Gay in the Heartland
One of the perks in reviewing is having the opportunity to read books and see movies before others do. I also get the chance to meet new talent and get an idea in which direction the LGBT community is going. It is not often that we get to see films about gays in the heartland and it just so happens that “Flyover County” is going to set a new standard for others making films about gay life away from the metropolitan areas where most films are set. As I watched this film I was reminded of the seven years I lived in Arkansas as an out gay male and the atmosphere that prevails in such a place. Director Jim Fields has made a film that looks at love, acceptance and friendship in Omaha, Nebraska which is certainly not a gay mecca.
Todd (Myles Rothery) and Russ (Mike Mecek), college students meet in a literature class and become best friends. Todd is gay and Russ tells us (and himelf) several times that he is straight (although the audience and Todd have their suspicions). When Russ realizes that Todd is gay and that he is labeled as gay, the friendship suffers. When we first meet Russ we see him as a young man who has no use for gay men in his life. To me, it seems that he protests too much about the way people see him and I had the feeling that he is hiding something. When he sees that his own family sees him as gay, he leaves the friendship and I wonder if that he is trying to convince himself that he has no interest in men.
Todd, who never hides his sexuality, also has problems to deal with. Both of his parents are dead and he only has a sister who is a religious conservative. She forbids Todd to come to the house and is backed by her husband who reinforces the way she feels.
Todd and Russ are trying to find their places in the world. Todd is out and aside from acceptance from his family, he gets along fine. Russ on the other hand is forced to deal with what others think about him and it seems that those thoughts are the result of his friendship with Todd.
The title “Flyover Country” refers to those places that people rarely go and are seen from the air as they fly over. As I said earlier, we do not have gay films about Nebraska and therefore how people act there is foreign to us. Religious fundamentalism dictates how some people feel and we are certainly made aware of that by Todd’s sister who happened to see him at a demonstration outside of a church, the very same church that Russ goes to with his grandfather.
Fields who makes sure that we see this film as a contemporary piece with references to gay marriage being legal in Iowa—a place that is close enough to Omaha and Russ’s aunt, in an attempt to show her liberalism, suggests to Russ that he and Todd get married there. This happens when Todd is in another room with Russ’s uncle who is sharing his scrapbook on President Ronald Reagan with him.
One interesting aspect of the film is the way Todd and Russ are treated by their families. Straight Russ is accepted as gay by his aunt while gay Todd loses his family for the very same reason. The film very nicely deals with the issues of religion and gay marriage and acceptance. There is a violently homophobic scene that had me cringing as I watched but that is because it is so real. The film has a bittersweet ending but I am not about to share what that is.
I do not know anything about the cast members but I imagine that this is a first film for many. They are fine even when their actions are predictable. Omaha looks gorgeous (I saw a blu ray copy of the film). What we really see is that gay life in the heartland has the same issues to deal with that we have in larger cities. We can assume then that issues are basically the same but at different degrees.
Even when Russ and Todd are not together, their paths cross and Todd is a wonderful look at a guy who falls in love with a straight man but cannot act on it. When he tries to do so one time, he suffers the loss of his best friend. Both Todd and Russ are looking for something and they both face social struggles. I must also mention the soundtrack which is filled with both songs and background music and that works perfectly with the action on the screen.