‘Boys on Film 24: Happy Endings’: Good things come in small packages

Nadav Portiansky in a scene from ‘Aloof.’ He is sitting in a gay sauna, or bath house, surrounded by men in towels.
Nadav Portiansky in a scene from ‘Aloof.’ (Photo: Courtesy of Peccadillo Pictures)

The latest edition of the gay short film series, “Boys on Film 24: Happy Endings,” is now available on demand. The program collects nearly a dozen international gay male shorts made between 2019 and 2023.

As with any shorts program, it is a bit of a mixed bag, but that is not a slight to the quality of the films. Every entry is worthwhile and well made; it is more a matter of personal taste. The best shorts in the anthology feature two guys navigating sex, love and desire. Many of them deliver the happy ending of the title, but a few shorts may leave viewers wanting more.

“Boys on Film 24” opens with “We Collide” an amuse-bouche of sorts as two young men, Cameron (Jerome Scott) and Bailey (Max Thomas), attend a hard rock concert and eventually connect in the mosh pit. This stylish short features split-screen cinematography, loud music and very little dialogue, but offers plenty of feeling in its brief running time. 

Writer/director Jesse Ung’s “Firsts” is a very touching drama about Steven (Kelvin Ta), a young Asian man who invites Andrew (David L. Shi) over for a date. When Andrew starts hugging and kissing Steven, there is some anxiety on Steven’s part; he has never been kissed and is struggling to process his emotions and desires. (Ta plays this moment quite well). Thankfully, Ung treats this situation with compassion and Andrew helps Steven, whose real name is Cheung, experience his first same-sex intimacy. This is a thoughtful film that talks through issues of consent. Moreover, Andrew reveals that his experiences have mostly been hookups and connecting with Steven/Cheung has been valuable for him as well. “Firsts” benefits from Ung’s and the actor’s sensitivity. Viewers feel the passion between the characters and roots for them to stay together.

Jerome Scott and Max Thomas in a scene from ‘We Collide.’ The two are kissing at a party.
Jerome Scott and Max Thomas in a scene from ‘We Collide.’ (Photo: Courtesy of Peccadillo Pictures)

Another film that depicts a potent one-night stand is “Sea Sparkles.” Lucas (Enzo Vogrincic) is frustrated with life in Uruguay, but after he meets Juan (Alejandro Mata Molina), a hunky Venezuelan, he develops a new perspective on things. This short is slight, but the final scene shows the magic of the men’s connection. 

The Israeli import “Aloof” juxtaposes Yariv (Nadav Portiansky) reluctantly photographing a family birthday party with his experiences cruising in a gay sauna. The two stories portray his alienation, and eventually connect. This short, however, is more about mood and attitude than plot. Still, it is a striking character study.

“The Rev,” from the UK, has the title character, Reverend Neil Marlow (Jack Holden) struggling to hold his parishioners’ interest during his services. An old woman, Mrs. Pearce (Sally Saunders) unwraps her butterscotch candies loudly, kids are restless, and the organist misses his cue. Reverend Marlow’s home life consists of microwaving his meals. After he gets a call to perform a funeral service, the Rev is also contacted by an old friend, which triggers memories of better, and queerer times. How else to explain a disco number that may or may not be a flight of fancy? “The Rev” is a slow burn short but it has an amusing payoff. 

In “Prelude,” Samuel (Alejandro Sandoval Bertin, who co-directed), is a pianist, preparing for a concert. When Camilo (Andrés Jiminez) distracts him from playing, Samuel gets anxious, but Camilo might also help Samuel find the right approach. This short feels underdeveloped, but it maintains interest because of the dynamic between the two guys. 

“Beautiful Stranger” is a sexy and comic French short about Romain (Baptiste Carrion-Weiss) who is having a bad night. After his boyfriend breaks up with him, Romain invites the title character, a not strictly gay American (Shane Woodward), to his hotel room. Their assignation is initially fraught, but things improve when they start dancing. Then an interruption occurs. “Beautiful Stranger” is diverting as it chronicles the uptight Romain’s efforts to achieve happiness despite a series of setbacks. The attractive actors make this film especially appealing.

“You Like That,” written and directed by Jeremy McClain, has Joshua (McClain), a broke student abroad performing sex work for money. When he meets Sebastian (Marcus Hodson), their tryst gets a bit dramatic when Joshua’s imagination collides with reality. Like “Firsts,” this short could have gone in a dark direction but recovers a tense moment nicely.

“Thursday, Friday, Saturday,” is a gentle romance featuring Romaín (Quentin Fébié) and Adémar (Pierre-François Doireau), who work at the same factory in rural France. When a fire closes the business for two days, the men spend their unexpected free time together. By the time their days off are over, these two men may have fallen in love. This is an enchanting short that has a nice low-key rhythm to it.

Another darker French entry, “L’homme Inconnu,” is also terrific. Louis (Geert Van Rempelberg) is a Flemish writer who arrives at a fabulous home by the water. He spies the hunky Tommy (Samuel Suchod) and his girlfriend Melanie (Anna Sacuto) and meets them when he goes out sunbathing one afternoon. Tommy stirs something in Louis, who has erotic dreams about his new neighbor that inspires him to write. As the men connect, can Louis get rid of Melanie so he can have Tommy all to himself? “L’homme Inconnu” teases out the possibilities in a clever way. 

Closing out the program is “S.A.M.,” a charming short about two classmates, Sam (George Webster) and Sam (Sam Retford), who meet regularly at a swing set in the park. As they talk about their lives and families, they come to share a real bond and eventually, a kiss. Despite some of the teens’ hardscrabble experiences, “S.A.M.” is quite sweet and the performances by the two leads are fantastic. 

Short films often provide great pleasures, and “Boys on Film 24: Happy Endings” proves that good things do come in small packages.

“Boys on Film 24: Happy Endings” is now available on VOD.

Sam Retford and George Webster in a scene from ‘S.A.M.’ The two are sitting on a swing set while looking at each other.
Sam Retford and George Webster in a scene from ‘S.A.M.’ (Photo: Courtesy of Peccadillo Pictures)
Newsletter Sign-up