Post- Brokeback Mountain, homosexuality at the cinema is not groundbreaking, but when the film touches on homosexuality in sports, it still enters taboo territory. Laurie Lynd's Breakfast with Scot, which opens tomorrow in Toronto and Vancouver, doesn't skate around the issue.
"I've always wanted to make mainstream films that are about non-mainstream subjects," the Toronto-based director said last week.
Breakfast With Scot is a family comedy about a couple who suddenly, reluctantly find themselves the unprepared caretakers of an 11-year-old boy. The plot sounds mainstream enough ( Three Men and a Baby and About a Boy come to mind), but, as it happens, the couple in Breakfast with Scot are Eric and Sam, gay partners. Meanwhile, Scot, the boy the two men gain custody of, wears feathered boas, is a huge fan of musicals and cries during class when a story about a dying dog is read. In Lynd's words, he's "a big sissy," more gay-seeming than even Eric and Sam, which troubles Eric in particular since he's an former hockey player and a current TV sportscaster who, because of his profession, has always gone to great lengths to hide his sexuality.
Internalized homophobia is a topic Lynd has mined before. His short film from 1993, The Fairy Who Didn't Want to Be a Fairy Anymore, tells the story of a fairy - played by gay actor and playwright Daniel MacIvor - who has his wings surgically removed, an operation he regrets by the end of the 16-minute story. That film won a Genie award, but its highly stylized costumes and sets and the inclusion of musical scores certainly did not scream "mainstream." Lynd's first feature, House, was a 1996 adaptation of MacIvor's play, and although it was a critical success and showed at Sundance, it is closer to an art-house film than blockbuster fare.
Breakfast With Scot, however, looks and feels like something out of Hollywood. "It's an interesting hybrid," he said, "because in some ways it's like an American movie in that it's a bright accessible warm comedy. But it's very Canadian in its politics."
Despite the lighthearted nature of the film, it has already ignited some serious political discourse, which began early on when producer Paul Brown announced late last year that he had obtained rights from the National Hockey League and the Toronto Maple Leafs to use the Leafs logo and uniforms in the movie. That coup made Eric not only a gay ex-hockey player but a gay ex-Maple Leaf. In real life, no Maple Leaf has ever come out as a gay man, even after retirement. When former National Basketball Association player John Amaechi spoke about his homosexuality in February, he became one of only a handful of retired athletes to do so, and no male player has ever come out while still active.
Tuesday's release of photos of Leafs rookie Jiri Tlusty partying it up - in one shot touching tongues with another man - raised speculation that this might finally occur, but it was a no-go. Tlusty was quick to confirm that he is straight.
"When we found out that they were giving us permission to use the logo, I was floored," Lynd said. "I was ecstatic. I never in a million years thought we would get permission."
Also floored by the announcement, but not as ecstatic was James Hartline, an ex-gay Christian activist in San Diego whose protestations of the NHL's decision on his blog received coverage in The New York Times. "Instead of sticking to the sport of hockey and making billions of dollars for its teams and players," he wrote, "the National Hockey League has now decided to join forces with the radicalized homosexual movement in their declared war on traditional family values and children."
Following that, Brian Rushfeldt, co-founder of the Calgary-based Canada Family Action Coalition, told the Los Angeles Times that he saw the hockey organization's participation as "underwriting homosexuality," adding, "I don't think it does much for the image of the NHL amongst families who may want their children involved in hockey."
Bernadette Mansur, senior vice-president of communications with the NHL, acknowledged that the topic of sexuality did come up as league representatives assessed the script, but she insists that it did not drive the decision. "It's a comedy about a modern-day marriage," she said. "[The decision]has nothing to do with a statement on homosexuality by the NHL or the Toronto Maple Leafs, and those who would say it does have obviously not seen the movie or have chosen to misinterpret it."
John Lashway at Maple Leaf Sports Entertainment, agreed. "It's never been our intention to stake out any type of political position on [homosexuality]or to endorse any type of lifestyle. But we recognize that our fans are reflective of our society and that includes a wide variety of lifestyles."
According to Lynd, the biggest concern he heard from the NHL didn't have anything to do with the gay content. "They didn't like that Eric was mean to a kid at the opening of the film," he said, referring to a scene where Eric (Tom Cavanagh) cruelly turns down a request for an autograph. "They don't like to see their players being mean to fans."
Cavanagh - whom some will recognize from his four seasons starring in the NBC drama Ed - said the worst thing the cast and crew could have done to tarnish the Maple Leafs logo would be to depict the hockey action in the movie badly. "As it was," he said, "we hired semi-pro hockey guys, guys who could play." He described one scene in which he was supposed to score a breakaway goal and had to do three takes because the goalie kept blocking his shot.
Whatever controversy erupts as the film opens on Friday - whether it be that the hockey is subpar or the filmmakers are spreading homosexual propaganda - Lynd welcomes it. "Candidly, it's great press," he said. "The controversy is going to make the film known, so I don't mind at all."
Lynd said Breakfast With Scot had an enthusiastic reception from the gay community when it screened in May at the Inside Out festival, but he hopes to reach a broader audience: "I would be so thrilled if this film plays at multiplexes in the suburbs. It would be amazing to get a film like this out there."