When Desire and Change Happen Online

Anthony Rapp as Brad in front of his computer on Skype. | BREAKING GLASS PICTURES

Out gay filmmaker John G. Young excels at making intense, intimate films about thorny gay relationships. His latest drama, “Bwoy,” is no exception.

In upstate Schenectady, Brad (Anthony Rapp) meets Yenny (Jimmy Brooks), a much younger man in Jamaica, online. The guys get to know one another, flirt a bit, and then… well, it would spoil the film to reveal more. Suffice it to say, Young addresses issues of class, ethnicity, whiteness, and privilege among its themes.

In a recent phone interview, the filmmaker explained that “Bwoy” is not based on fact. The story, he said, emerged from his thoughts about online dating.

Two very different men connect, collide, romance in John G. Young’s new film

“I am always amazed by the fact that until you meet someone, you can — through a virtual way — create a vision of yourself for other people and be the way we’d like to be perceived, until we meet,” Young said.

Rapp, who said he has had success with online dating, concurred.

“That’s one of the things that augments social media and online dating — once face-to-face, reality can be different,” he said. “It was running with that idea.”

The film has Brad and Yenny mostly talking over Skype, and these scenes were filmed as real webcam sessions, with the actors in different rooms, reacting to the dialogue and images seen on camera. The approach puts considerable pressure on the actors, as much of the film focuses on them in close-up. But Rapp and Brooks, both of whom are excellent in their roles, reveal their characters with their precise dialogue and body language. While Brad is closed in, with repressed emotions building up, Yenny is very open, charismatic, and seductive.

Rapp acknowledged that the guys’ bond is made palpable precisely because of the Skyping.

“It felt very real and incredibly intimate,” he explained. “It was more than language: it’s eyes, feeling, energy, and connection, and at the same time there is something both genuine and disingenuous about their connection.”

Brooks agreed.

Jimmy Brooks as Yenny on the beach in Jamaica. | BREAKING GLASS PICTURES

“In that first face-to-face online meeting, there are pauses and they are looking at each other, sizing each other up,” he said. “It’s a slow seduction. Yenny doesn’t think their relationship is going to go as far as it does.”

For his part, Brooks was “acting against a laptop.” He saw every reaction Brad did.

“I had to feel his reactions and play to a tiny hole in the computer,” Brooks said. “I had to work double time!”

As the relationship develops between the two men, things get more complicated.

Young talked about Brad’s attraction to Yenny.

“It was completely different from what he knows in many ways,” he said. “Yenny is not really available; he is 1,700 miles away. No matter how intimate or close they are online, they can’t have a real connection, physically. But the irony is that there is a connection. They can’t go out on a date, but they can look at each other and jerk off together. There’s a safety for that for Brad. He can experiment with this.”

Rapp explained that Brad’s infatuation was “physical; he fetishizes black men. I didn’t go deeply into why. People like what they like, and that was what he liked. Once they start interacting, Yenny is so complimentary and pays so much attention to Brad and makes it easy and safe, and it compounds from there.”

Brooks offered his take on the relationship.

“Brad comes from a dark place, and Yenny is the light that pulls him out,” he said. “That energy becomes Brad’s escape. That’s the draw for him. However, the whole relationship takes Yenny off guard. Yenny comes on sexually strong, but when he sees Brad’s humanity, he figures out how to talk with and connect to him.”

“Bwoy” is compelling, with the power shifting back and forth between Brad and Yenny. Both characters make some interesting — perhaps foolish — decisions, but they reveal much about each man as the drama heightens.

“Characters’ bad decisions are a good decision narratively,” Young explained. “There’s nothing more interesting than when a character makes a bad decision, and Brad makes some pretty suspect ones.”

Rapp agreed that Brad’s mistakes lend power to the story.

“When I read the script, I felt it rang really true,” he said. “I’ve always been interested in playing roles of people behaving in unconscious ways — exploring the darker corners of the human psyche and soul. I availed myself of what rang true — that whatever you repress, you will act out in unhealthy and unhappy ways. That made sense, and John’s writing is compassionate. He’s illuminating and sharing the character’s behavior.”

Brooks also applauded the script for making the dynamic between the two men feel real.

“You read the script and look at the characters and ask, ‘What kind of person does this?,’” he said. “And you come to understand why each guy is doing what he’s doing. As the actor, you can’t judge. You embrace the beauty and flaws in Yenny. He was a fun character to play.”

The actor, who is not Jamaican but rather Liberian, does a convincing accent, and he threw himself into being Brad’s object of desire. Brooks acknowledged,

“I think this was the kind of role where you can’t half-ass it,” Brooks said. “You have to go in all or nothing. If you don’t go there, there’s no point doing the project. It’s so charged. The story is so strong it doesn’t make sense not to do it. To go there was very fulfilling.”

Thanks to both strong writing and committed performances, “Bwoy” proves profoundly provocative as it depicts Brad and Yenny’s lives changing in myriad ways after the two men first connect.

BWOY | Directed by John G. Young | Breaking Glass Pictures | Opens Jun. 23 | Museum of the Moving Image, 36-01 35th Ave., Astoria | movingimage.us