A gay riff on Cher's dance melodrama Burlesque, House of Boys trades Cher and Christina Aguilera for audience friendly hunks Frank (Layke Anderson) and Jake (Benn Northover). Cher (in spirit) makes a fleeting appearance in co-writer/director Jean-Claude Schlim's sweet natured and showy go-go boys drama. (Cher would approve.) A gay club in Amsterdam circa 1984, The House of Boys features colorful dance numbers, sexy showmanship and close-knit hustlers, working under a manager, Madame (Udo Kier), who matches her surroundings in razzle-dazzle. Debut helmer Schlim and co-writers Christian Thiry and Bob Graham deliver good-looking, bare-chested men, passionate sex scenes and show-stopping, musical performances. As a bonus, there are heartfelt friendships, a sweet romance and welcome bursts of humor. Unfortunately, the film shifts gears and dissolves into a medical drama as one of the "boys" struggles with AIDS. Seems a shame to lose the great-times-on-the-dance-floor spirit with the transition to serious AIDS drama. As a result, specialty audiences may feel like they're watching two separate movies and that split is as likely to keep earnings low as is the film's modest platform release.
Frank (Anderson) leaves behind his conservative parents for a new chapter in 1984 Amsterdam, but he ends up homeless when his roommates abruptly leave town. Luckily Frank is a survivor, and he lands on his feet with a job and apartment with the fellow male dancers at the House of Boys. In the process, Frank gains a true friend in Jake (Northover), the club's top dancer, who mentors Jake on pleasing the club's male customers.
Great looking newcomers Layke Anderson and Benn Northover help kick the movie off with scorching chemistry and dance moves. Anderson and Northover perfectly bookend veteran Udo Kier who out-dazzles his young co-stars with a series of cross-dressing costumes straight out of Barbarella.
In addition to the work of costume designer Caroline de Vivaise, cinematographer Carlo Thiel also deserves a special mention for the film's shiny appearance and hot palate of primary colors—more than a passing gesture to early Gregg Araki.
Schlim, a veteran of the Luxenbourg filmmaking community, emphasizes the love and joy his go-go boys feel, instead of the grit and abuse they're exposed to at the House of Boys. He also displays a strong hand at gaining solid performances from his young ensemble.
There's nothing wrong with social message melodramas that tackle the AIDS crisis and certainly not every gay release has to please crowds like Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, but Schlim has a good-time movie with a likable cast. Unfortunately, those good intentions split House of Boys in two. Perhaps next time, Schlim will stay true to the wants of his audience from start to finish.
Distributor: Matson Films
Cast: Udo Kier, Stephen Fry, Layke Anderson, Benn Northover
Director: Jean-Claude Schlim
Screenplay: Jean-Claude Schlim, Christian Thiry and Bob Graham
Producer: Bob Bellion, Jimmy de Brabant
Running Time: 132 min.
Release Date: July 29 (NY)