On the surface and judged in a vacuum, The Skinny is a mildly entertaining and more-or-less formulaic effort -- the kind of film you wouldn't mind sitting through on a rainy afternoon, but not a gut-wrenching or spirit-boosting tale you will cherish years from now.
But "The Skinny" is much more than that.
The situation has been done many times, from "Return of the Secaucus 7" and "The Big Chill" for straight folks to "Love, Valour, Compassion" and "Creatures from the Straight Lagoon" for the rest of us. A cluster of friends share a house for the weekend, and among the fun and sometimes hostile banter secrets are uncorked, sexual tensions flicker and angst tangoes with the deepest of all human connections: real friendship.
In this case, it is four young gay men (Joey, Kyle, Magnus and Sebastian) and their best lesbian friend (Langston), alumni of Brown University, meeting up in New York City to enjoy Pride Weekend. They have varying degrees of effeminacy and masculinity, of security and insecurity, of sexual inhibition and proclivity. One is going through a messy breakup; another lusts for one of the others. No surprises here.
The dramatic crisis revolves around one character's possible inadvertent exposure to HIV. This is not offered for shock value or to milk pity; instead, in the best after-school tradition, we are presented with how the unforeseen happened, and how steps were taken intelligently and compassionately.
There are some shining performances. Blake Young-Fountain as Sebastian is especially engaging, appearing on the surface to be weak and coy and proving to have strength of values and real perseverance. Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman (Joey) offers a seductive you-girl bond with Shanika Warren-Markland. Anthony Burrell (Kyle) offers just enough distance to float on the perimeter of the core, and Jussie Smollett (Magnus) provides the emotional glue that makes the group a whole.
Most of the time when these stories are filmed we are given a white-on-white cast. Not so here, and that is what makes this film refreshing and valuable.
These are young black adults not hiding their sexuality on the down low. They are not victims. They are successful. They are characters we see all too rarely in cinema and on television.