul (Callum Woodhouse), who has just turned 16 and is a closet homosexual thanks to his awful father – made worse by the trial having cost Josh a lot of money and the media attention attracting death threats upon him. Said history starts becoming a whole lot more immediately worrying with the arrival of a bulky Russian (James Tratas) whom Marc believes is a gay cruiser but Fred fears is a Neo-Nazi gay-basher hired by Josh for revenge purposes.
Worrying missteps in parcelling out certain traits aside, there’s a lot to explore here and in a very timely manner to boot. Sexual discrimination by religion, self-loathing homosexuality due to that lack of a support system, discriminatory stereotypical profiling – and not just in terms of whether the Russian is a monster or not, Marc and Fred have a constant back-and-forth over whether certain people are gay or not or cruising or not – and the fear of being an openly gay man in a society and time where such a thing is still dangerous to one’s wellbeing. In many respects, and not just because I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since I first saw it back in March, I was reminded very heavily of Get Out, Jordan Peele’s masterclass in satirical horror about life as a Black man. How that film tackled its themes with nuance and sophistication, allowing it to follow through its good intentions because Jordan Peele’s creative skills and convictions were strong enough to make it work as both a message and a movie.
Joe Ahearne, despite having been in the business of drama scriptwriting for far longer than Jordan Peele has, does not have the creative skill and conviction to pull off what he’s going for. B&B is the kind of film that fails in every single creative aspect that it sets out to work with, in spite of some decent technical direction – Ahearne has a couple of puzzling moments, such as a climatic usage of Dutch Angles for no reason and a mid-finale dream sequence that similarly has no reason to be used, but he otherwise does a fine job in making the film propulsive and watchable – and a cast gamely playing their terribly-written characters to the best of their abilities.
Despite it being the core premise of the movie, this is one weirdly self-loathing gay picture. The structure of this kind of drama-thriller necessitates a few switchbacks in order to keep viewers on their toes until the reveal. Are these characters just being paranoid or is there really something off that’s threatening to them? But Ahearne’s screenplay pulls off so many switchbacks that he ends up muddling what should be a simple message. Is this film supposed to be about discriminatory profiling? The psychological toll of trying to exist in a society that quietly wants you dead? The confusion in fully confronting your sexuality for the first time? B&B is about all and none of these things, since its constant attempts to wrongfoot the viewer, less out of a desire to keep them on their toes and more out of a misplaced belief that doing so adds moral complexity to the film’s themes, end up simply obfuscating any overall point and making everybody in the film an unlikeable asshole.
Ah, yes, the asshole problem. Ahearne, both here and in much of his other work such as recent TV series The Replacement and his script for Danny Boyle’s Trance (itself originally a TV movie made by Ahearne himself), subscribes to that very British school of thought which confuses “every character being an unlikeable asshole” for “depth and dimension.” That is, of course, nonsense, yet it’s present in B&B, which only serves to make the amateurishness of the screenplay – where every character is more of a vessel for feelings and themes to be yelled through than an actual character, and sincerely includes sequences like Paul yelling at Josh about his mother’s unfortunate death “IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN YOU” – stand out further than it already does. Paul, obviously, is a discriminatory fundamentalist asshole, but the film keeps trying to offer him sympathetic moments and sequences (such as the aforementioned financial ruin and online death threats) that I guess could have worked if these things stuck rather than having him constantly revert to being a discount Michael Smiley character.
But then Marc, one half of our supposedly sympathetic protagonists, is almost equally as much of an arsehole as the man who may or may not want both him and Fred dead or crippled. He’s deliberately argumentative, sceptical of Fred’s fears well past the point of believability, and possesses a self-righteousness that soars well beyond irritating. It’d be like if Chris in Get Out was intentionally being as much of a giant arsehole to an obviously evil version of the Armitages as he possibly could be. It comes incredibly close to undercutting the message (whatever it’s supposed to be), and is only occasionally aware as to just how much of a giant punchable arsehole Marc is being. Fred and Paul also spend up any of their sympathy points as the film goes on – the former through some monumentally stupid decisions and being so ineffectual he might as well have been replaced by an inanimate object with a drawing of a frowny face, the latter because the constant switchbacks of the narrative cause major damage to his battle with the acceptance of his sexuality. So, eventually, B&B devolves into a bunch of arseholes being stupidly terrible to each other whilst my investment is caved in with a nearby rock.
Again, on a technical level, there’s nothing particularly wrong with B&B, since Ahearne is too competent a director and his cast are too invested to drag this film down to something enjoyably terrible to watch. But it’s dramatically inert due to abysmally written and inconsistent characters that all ultimately take turns revealing themselves to be differing levels of arseholes, completely lacking in any semblance of thrills or tension due to said arseholery, and needlessly muddles any potential message so much that I’m honestly not completely certain as to whether the film is even sympathetic to homosexuality at all – there’s a night-time montage where Fred is searching a local cruising spot for Paul that treats the idea of public cruising in rather the same way that It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia treats homeless people masturbating in public. If there were more scenes like this, and if Ahearne were as competent a director as he is a writer, then B&B may have been worth a watch out of inept fascination. But it isn’t, so there’s no reason to search this out unless you too mistake “everyone’s an asshole” for “mature storytelling.”
B&B currently does not have a UK release date.
Callie Petch is homesick with some imaginary flu.