20-Something

Director Chris Mason Johnson highlights the new reality of gay-straight relations in his coming-of-age drama The New Twenty.

BY Dan Avery

March 23 2009 12:00 AM ET

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Usually gay characters in film are gorgeous and oversexed, but Ben is overweight and kind of pathetic.A lot gay films pander to the audience: "Here's a bunch of really hot gay guys having hot sex." Ben is real. I've always felt somewhat alienated from mainstream gay culture, which can be very hostile. There's a lot of rejection, and I think Ben captures that. But yet he doesn't do much to change his situation.

Which character do you identify with most?People at screenings always ask me that. [ Laughs ] I suppose in my daily life I'd be closest to Tony, but emotionally I feel a connection with Ben. I also identify with Julie, who's that person always managing the personalities around her.

There's some hints of St. Elmo's Fire in the movie -- the seemingly perfect couple, the druggie, the slacker. Was that a conscious homage?I did watch a lot of those "group of friends" movies like St. Elmo's Fire and The Big Chill, but I felt they were so false. I was refuting that utopian Friends narrative. I was more inspired by Fellini's I Vitelloni, which addresses the issue beautifully. But [ The New Twenty ] developed organically; it wasn't a conscious homage or a parody.

The movie's title is a play on the belief that "30 is the new 20." What does that phrase mean to you?I think it's a reflection of our culture's youth obsession in both positive and negative ways. Some of that is good: If 60-year-olds are doing yoga and living life to the fullest, more power to them. But it also reflects a delayed maturity. People leaving home later, getting married later, holding on to friends longer. The trappings of adulthood came so much earlier in previous generations. We might see a return to that with the current economic collapse. It's harder to "play" at life in a crisis, be it a war or a depression.

Many of the characters are real go-getters in the world of finance. Did the banking crisis and Wall Street collapse last fall date the movie?No. We started filming in early 2008, when there was already a sense that something was coming. I always intended to suggest the idea that we've climbed too high and now the party's over. It's set in 2006, so it's sort of the last hurrah. We all know what's coming.

It's very Weimar-era Germany. You're working on another film now, Skirt . Is it lighter in tone or equally intense?Definitely lighter. It's a broad romantic comedy about gay marriage I'm working on with another writer, Kate Stayman-London. The focus is on a love triangle between two women and a man. And I can tell you it doesn't have a cop-out hetero ending.

Any casting ideas?I would love to see Ryan Reynolds as the male lead. He can do no wrong -- I truly believe he's our generation's Cary Grant.

Tags: film

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