Cinema: Akron review by Jack Cline

A gay drama set in middle America, the relaxed, straightforward film Akron is the story of two university students trying to work out issues in their emerging relationship. Intriguingly, this has nothing to do with them being gay; it’s an event from their past.

Benny (Matthew Frias) is a medical student who falls for his rival mud ball player Christopher (Edmund Donovan). Their flirty romance grows quickly, but Christopher worries about what will happen when Benny figures out that they once met as young boys.

That boyhood encounter opens the movie, so the audience knows the story and just has to wait for the truth to come out. But it’s beautifully played by Frias and Donovan, who have an easy physicality as athletic young men who are powerfully attracted to each other. Their relationship is cute, rather than sexy (the 12 certificate is for language). But there is a strong resonance in their realistically awkward emotions, which push both guys into confronting a past they’d rather not think about.

Filmmakers Sasha King and Brian O’Donnell keep the tone introspective and open, which makes it thoroughly engaging as it explores intense ideas about how easy it is to blame others for our issues rather than working through them ourselves and moving forward.

The actors liked the way the script approached the themes. “I love how family-oriented it was,” Frias told Boyz. “I come from a close-knit family, so that was something I could relate to. And I think it’s important that the central conflict wasn’t about the two guys’ sexuality. We are starting to get past that. There are so many stories about the struggles of being different that we often miss stories about pure love and acceptance.”

For his part, Donovan was drawn to the characters’ likeability. “I felt like I was rooting for each of them regardless of their conflicts with one another,” he says. “It felt unique because it looks at these two young gay men who are still growing up and figuring stuff out, but it’s not at all centred around their sexual identity. It’s about them learning to forgive.”

Even with the heavier themes, making the movie was a lot of fun. “We all had such a blast filming,” Frias says. “I still talk to Edmund – he’s such an awesome person! It’s funny, when we were cast we were on opposite coasts, so we Skyped a few times. And we instantly clicked. We got so close – I definitely met people who will be in my life for a long time.”

Donovan remembers the one moment that helped with the bonding process. “The scene where Matthew and I go swimming in the lake,” he recalls. “We’d only known each other for like four days and were just like, ‘Alright, let’s do this!’ We stripped down to our underwear and jumped together into the freezing cold lake at night. That was the beginning of a great friendship.”

Akron is out now on DVD/VOD from TLA Releasing.

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