MRR Review: "Geography Club"

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At Goodkind High School, a group of students of varying sexual orientation form an after-school club as a discrete way to share their feelings and experiences.
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MRR Review: "Geography Club"

Rating: PG-13 (thematic material, sexual references, teen drinking, and language)
Length: 80 minutes
Release Date: April 27, 2013
Directed by: Gary Entin
Genre: Comedy

"Geography Club" is based on the book of the same name by author Brent Hartinger, the creator of "The Russel Middlebrook Series." Like many teen movies, "Geography Club" is packed with comedy and drama related to the scenarios teenagers face every day. In the case of "Geography Club," the dilemmas the teenage characters have to face are usually related to their sexual orientations. The Geography Club in the movie is not actually related to geography at all. Instead, it serves as a safe haven for teenagers who would be ostracized by their peers if their secrets about their romantic lives got out. The fake geography club gives them a place to meet and be themselves.

The movie's main character is Russel Middlebrook, a closeted gay teenager who feels like an outcast even though most of his peers have no idea that he's not into girls. He's secretly attracted to the jock types at Goodkind High School and keeps his feelings to himself, afraid he would be bullied if they found out about it. Russel is particularly interested in Kevin Land, the football team's heartthrob. Little does Russel know that Kevin is gay too. When the two teenagers encounter each other in an anonymous chat room for gay youths and realize they go to the same school, they agree to meet up. Russel and Kevin are shocked when they meet, but they quickly become friends. Realizing that other gay teenagers at his school might also think they're alone, Russel decides to organize a meeting at the downtown pizza shop with every gay schoolmate he's aware of. Only a few people attend, but they decide to create a fake Geography Club at their high school to serve as their regular meeting place. They choose Geography Club as the club's name to deter students who don't know what the club really is, since few would be interested in something that sounds so boring.

Of course, there's trouble in paradise when students who are actually interested in geography want to join the club. Bullies put in applications for a gay club under Russel's name in an effort to convince the school that he's gay. Kevin shows that he isn't quite who Russel thought he was when he joins in on the bullying to protect his own secrets. Friendships are destroyed when sides are taken. "Geography Club" is a movie that's all about the unintended consequences people face for trying to hide who they are. No teen wants to be bullied, but pretending to be someone else leads to more severe problems many of the characters never even considered.

"Geography Club" features a blend of unknown and popular actors. Nikki Blonsky, who is best known for her role in the musical "Hairspray" as Tracy Turnblad, portrays an eccentric lesbian character named Terese who is dating Min, one of Russel's best friends. Min is portrayed by Ally Maki, whose previous acting experiences have been largely limited to television series such as "10 Things I Hate About You" and "Privileged." "Geography Club" is the first major film for actor Cameron Deane Stewart, who took on the leading role as Russel Middlebrook. Meaghan Martin, the most famous actor in the film besides Nikki Blonsky thanks to her roles in multiple Disney shows and movies, portrays Trish, the mousy girl who has a crush on Russel. While "Geography Club" features other talented actors, these four really carry the movie on their shoulders. The chemistry between Min and Russel is particularly dramatic as he continuously makes choices that she strongly disagrees with, putting their long-lasting friendship to the test.

Even though it may look like just another teen movie, "Geography Club" has been praised by critics and regular viewers alike as refreshing and unique in a sea of young adult films that recycle the same premises. In fact, "Geography Club" won the L.A. Outfest Audience Award for Best Feature Film. While "Geography Club" does have several cliche plots, especially where romance is concerned, few movies are so bold in getting their messages across. "Geography Club" is honest about the consequences of its characters not being ashamed of who they are, but it's also honest about what happens when they try to hide. It's not easy to be so brave in the face of discrimination and hatred, but the characters in "Geography Club" realize they have each other to rely on even if the rest of the world turns on them.

Stars: 3 of 5