Big Boys has its world premiere at BFI Flare on Saturday 18th, March 2023.
How many body-positive, queer coming-of-age comedy dramas are there? It’s a question I asked myself as the credits rolled on Corey Sherman’s brilliant new movie Big Boys. After much deliberation, I came to the conclusion that body-positive imagery in LGBTQ+ films is rare. Often big kids are the comic relief, the bully or the fall guy. Just look at Goonies; however much I love it, the truth is Chunk is there purely to make us laugh. It is, therefore, refreshing to see a big teen take the lead in a movie that has no intention of using their size against them. However, the body-positive themes held in Corey Sherman’s film are only a part of what makes Big Boys brilliant as it explores emerging sexuality, masculinity and belonging.
Only one seat remains available at the premiere of Big Boys at the BFI Southbank as I join Corey Sherman on Zoom. Corey smiles, “I know. I’ve been checking obsessively.” Premieres are always nerve-racking for any director as a movie is finally placed into the hands of the paying public, but it’s a long journey from page to screen, right? Corey smiles, “The idea for Big Boys came to me in May of 2021 while I was on a road trip with my brother and my dad”. “We ended up camping in Kentucky, and I was interested in the community dynamics of the campground and the family vibe. It sparked an idea that had been circling my mind for some time: the story of a teenager with an unrequited crush on a straight guy during a family holiday. I wanted the story to focus on the boy discovering his sexuality and a sense of self. Writing can be really challenging, but there was something really fun in creating Big Boys and its characters. I genuinely looked forward to writing. I really cared about this story as it developed and hoped it would find longevity with an audience.”
There’s a sparkle in Corey’s eyes as he discusses sharing the initial draft of the screenplay with his friend Allison Tate, who would go on to become the producer of Big Boys. “We went to film school together but were in different years. Allison completely got the screenplay, and we really hit it off as collaborators on a potential movie. We began to work with a lot of the same people that we had worked with at college, and on achieving the finance needed, we began shooting the movie in the summer of 2022 in the San Bernardino Mountains here in Southern California.” Corey laughs, “It was a wild experience; a summer camp vibe surrounded the production. It was just exhilarating and one of the most fulfilling creative experiences of my life. That production ‘vibe’ clearly comes across when watching Big Boys. Corey beams. “I’m so glad that that comes through. I mean, I so wanted the movie to feel fun and genuine. I wanted it to capture the memories I had of vacations with my family as a kid, especially in the brotherly dynamic between Jamie (Isaac Krasner) and Will (Taj Cross).”
There is no doubt that the casting choices in Big Boys are one of the reasons the movie sings. Corey nods, “I worked with a great casting director, Kristi Lugo, and she did a nationwide call for the role of Jamie. I couldn’t think of anyone I had seen in a movie or television show that I wanted to approach. Isaac’s audition tape was the first one I watched, and I had an immediate feeling of like, oh, wow, this is good. I watched some more, but it was Isaac’s tape that stuck in my mind.”
There’s no doubt Isaac Krasner holds the film together, his performance full of nuance, joy and exquisite detail, but Taj Cross, as Jamie’s older brother, is also essential to the film’s discussions on brotherly love, masculinity, and peer pressure. Corey nods, “I’m a huge fan of the show Pen15, and it was a big reference point for this movie. Taj plays younger in that show, and his performance is so genuine and natural. He carries this warmth, and it was clear he could reflect the two sides of Will’s behaviour: emotional wrecking ball and warm, loving brother.” These two sides are never clearer than in a casual throwaway comment from Will. The comment is one many young boys hear growing up: “I don’t mind if you’re gay; just tell me so I can sleep in a different tent.” For Will, it’s a joke, a comment not meant to cause harm, but for Jamie, it’s a knife to the heart and a symptom of the toxic masculinity surrounding him. Corey nods, “It’s something that I struggled with a lot as a kid and still struggle with to this day. I grew up with a lot of straight male friends to whom I remain close. There was often a sense that being gay was fine, but you couldn’t any longer be a part of the boy’s club. I feared that rejection as a kid, and I wanted to explore the damage it could do through Jamie. That one comment from Will erects a wall between them in the space of just a few seconds.”
Big Boys themes of masculinity, perception and belonging don’t end there; you explore social conditioning and the feeling of difference and alienation that surround many gay young people as they grow. Corey considers his response, ” I remember when I was young, taking pride in being gay but not acting like I was gay. You know? I nod; it was a feeling I also shared, a feeling routed in social conditioning. Corey continues, “It was like, you can feel better about yourself if you are more like a straight man. Looking back, even the straight boys I knew were trapped in this mindset, always looking for ways to make themselves appear even more ‘straight’.” I definitely wanted to challenge these notions of masculinity through the character of Dan.” Dan is the boyfriend of Jamie’s cousin, and the man Jamie finds himself falling for as the camping trip progresses, but he also challenges several masculine stereotypes in the hands of actor David Johnson III. “I wanted Dan to have both the tough, capable, reserved and confident qualities that Jamie sees as a masculine ideal while also having an approachable, calm, and soft side that Jamie relates to in a different way.
That brings us to the unrequited crush at the heart of the film. Corey smiles, “I think every gay person can relate to that in some way or another. Most of my crushes when I was a young person were on straight friends.” This tallies with the experience of many gay kids, but Big Boys does something different with these themes; rather than focusing on rejection, secrecy and tragedy, Jamie’s story explores the wonder, excitement, and self-discovery of these important crushes. “we wanted to avoid the poor gay kid territory and offer something positive, a story that is about awakening and acceptance.
There’s no doubt Big Boys achieves this in spades; it’s a joyous exploration of emerging identity, sexuality and self-awareness that rejects the notion that coming out needs to be full of fear and dread. Alongside the stunning performances and direction, Will Weisenfeld’s superb score perfectly encapsulates these themes. Corey nods, “I’d been a huge fan of Will’s work for about ten years. I was listening to his music while working on the movie and reached out. I really wanted a score that felt private and internal, but not in a quiet way. The score needed to represent those internal feelings blossoming, swelling and overwhelming Jamie. Will’s music is inspired by fantasy and anime, and there’s a wonderstruck quality to it. It was such a privilege to be working with him. I just wanted to make a film about a moment in time that has a huge impact on one young person’s life, finally allowing them to grow.” As we wrap and say our goodbyes until the premiere in London, I think Corey knows that Big Boys achieves that goal and so much more.