Coffee Date (2006) / Comedy-Romance
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but would be R for sexuality, brief nudity and language
Running Time: 94 min.
Cast: Jonathan Bray, Wilson Cruz, Sally Kirkland, Jonathan Silverman, Elaine Hendrix, Deborah Gibson, Jason Stuart
Director: Stewart Wade
Screenplay: Stewart Wade
Review published January 18, 2008
Jonathan Bray stars as Todd, a struggling, repressed, single heterosexual living in Los Angeles who is set up on a blind date by his brother (and roommate), Barry (Silverman, The Cookout). Todd has corresponded with his date through emails, and the two have hit if off to the point where they are ready to meet at local coffee shop. While there, Todd haggles for a table with another man (Cruz, Supernova) also waiting for a blind date of his own, a movie buff just like he is. As the two wait, the men become friends, then laugh at the discovery that the "Kelly" that Todd is supposed to meet is none other than the gay man he has been talking to all along. Although a typical homophobic male, Todd decides to play a prank on Barry by taking Kelly up to his room for the night. However, the plan backfires when Barry and his mother (Kirkland, Bruce Almighty) refuse to believe he was just pulling their leg, thinking he is finally coming out. Meanwhile, Todd also makes things worse for himself at work when he decides to continue his friendship with Kelly, and soon the whole world thinks he's gay when he's not.
What originally started as an award winning short film becomes an extended seriocomic sitcom full of the usual contrivances and predictable turns we've seen before in a variety of romantic comedies based on somewhat taboo relationships. The hook here is that a heterosexual man has to confront his own homophobia when pursuing a friendship with a gay man, and later also has to confront the fact that he might see the other man as more than a friend. Likeable actors do help, with a pretty good performance by Wilson Cruz as the gay man trying desperately to have a friendship with a man he is attracted to without falling in love. Recognizable names fill the supporting roles, with Kirkland and Hendrix (What the Bleep Do We Know), both of whom served as associate producers, giving the film the female point of view from different perspectives, and even a small role is given to former teen pop sensation Deborah (Debbie) Gibson as the man-eating coworker who wouldn't give Todd the time of day until she saw him as an impossibly gay conquest.
Coffee Date is amiable enough for those that enjoy independent features, especially those that explore gender politics and sexual identity issues. Even with the inherently contrived nature of the plot, writer-director Wade manages to throw in some poignant moments, especially as we see both Todd and Kelly struggle with their own feelings, even if we don't always buy the ease by which Todd begins to question what everyone else thinks about him as possibly being true. It's not completely predictable, as we aren't quite sure whether Kelly's leading of Todd down the primrose path will lead to self-discovery or reaffirmation, but such things are glossed over by the pat comedy script that belongs much more in a television episode of one's favorite gay-centric sitcom than in a feature-length film of mostly superficial depth.
Coffee Date is obviously a low budget endeavor, with lighting that creates shadows where they shouldn't be and digital textures that don't exactly make for a great overall viewing experience in and of themselves. Luckily, it's driven more by the characters and the comedy, so if you get into the story, you're not likely to care that it isn't going to win any awards for sound effects or cinematography. I would love to give the film a recommendation for making a different sort of romantic comedy, but the extreme series of contrivances in order to get this straight man to practically go gay proves too farfetched to then have to take the characters and their situations seriously when the time comes later in the film. As a comedy, it's pleasant, and as a drama/romance it has its good spots, but as both, it's as problematic as most conventional romantic comedies. It's the equivalent of going to a trendy new coffee shop in town that all the hip people go to and realizing the beverages there taste just like the ones made at Starbucks.
©2008 Vince Leo