dispatch: sxsw

How To Enjoy a Frat’s Bad Behavior Without Any Of Its Homophobia

Queerty SXSW correspondent Daniel Villarreal continues his festival coverage. This time he’s watching Brotherhood, a film about frats that’s anything but typical.

Kevin and Adam will do anything to join the Sigma Zeta Chi fraternity, even if it means robbing a convenience store for 19 dollars and 10 cents. It’s supposed to be a prank where no one gets hurt, but then Kevin gets shot. The fraternity can’t take Kevin to the hospital because if they do, the cops will get suspicious. But they can’t let him bleed to death on the couch either because if they do, the cops will get suspicious. Brotherhood then follows Adam and the fraternity as they commit one felony after another in an attempt to stay out of trouble. Instead of treating the brothers like heroes, director Will Cannon explores the societal implications of unchecked racism, privilege, and hyper-masculinity all while keeping the action horrifying, hilarious, and surprisingly homophobia-free.

The subject matter will definitely turn off some viewers. At so many points the film could have easily reverted to cliches about the misogyny, drunken antics, and frat-daddy mentality of Greek life. But Cannon keeps the subject matter startlingly fresh by giving power back to the very people that the fraternity tries to intimidate. The convenience store clerk and a fat girl humiliated early on in the film end up the only ones who can save the fraternity with their silence. It’s incredibly dark and bloody, almost like a horror movie, but it’s also very funny.

The director became interested in fraternities after hearing stories from some of his friends who had been members themselves. It took about a year and a half to write the script and three of his lead actors [Adam (Trevor Morgan), Kevin (Lou Taylor Pucci), and their unscrupulous pledgemaster Frank (Jon Foster)] are all real-life friends who spent three days before filming playing out the pledge-active dynamic.

According to Foster, the actors playing the fraternity actives had Morgan, Pucci, and the other “pledges” lay out on the lawn for a game of “Human Battleship” using raw eggs as bombs; they bound the pledges in Saran Wrap, covered them in condiments, threw them in the back of a truck and then drove them through a car wash; and they put the pledges in diapers and told them they’d have to poo or pee themselves before leaving. Morgan chose to piss himself.

As a result, the relationship dynamics in the film play out authentically. Foster makes a persuasive (if not manipulative) pledgemaster driving Adam to increasingly insane heights as he does everything he can to protect the group. And even though the fraternity commits horrific acts in its own self-interest, you’ll stay entertained and wondering if they’ll actually get away with it. It’s no wonder the film won the SXSW 2010 Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature.

The film deals in racism and misogyny that’s sadly true to life. And though the film has no gay slurs or characters, the film’s hero (Adam) gets manipulated for his close intimate bonds with his dying pledge brother, his pledgemaster, and the convenience store clerk involved in the robbery. The pledges get called pussies and bitches for not doing what they’re told, they’re made to use their masculinity as a weapon, and they get punished for showing empathy and compassion. That is, male-on-male intimacy gets seen as a threat throughout most of the film, but only because it challenges the institutional power of the fraternity. And that’s ultimately the film’s redemptive message.

Enron, the Catholic Church, the Bush Administration, and so many other corrupt “old boys clubs” have abused their privilege without punishment. But just because that’s “tradition” doesn’t mean they can exist forever without change (especially when they begin to get in their own way and interfere with the social order). Social institutions, just like people, have to take time to reflect on whether they’re still in keeping with the values upon which they were founded. In Sigma Zeta Chi’s case, it’s literally a life-or-death decision.

RATING: Four out of five paddles. Brotherhood is a surprisingly intelligent action film that defies cliches, refuses easy answers, and keeps you surprised and involved throughout. The issues have real-world relevance and the actors are easy on the eyes as well.

PS. Be sure to catch our conversation about gay media with Brotherhood’s executive producer Kevin Iwashina here.

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  • fredo777

    This description of the film is way too…descript.

    Spoiler alert.

  • jbran

    Daniel Villarreal has done a terrific job for you guys. His coverage has been so thoughtful and smart. This doesn’t even seem like a movie I’d normally be drawn to, but I’m thinking about it now.

  • Taylor Siluwé

    I will never understand why people humiliate themselves to join a frat, or gang. Maybe its because as an only-child and a loner, I always thought the rituals were extremely dumb.

    Having said that, this film seems like a must-see.

  • Mike

    Villareal has confused a women’s studies paper with a movie review. Spare us the political lectures and review the film. Also, dummy, Enron was corrupt but not an old boys network. One of the richest execs there was a woman and the CEO was only 37 years old. What a fool.

  • Yet Another

    A Fraternity creates very powerful interpersonal and group dynamics. It is a real head trip to experience pledging some fraternities and the power of the “new member education process” can really reveal character flaws and strengths that were previously unknown. I did things I never thought I’d be capable of, most good, some bad. And imagine as young closeted gay man how strong the allure of an unbreakable fraternal bond with ones peers could be. What is easily perceived as meaningless and rediculous to non-greeks are some of the most profound experiences of greeks lives.

    For instance, the tried and true and over-exposed ritual of passing an egg from pledge to pledge mouth to mouth and unbroken is a completely different experience when you’re on your back, frustrated at the previous 11 uncussesfull attempts, and convinced that this ritual reflects on your ability to overcome personal reservations, work as a team, and accomplish the impossible. Sounds lame I know, but thats not even a GOOD ritual.

  • Michael

    WTF? I come to Queerty to get queer news. I do not think a frat film being nonhomophobic qualifies as news.

  • D'oh, The Magnificent

    @Mike: old boys networks can include women. My friend worked at bear stearns, and she described it as an old boys network due to how women had to behave to get ahead. in other words, she had to be one of the boys. ie, if they came into talking about banging some chick, she was not supposed to respond to that.

  • doubter

    @Mike: perhaps you should rethink you’re definition of “old boys network”. Just because Skilling was 37 doesn’t mean he wasn’t part of it. Torches are passed from the old to the young in all social hierarchies at some point…if they were it would be a “DEAD boys network”… You sound intellectually obtuse.

    @Michael: i’m sure you’d much rather read about films like Basic Instinct and Silence of the Lambs that portray homosexuals as psychopaths. you’re not even intellectually obtuse..you’re coming off as a stark-raving idiot.

    I say props to Daniel Villarreal for writing about a film that uses traditional themes of male masculinity without using the homophobia inherent in the subject matter of which it explores.

    Having been in a fraternity myself (very gay friendly i might add) it’s refreshing to read about one that doesn’t involve the typical references to “fags” “queers” or the like in a derogatory manner. It may not be “all is rosy and right and let’s accept the gays”, but it sure beats hate-filled scenes of a 19 year old Montana boy being murdered…

  • hephaestion

    Now the homophobic film “Death at a Funeral” is coming out, and homophobic trailers are running all over TV. Sickening. And of all people James Marsden is associated with this atrocity.

  • jbran

    @Mike: I think maybe you’re the dummy. Film criticism often includes cultural parallels. Why don’t you stick to Rex Reed and People magazine review?


    So this is news because this movie doesn’t touch on homosexuality? Or because it doesn’t use homophobia as a caricature ingredient?


  • will

    Oh, yeah, ADORABLE is the word to describe Lou Taylor Pucci.

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