Movie Review: "Groupers" (2019)
Homophobia. Bullying. Classic “we were just having fun with him…” behavior. It’s the kind of shit that’s been around seemingly forever, as American as Manifest Destiny and misleading news stories. In this day and age, however, we’re waking up to the fact that it needs to change, and Groupers is a film that takes the problem and drops it into one seriously intriguing (and fucked up) concept. Then it pushes the boundary one step further.
Well, it aims to do that, anyways, before going off the rails in a series of converging stories/viewpoints that don’t ultimately live up to the killer premise.
Meg (Nicole Dambro; The Axiom) is a grad student working on her final thesis, a study on homosexuality and whether or not it’s a choice. Her passion for the subject matter comes from the daily abuse of her brother, Orin (Jesse Pudles), at the hands of popular jocks Brad (Peter Mayer-Klepchick; The Girl on the Train) and Dylan (Cameron Duckett; Secondborn). Her idea is a novel one: she plies the idiots with booze and the promise of sleazy sex, only to drug them and restrain them to each other in the deep end of an empty pool in an even emptier neighborhood. Their penises are connected by a Chinese fingercuff. When they get hard, their members will touch and ring a little bell. The question is simple: is homosexuality a choice or are you born that way? A series of tests will expose things about the two homophobic young men that they never imagined in an experiment that will be live streamed for the world to see, and Orin will finally have his revenge on the nightmares that haunted his high school years.
Groupers is one frustrating hot mess of a film. The frustration comes from the stellar premise and relevant subject matter. I admittedly wasn’t sure exactly what kind of film I was going to be in for (torture porn? black comedy? socially subtextual art piece?), but what I got was something that didn’t seem to be able to decide if it was straight comedy, thriller, or gonzo madness. A figurative drunk chameleon, Groupers dances between different genres and tones like a drag queen with too many costume choices.
Perhaps more frustrating by comparison is the quality of the performances of the whole cast but particularly the main 3 stars (Dambro, Mayer-Klepchick, & Duckett). Dambro is borderline hypnotic and looks to be a real powerhouse. The chemistry between the two jocks is fun to watch and carries the first half of the movie wonderfully with precision timing. Layered with that is a statement that you can feel the film driving towards; it’s coming at you full speed and you begin to anticipate that there’s going to be something deep (if not profound) to be said.
Then the second half of the film rolls in, and the cast doubles in size as the format goes non-linear in a Tarantino-esque style that is an abrupt departure. Before you know it, you’re wondering what A has to do with B (let alone C, D, & E) and you’re no longer invested. It’s a shame, too, as the ending almost pulls you back in.
Groupers absolutely swings for the fences and gives you something that you haven’t seen before, and no one (least of all me) can take that away from it. It’s never boring, but it’s also rarely coherent after the first half. That’s a damn shame, too- I hate to use the phrase “what could’ve been”. Groupers could have been a genre-defying statement with a unique premise. Instead, it ran out of steam and tried to cram in a ton of entertainment value along with the kitchen sink.
2.5 out of 5.0 stars