The Young and the Restless
Nico and Dani Does Gay Coming of Age Without the Clichés
It's not like the multiplexes are swimming with gay coming-of-age stories, but the '90s indie boom enabled a few such films trickle into the art houses: Beautiful Thing, Get Real, But I'm a Cheerleader, The Incredibly True Adventures of Two Girls in Love. As a genre is born, so are its clichés; just as straight guys' coming-of-age stories usually feature an older woman who initiates the callow hero into manhood, gay-boy movies generally include a chubby female sidekick who futilely pines for the protagonist while firing off wisecracks.
There's no distaff sidekick in Nico and Dani. There are no disapproving parents, or schoolyard bullies, self-righteous speeches, or suicide attempts. Perhaps it's the movie's non-Hollywood origins--it's by Spanish writer/director Cesc Gay and set in a seaside town near Barcelona--that account for its freshness and freedom from gay-teen-flick tropes. But some of its originality can also be attributed to its young leads, who bring authenticity to their roles--they seem like real teenage boys, as opposed to some middle-aged screenwriter's conception of teenage boys
Jordi Vilches and Fernando Ramallo play, respectively, Nico and Dani, 17-year-old buddies who are home alone for the summer--Dani's parents have gone on vacation and left the house to the lads--and get into some emotionally risky business in the grown-ups' absence. Dani is a shy wannabe novelist, Nico an outgoing wannabe mechanic. The boys enjoy fishing, hunting rabbits, smoking pot, and their nightly ritual of jerking each other off (scenes of which are rendered matter-of-factly and with gentle humor). Their male-bonding idyll begins to slip away when the two befriend a pair of girls, Elena (Marieta Orozco) and Berta (Esther Nubiola), who start showing up at Dani's house daily with a picnic basket, coaxing the boys to join them at the beach. As it becomes increasingly clear that Nico, despite an escalating sexual relationship with Dani, prefers Elena's company, Dani grows irritated.
The film, based on a play by Jordi Sánchez and a prize winner at last year's Cannes Film Festival, proceeds in a wholly organic fashion; it's easy to believe that the boys' relationship progresses as it does, and it's equally easy to believe their awkward courtship of the girls. Though these Europeans seem in some ways more sophisticated than their Yank counterparts--kids can buy alcohol anywhere, for example, and no one seems terribly uptight about homosexuality--these are still teenage boys, with their bravado undercut by inescapable goofiness. (When Dani orders brandy and is asked by the barkeep what brand, he replies confidently, "Bailey's!") Funny, sweet, sexy, and free of the maudlin trimmings that so often make jaded viewers cringe, Nico and Dani is a fresh twist on what has all too rapidly become a stale old story.