This is easily the hardest episode of Hit Me With Your Best Shot I've ever participated in, and I'm including in that the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon episode, which I didn't participate in because despite trying three times, I found myself unable to remember that I was supposed to be looking for a best shot, so caught up was I in Ang Lee's deft, magical storytelling.
It's not just that Trevor is a very, VERY good short film, and that I could very honestly pick pretty much any shot from it and come up with a justification for why it's the Best. It's that I had never seen the short that birthed The Trevor Project before, and I didn't put two and two together and realize that this lovely short was even related to that SUPER important organization before watching it, and was thus totally unprepared for what I was about to watch.
|I LOVE the little Harold & Maude phase Trevor goes through at the beginning|
Every gay kid grows up differently. Hell, EVERY KID - gay, straight, or anything in between or outside of that spectrum - grows up differently. It's one of the reasons why there are so many coming-of-age stories. There are as many stories of growing up as there are people in this world, but in all of those stories there are some constants, some events that remain more or less the same, some feelings that are universally felt at specific points. So when you sit down to watch a movie about growing up, even one about coming out (or something adjacent), it's a good bet that you'll empathize with the characters based on your own experiences, but a bit of a long shot that you'll see something that conjures up your own experiences exactly. Which is kind of what Trevor did to me.
I say "kind of" because, yes, the specifics are slightly different. But the essence is largely the same: I never loved Diana Ross, but switch her out for Mariah Carey. I never felt like best friends with a guy that I was subconsciously attracted to, but I sure did try (at least in middle school). I never attempted suicide, but I'd be lying if I said I NEVER thought about it. My parents probably erred on the side of being too involved in my life as opposed to not being remotely interested. But push those details aside, and you get at one big, flaming piece of truth: I was maybe the last person to know I was gay.
I thought about it and questioned it for a long, LONG time. I tried to rationalize it away. I tried to conduct experiments on myself to see if I was "attracted" to men, women, or both. I never denied it, but I was always cautious of it. When I thought about it at all, that is.
|BRONZE MEDAL - Teenage loneliness personified|
But there comes a point for every kid. And my point was in eighth grade. It was by that point that my classmates all knew that I was a dancer - and that I was a good enough dancer to compete nationally and place well. This was of course, the perfect addition to my "teacher's pet" persona and squeaky-clean image. And so of course a couple of idiots occasionally tossed the word "faggot" in my direction. It bothered me so much, because how could they know when I didn't even know myself? Their only piece of evidence - the sole claim I made to being gay - was that I danced. And I didn't even dance ballet, I was a tap dancer! Like Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Gregory Hines, Savion Glover. Hell, James freaking Cagney! And they weren't gay! It made me mad not because it was true and I was trying to hide it, but because I so badly didn't want the bullies (and let me be clear: I was pushed into a locker once, and was called the f-word MAYBE a dozen times over the course of two years, so as far as middle school-age bullying goes, I got off lightly) in all their meanness and stupidity to be right.
The years between 12 and 18 are basically the worst. It's when everyone is trying to figure out who they are, and consequently are at their most judgmental. I was just trying to do what made me happy. Dancing made me happier than anything else, besides reading (and watching movies). I wasn't really thinking about sex at that point. I didn't care that they called me names. Or so I told myself. They just didn't get to call me such derogatory names AND be right about it. I like to think that it would have been different if I knew "for sure" I was gay - that I would have found the hardened resolve and inner strength that makes so many gay men so great at throwing shade. But instead, as it was, it made me even more quiet and insular and unsure of myself. Because how could these assholes know something so deep about me before I did?
But here is Trevor. And Trevor is seemingly the last one to know that he's gay. He's just living his Diana Ross-loving life. He becomes enamored of the theater. He becomes enamored of the coolest kid in school. To everyone else, all of this is weird. But not to Trevor. He's just living his life, filling it with what makes him happy. He's a short, soft-looking kid, but around other kids he seems like just a regular pre-teen - neither too femme nor too butch. But the other kids around him see right through him, pushing him to confront something about himself that he's either not ready to confront or hasn't even thought about yet.
It isn't until his pseudo-friend (soon to be frenemy) Walter tells him that the way he talks about his best friend and coolest dude in school, Pinky Farraday, sounds kinda gay, and, ya know, those gay guys are perverts, that Trevor even starts to think that something is wrong with him. And of course, being a teenager, if what he is is bad, then it must be wiped out. But it isn't until after that that anyone else notices - or, at least, that Trevor notices anyone else notices. And when they do, and he loses his best friend, and the girls think he walks like them, Trevor realizes he must take matters into his own hands. Unfortunately, his parents take him right off the bus to gay mecca San Francisco, so of course the only thing left to do is to commit suicide. By taking a whole lotta Aspirin. While listening to "Endless Love".
As you do.
What's most amazing to me about Trevor is how much it packs into its sixteen-minute length. The entire thing is told through Trevor's diary entries, and director Peggy Rajski knows exactly when to cut to a shot of Trevor (Brett Barsky, great) monologuing the text surrounded by black. The epistolary nature of it helps, as it allows the film to get through all the beats of the coming-of-age narrative quickly and without much adornment - the writing is straightforward and honest, telling what happened to Trevor and how he feels about it in the broadest terms, to which the visuals add depth. And it runs the gamut of everything every teenager feels - acceptance, rejection, loneliness, fear, being misunderstood, feeling invisible, finding the one thing you love above all else, obsession with popular singers, hatred of parents, depression, body image issues, pure unadulterated joy... it's all here, in simple images that conjure up with amazing ease those elemental feelings we've all been through at some point in our lives.
|He's singing along here, not crying|
I capped two dozen shots from Trevor. Four were from the suicide scene, which is mostly done in one long, slow push-in on Trevor as he takes a few too many Aspirin. What makes the shot great, though, is all in Barsky's acting. How at moments he lets the song overtake him and sings along, and how his love of the song both makes him happy AND even more determined to finish what he started. It's brilliant, all the more so for how it never cuts away, how it forces you to go on this journey with this sweet, innocent kid, all the way to the end, and never EVER offers you an out.
|SILVER MEDAL - one moment of difficulty before it gets easier|
And right there I may have just talked myself into switching my pick for Best Shot, except that what Trevor really wants to impart is a message of hope, not hopelessness, and I think no shot better sums up the movie than this one right here:
It's the beginning of the last shot, as Trevor exits the car after leaving the hospital, tickets to see Diana Ross in concert (courtesy of the cute candy striper who nursed him) in his hand, arms out ready to embrace the world - to the tune, of course, of Diana Ross's "I'm Coming Out". That's all you have to do kids: Embrace the world, and in so doing, embrace yourself. And Your Self. That may not be the key to pure happiness, but its the best possible start you can have. Take it from one who knows. My life didn't really begin until I embraced ALL that I am, until I let go of fear and doubt and caring about what other people thought about me and decided to live MY life, as ME, warts and all. If people don't like who you are, then brush them off and move on. Because if they really don't accept you for who you are, then they're not worth the time. Because when you embrace the world, the world will in all likelihood embrace you right back.