‘Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party’: Coming-out story in Chicago suburbs lacks insight

SHARE ‘Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party’: Coming-out story in Chicago suburbs lacks insight

Even for teens in sophisticated, urban and relatively liberal communities, comingout as gay is challenging — even in 2016. For youth raised and continuing to live in households run by parents who strictly adhere to evangelical Christian beliefs, that challenge is overwhelming.

That’s the premise of “Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party,” the well-intentioned if flawed film from writer and director Stephen Cone, who shot the movie in the Chicago suburbs.

The title character, played somewhat amateurishly by Cole Doman, is the son of an evangelical minister (Pat Healy), who along with his wife and the boy’s mother (Elizabeth Laidlaw) throws Henry’s 17th birthday party — mostly centered on their backyard swimming pool.

Throughout the storyline, we are barraged by some pretty heavy-handed moralizing by Cone’s screenplay (inspired clearly by his own Southern Baptist upbringing) that juxtaposes the religious teachings of the Christian right and the natural impulses coursing through Henry’s young, sexually curious body.

Henry is clearly eagerto experience the satisfaction of a physical relationship with another young man — ideallyhis best pal Gabe (Joe Keery), who happens to be straight and thus unattainable.

The film kicks off with the two boys sharing a bed during a sleepover prior to Henry’s party — a night during which they mutually masturbate. While that scene is intended to showcase Henry’s frustration and true feelings, it only came off (so to speak) as another example of this film’s awkward storytelling.

In addition, Cone seemed to have some kind of obsession with filming Henry and the rest of the young, attractive cast (both male and female) in a seemingly endless series of underwater shots.

That said, there are a number of effective scenes in “Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party.” I particularly liked the moment whenhis mother, played with deep sincerity by Laidlaw, reveals a past straying from a righteous life to her daughter Autumn (Nina Ganet) — who is, herself, struggling with a lot of emotional issues.

Also insightful was the scenewhere some non-Christians query the kids about how such subjects as biology are taught in a strictly Christian school.

However, while this film attempts to address an intriguing human conflict, it falls short from delivering what could have been a more engaging answer to that conflict between the flesh and the soul.

[s3r star=2.5/4]

Sunroom Picturespresents a film written and directed by Stephen Cone. Running time: 87 minutes. No MPAA rating. Opens Friday at the Gene Siskel Film Center.

The Latest
The fire was upgraded to a three-alarm, level one hazmat fire, Chicago fire officials said.
Miller and Rep. Rodney Davis are facing off in a GOP primary battle where some $12 million in outside money is flooding the 15th congressional district.
Two armed males entered the bus in the 300 block of South Pulaski Road, walked to the back and began shooting at two people on board, Chicago police said.
State Sen. Darren Bailey had been seeking Trump’s endorsement for months. The former president finally delivered it Saturday, telling a crowd in western Illinois, “Darren is a fearless supporter of the Second Amendment and a tireless champion of religious liberty.”
So-called neonics add a much smaller amount of pesticides to the environment than widespread spraying, but they are absorbed by plants, which makes the entire plant deadly to some species.