(Originally published in Bay Windows, October 22, 2008, with slight variation.)
“Hollywood would never make this movie,” says director Laurie Lynd of his new feature film, Breakfast with Scot. On the surface, though, the plot sounds like something we’ve heard before: unsuspecting, child-free adults find their lives transformed when circumstances plop a kid on their doorstep. Think Three Men and a Baby or Big Daddy.
In this case, the major difference is that the unwitting parental protagonists are two gay men living in Toronto: Sam (Ben Shenkman), a lawyer, and his partner Eric (Tom Cavanaugh), a deeply closeted sportscaster and former NHL hockey player. The boy, Scot (Noah Bernett), is the son of Sam’s brother’s recently deceased girlfriend. The brother has jetted off to South America, leaving Scot in the care of Child Services, who decide he would be better off with Eric and Sam.
It is remarkable enough that placing the boy with two gay men is a non-issue. When Scot turns out to be a gender-bending 11-year-old who likes to wear makeup and sing show tunes, one realizes just how extraordinary a plot this is. “I figure if it had been a Hollywood film,” Lynd says, “it would have been, ’gay couple gets saddled with obnoxious straight boy kid, and worlds collide.’ I think it’s more interesting that it’s the gay men who are threatened by the gender bending.”
He elaborates, “It’s a Hollywood format. It’s very much meant to be a bright, entertaining film. But its attitude towards its politics and the things that the characters are actually struggling with, I don’t believe Hollywood would treat in this way.”
Sean Reycraft’s screenplay is based on a book by Cambridge author Michael Downing, who originally set the story in his hometown. The Canadian filmmakers moved it to Toronto, however, where it was easier for them to raise money. They also changed Eric (Ed in the book) from an art-magazine editor to a sportscaster and former hockey star, wanting to make his internalized homophobia more understandable.
The hockey theme also gave the filmmakers their most extraordinary marketing win: the official sanction of the National Hockey League and the Toronto Maple Leafs. This is the first time a professional sports league has allowed an LGBT-themed film to use its uniforms and logos. Lynd was astonished it happened, knowing the NHL’s reputation for being protective of its image. When producer Paul Brown approached them, however, Lynd recalls, “They said yes right away . . . They liked [the film’s] message about being a good parent and loving your child for whomever he or she is. They thought it was a really good story about a modern family.” He adds, “They have also gone on record acknowledging they have a gay fan base, and they wanted to reach out to them, too.”
Lynd says the NHL has stood by them despite invective from “ex-gay” fundamentalist James Hartline and others. “They [NHL] claim they were not making any kind of political decision or statement,” says Lynd.
Author Downing has no complaints about the changes to his story, Lynd says. In fact, when Downing first saw the film, he said that, “It was the first time he’d seen himself onscreen as a gay man,” recalls Lynd. “I think what he meant is that a lot of gay films seem to struggle to tell every aspect of what it is to be gay, that it almost seems that it’s about professional homosexuals. . . like their career is ’being gay.’” Eric and Sam, however, “are guys who happen to be gay. They have full lives, [being gay is] a big part of their lives, but it’s not their whole lives, even though ironically it’s the catalyst for the conflict in the film.”
This light touch is refreshing after so many lesson-laden media depictions of LGBT families. “I think you reach people more effectively entertaining them than from a soapbox,” Lynd explains. He hopes the film will appeal both to LGBT families and to others who can appreciate its universal message of self-acceptance.
The actors are in large part responsible for the film’s balance of humor and warmth. Lynd knew from the start he wanted Cavanaugh, best known for his comic role in the television series Ed, as the sports-loving, closeted Eric. He says, “I think it’s one of the best performances he’s given, and shows what a huge range he has.” Lynd notes that Cavanaugh also helped with the script and even recruited his friend Ben Shenkman, who starred in HBO’s Angels in America, to play his compassionate but sometimes exasperated partner Sam.
The most striking performance, though, is that of Noah Bernett as Scot. “The movie lives or dies on that performance,” says Lynd. Some of the hundreds of kids who auditioned, he says, would be, “Mincing around, acting like what they thought a gay kid would be like, which was sort of horrifying and hilarious, but wrong.” When they saw Bernett, however, “He just nailed Scot right away. He got that that kid is all about being passionate about everything he does. It’s not about mincing.”
Lynd may even see a bit of himself in Scot. “I actually had to read Hockey for Dummies as part of my research,” he admits. “That’s why I have Scot reading it [in the movie]. Growing up in Canada, you cannot not know hockey . . . but I never really understood the game because I wasn’t that interested in it. I was always into films and musicals and stuff.”
Breakfast with Scot represents a breakthrough in the portrayal of LGBT families, depicting the richness of our lives without preaching or overburdening them with clichés. Go see it, with or without kids of your own.
Breakfast with Scot opens in October in theaters across the U.S. See the film Web site for details.