When the Other Team is Gay

“Summer Storm” avoids stereotypes, focuses on uncomfortable moments, beautiful possibilities

The plot of the coming out film is pretty standard. A teenager thinks he or she is queer and goes through the five stages of grief—denial, anger, fear, hope, and acceptance—eventually coming to terms with homosexuality. There are people who embrace it, and others who reject it. Life, in the end, goes on—usually with the promise that it will be better being out than being in the closet.

Although the sensitive German coming out story “Summer Storm” follows this plot arc pretty closely, it is an original and winning film. Directed and co-written by Marco Kreuzpaintner, “Summer Storm” features the atypical setting of a crew team preparing for a trophy race, and it benefits from the fact that the teens—both gay and straight—are horny and sexually curious without the situation being contrived.

Sure, there is angst aplenty. The film’s protagonist, Tobi (Robert Stadlober) has more than a passing crush on his best friend Achim (Kostja Ullmann). Tobi stares at his object of desire lustily as the two friends jerk off side by side in a boathouse, and he dreams, perhaps unrealistically, that they will travel through Europe alone together in the summer.

Yet Achim is unaware of Tobi’s desires, not to mention straight and very interested in sleeping with Sandra (Miriam Morgenstern). As a foolish way to manipulate things to his advantage, Tobi tries lying about sleeping with Sandra’s friend Anke (Alecja Bachleda-Curus). Over time, Tobi becomes angry, proceeding to drive a wedge between Achim and his girlfriend. Tobi’s selfish behavior stems from his self-loathing, but Kreuzpaintner makes viewers care for Tobi because his heartache is so palpable.

The crew team is involved in a race with another group of rowers, an all-gay male team called the Queerstrokes. The presence of this group of sexually confident gay teens certainly causes Tobi and his friends some fear. And although Tobi is curious about these rowers, even eavesdropping on their conversations, he is also afraid of his homosexuality being exposed.

Meanwhile, an amusing subplot has one of Tobi’s teammates, Schorsi (Tristano Casanova), being teased by Malte (Hanno Koffler), the Queerstrokes’ cocky leader who likes to seduce straight boys.

“Summer Storm” honestly portrays the sexual lives and interests of its characters, and the film is not ashamed to address issues centered on gay men’s masculinity and sexuality. The gay rowers question their feeling about being too feminine and the morality of coming on to straight guys. There is also a tense moment that develops between Tobi and Achim after Tobi makes it clear he wants more than a friendship. With this kind of candor—“jerking off is OK, but a kiss is a disaster” is the denouement of the friends’ encounter—Kruezpaintner’s film dig deeper into of uncomfortable moments than the typical coming out story.

Yet the possibilities are also shown. The film’s sex scene between Tobi and Leo (Marlon Kittel), a rower on the gay team not so secretly smitten with Tobi, is a beautiful thing. Certainly erotic, but also deeply moving, this poignant sequence depicts Tobi realizing the hope and wonder gay love can bring.

If Kruezpaintner deserves credit for depicting his characters realistically, he does pad “Summer Storm” with a few too many montages of the characters exercising, and scenes of the rustic environment that show the passing of time.

But this is a minor complaint in a film that allows Tobi’s acceptance of his homosexuality to ring true. His goofy smile at the freedom he feels coming out to his crew team is quite revealing, and Robert Stadlober’s performance is wonderful. He captures the awkwardness and grace Tobi feels perfectly, making him a hero worth rooting for.

In support, Koffler is attractive and engaging as Malte, and Kittel proves to be a suitably sexy love interest for Tobi.

“Summer Storm” may be a standard coming of age story, but it is one that should be celebrated as well. Kreuzpaintner never relies on stereotypes to make his points, and this is why his film is so refreshing.

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