LGBT Movies: The Wise Kids (2011)

Three Christian teens struggle with their faith as they plan for college. Sweet Tim’s coming out has sent devout Laura and doubting Brea into tail spins. Many stories address the rift between organized religion and human sexuality. Stephen Cone’s The Wise Kids does so with empathy. What could have been an After School Special becomes a thoughtful character study. The slice of life script has dull stretches, but the likeable young actors kept me invested.

This is not a plot driven film, but I’ll sum up the narrative in this spoiler filled recap.

Act One: Best Friends

Scene One: A Baptist Church in Charleston, SC
AUSTIN (the church music director): Let’s rehearse the Easter play.
(A teenage Jesus falls off a rickety cross.)
TIM (confident): I’ve been accepted to New York College! I’m going to be a filmmaker!
LAURA (devout): I hope you remain faithful like Brea and me.  
BREA (doubtful): Yeah. About that….
LAURA: Cuz you can’t be gay and be Christian. “That’s like a paradox.”
TIM: I’ll pray on it.

Scene Two: Tim’s Birthday Party
AUSTIN: I brought you a camera.
TIM: Thank you! This is wonderful.
(Tim hugs Austin. Austin kisses Tim. Tim kisses back. Austin flees.)
TIM’s DAD: I’m so glad you’re going to New York College with my son!
BREA: Thanks.
HOT YOUTH MINISTER: Pleased to meet everybody!

Act Two: Growing Apart

Scene Three: Night Club
BREA: So… I think… I might… be an atheist.
TIM: Shocking. Let’s dance.
(They do.)

Scene Four: Contemplation
LAURA: How come nobody wants to go to heaven with me? Are we still friends?
TIM: Not really. But we’ll still have strained conversations reflecting our incremental growth.
BREA: This part of the film is boring. Let’s have a time jump.

Act Three: Four Months Later

Scene Five: Christmas
AUSTIN: How’s New York College?
TIM: Great.
AUSTIN: So… I think… I might… be gay.
TIM: Shocking.
AUSTIN: What do I do?
TIM: Honestly? You need a divorce and a therapist. And it’s going to take another year or so for you to figure that out. But I can’t tell you this because I’m a teenager.
(Tim hugs Austin. They cry.)

Scene Six: Nativity
AUSTIN: Let’s stage another play to show how far we’ve come.
LAURA: I’ll play Mary who doesn’t need bad friends.
TIM: I’ll play the Angel who flew away.
BREA: I’ll watch from the audience. And try not to roll my eyes.
AUSTIN: Now, let’s find a role for my lovely wife who I love.


Touched by an Angel

I think everyone either is a character in The Wise Kids or knows a character in The Wise Kids.

Filmmaker Stephen Cone

Most impressively, this is an ensemble piece in which no boogeymen are permitted, everyone is observed in shades of gray, and the easy out of making fun of true believers is simply not in the cards.

Robert Koehler, Variety

The melancholy characters here provide a stark contrast to the self-loathing protagonist of Priest or the tormented teens of Southern Baptist Sissies. Tim has accepted his sexuality. He knows he must leave his community in order to live openly. Austin has come out to himself. It’s the first step toward something new. It would be easy to laugh at his plight, as Tim nearly does. But Cone lets us see how his environment has contributed to his repression.

Cone followed up with Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party. A spiritual successor. It also features the birthday party of a gay teen. But the focus is on the adults as they adjust to their children’s newfound liberation. It’s a scrapbook of a film with more characters than it can develop. But Cone’s work remains interesting.

Another point of comparison is 1994’s Wild Reeds. André Téchiné’s drama follows a gay teen and his straight friends coming of age during the Algerian War. Those characters come from different backgrounds but grow close. While the Wise Kids begin in the same place and grow apart. The films pair well and are both worth your time.

You can find more of my reviews on The AvocadoLetterboxd and Serializd. My podcast, Rainbow Colored Glasses, can be found here.