The original title of the new movie Date and Switch, a teenage sex comedy featuring a freshly out of the closet gay teen and his straight best friend both trying to lose their virginity, was Gay Dude. That's right; a film that refreshingly features a gay protagonist in a familiar teenage role started out with a title that sounds like it belongs on a porn magazine.
Thankfully, the producers and Lionsgate, which is distributing the film, made the change to the current — albeit still unoriginal — title. It just goes to show that even when Hollywood's heart is in the right place, trying to overcome stigmas and stereotypes doesn't come easily.
The movie stars Hunter Cope as Matty, who comes out to his best friend Michael (Nicholas Braun), as the duo gears up for their senior prom. Not only is Michael okay with the news, he goes out of his way to try to find Matty a boyfriend, while still trying to juggle his devotion to his girlfriend (Sarah Hyland) with the fact that Matty's ex-girlfriend (Dakota Johnson) is now falling for him. The story is roughly the same as every teenage sex comedy ever made from Risky Business to Superbad, and that's what makes it important.
By putting a gay teen character in a situation that is extremely familiar to the audience at large, it provides an inroad for empathy and understanding. Someone that's straight doesn't understand what it's like to come out to friends and family, but everyone knows what it's like to be a teenager dealing with raging hormones.
Television — in particular Glee with its power couple of Kurt and Blaine — has long been more comfortable with handling this kind of material. After all, it's been almost 20 years since My So Called Life broke ground with an openly gay teen character. The feature films that have tackled the subject have largely been independent fare or bigger budget movies that relegate the gay character to a best friend role.
It might seem odd that a step forward is created by featuring a gay character in what amounts to a formulaic comedy, but that’s exactly what it is. It took decades for Hollywood studios to make movies where the entire focus of ethnic characters wasn't their ethnicity. Matty's sexuality in Date and Switch is still the major plot point, but the overall story is universal. Progress is made in the entertainment industry in baby steps.
With the number of suicides amongst gay teens still a concern, any sort of effort that provides mainstream characterizations is worthwhile… even if it's in the guise of a sex comedy.
Just as long as it's not called Gay Dude.