Welcome to Screen Gems, our weekend of diving into adjacent queer and queer past titles worth watching or revisiting.
The Gayme stop: the magician
Who would have predicted that a generation of gay kids raised on Atari, Nintendo and all of their future iterations would have grown into a full-fledged movement: the gaymers?
Anyone familiar with The Wizard, the 1989 adventure film from openly gay director Todd Holland shouldn’t be so surprised. When it hit theaters over 30 years ago, critics saved the film as nothing more than a feature length commercial for Nintendo and Universal Studios products. They were not wrong: the film remains on Nintendo, ignoring all other consoles. The final act of the film also takes place at Universal Studios Hollywood, using the theme park attractions and the company logo for almost a third of the duration of the film.
Despite the mud, The Wizard has always found a staunch cult through home videos and TV screenings, and is considered a teenage classic today, not to mention the latest genre of ’80s flick’. Fred Savage, then the hottest child star of his time thanks to The Wonder Years, plays Corey, the misfit son of a twice divorced father (Beau Bridges) and the protective older brother of Jimmy (Luke Edwards), his young brother with autism. . When Corey learns that his parents have decided to institutionalize Jimmy, the couple set off on a trip to Los Angeles for a new life. Along the way, they run into the beautiful Haley (Jenny Lewis), a harsh-voiced kid on the way back to Reno. Corey and Haley face off immediately… until they realize Jimmy’s scholarly ability to win video games. Corey and Haley hatch a plot to win $ 50,000 at a Nintendo tournament at Universal Studios in the hopes of starting a new life. The three use their wits to find their way to Los Angeles, followed by Corey & Jimmy’s parents, older brother (Christian Slater) and a slimy bounty hunter, who all want to send Jimmy back to the institution.
The Wizard is one of the most curious films: obviously designed as a marketing campaign for Universal & Nintendo, it sort of shines as a wild children’s adventure of wish-fulfillment (what kid doesn’t want to venture out with friends, without parents, in a theme park earn a lot of money and play video games?). Also, miraculously, the movie works like a family drama: Corey, Jimmy, and company can survive bizarre situations, but the emotions they feel about these situations – and indeed, their dysfunctional family – are very genuine.
We attribute this to the natural charisma of Savage, Lewis and Edwards, as well as Holland’s sensitive and intelligent leadership. He knows exactly the movie Universal and Nintendo hired him to make, but damn it, that doesn’t stop him from telling a story about adorable kids with very real issues and very real pain. We also suspect that Holland knows something about being a misfit himself, having grown up as a gay child in the ’70s and’ 80s.
Nostalgia lovers and gaymers alike will appreciate The Wizard for its vintage games, yesterday’s child stars and stylistic returns. Other viewers – especially those who have grown up or still feel like misfit children – will relate to the plight of The Wizard’s characters and their courageous resilience on an epic adventure. This movie could have been a bit of a corporate trash (see also: Mac & Me, The Flintstones… or better yet, don’t). Todd Holland and his cast make this a much better delightful adventure than it deserves.
Streams on Amazon, YouTube, iTunes, and VUDU.