Dir: Patrik-Ian Polk. USA. 2000. 103 mins.
Prod Co: Tall Skinny Black Guy, Edmonds Entertainment. Int'l sales: contact Edmonds Entertainment. Prods: Tracey Edmonds, Michael McQuarn, Patrik-Ian Polk. Exec prod: Kenneth Edmonds. Scr: Patrik-Ian Polk. DoP: Rory King. Ed: Anne Misawa. Mus: Whole 9, Patrik-Ian Polk. Main cast: Seth Gilliam, Dwight Ewell, Renoly Santiago, Rockmond Dunbar, Jazzmun, Vanessa Williams.
Ignored or, at best, marginalised by the rise of New Queer Cinema, black gay cinema joyously comes of age with this slick, sassy spin on the eternal quest for true love and happiness. Glossy production values, an attractive cast and assured handling from writer-director-composer Patrik-Ian Polk make for an appealing package that is specific enough to satisfy its target audience but universal enough to attract wider interest.
Mixing the romantic melodrama of a Waiting To Exhale with the bitchy camp of Priscilla, Punks manages to add its own flavour to the currently fashionable ensemble piece. West Hollywood is the setting as we follow the lives and loves of a group of black men headed by Seth Gilliam's incurably romantic photographer Marcus. His close-knit alternative family includes self-destructive rich kid Dante, drag queen diva Chris and the older Hill who has just hit thirty and split up with his lover.
The arrival in the neighbourhood of muscle-bound and ostensibly straight hunk Darby (Dunbar) is the catalyst for much soul-searching, heartache and frustration from which they all emerge a little older and wiser.
Substitute the main cast with a selection of top female stars and this is the kind of film that MGM would have made in its heyday. The difference here is the gay milieu and an African-American community that is celebrated in drag queen salutes to Sister Sledge and the devout worship of such shimmering icons as Diana Ross and Janet Jackson.
Blessed with the courage of its convictions, the film allows its characters to be actively sexual rather than the supposedly celibate girl's best friend of more mainstream affairs. Without forcing the issue, it also emphasises that regardless of race or sexuality everyone has the same desires under the skin.