For half of Being 17, it seems aimless and quite boring. Yet, in the 2nd half, just as it seems to be going somewhere, it ends before you can finally say “This is interesting.”
Poor Thomas (Corentin Fila). His mom (Mama Prassinos), is having an at-risk pregnancy and with her pregnant, he feels like he will be replaced. Mostly because he is adopted. To make matters worse, he has an hour and a half commute to school. Then, on top of that, he works on the family farm at night, and his grades are slipping. But, when the mother of the kid he is bullying, Dr. Marianne Delille (Sandrine Kiberlain), alongside her husband Nathan (Alexis Loret), push for Thomas to stay with them, he rebounds his grades.
However, Damien (Kacey Mottet Klein) finds living with his bully a little bit like torture. Well, at first. For while they butt heads and fight like brothers, eventually they find themselves willing to rely on one another. Thus leading to a bond that, perhaps, neither expect nor will ever forget.
It Establishes These Boys Are More Than Gay
For a lot of LGBT media, the prefix of being Trans- or a homosexual this or that dominates the narrative. With that, you kind of get stuck in that lens. What I mean by that is, take Janet Mock for example. When she speaks, Trans-activist is amongst the titles used for her. With that, before you get to know her, her dreams, interest, and what not, you have this huge topic you want to explore.
Now, relating that to this film, while it is labeled LGBT, you could easily forget that. For it isn’t about a sexual awakening until around an hour into the movie. Before all that, we are just watching a son, Damien, deal with his father often being away. Someone who tries to connect with him through training with a family friend.
Then with Thomas, he is this kid lashing out. He dislikes Damien, for whatever reason, and has a bit on his plate. Never mind the long commute and working on the farm, his parents are now having a biological baby. He was adopted by them, seemingly, because they couldn’t before. So now he is going to have to deal with them having a biological child. Something which perhaps can be considered worrisome to adoptees. Especially considering Thomas is clearly some form of Black.
Also, on top of their individual issues, it seems both boys don’t really have friends. In fact, Thomas eats alone, isolated, in a locker room. It isn’t clear what the reason is for that, be it bullying or he likes isolation, but it adds a whole new layer. One which you can’t easily just use the reasoning of “Because he’s gay” and leave it at that.
For, while I understand being gay, trans, lesbian, pan, or asexual is part of someone’s identity, what this film does is keep it from being the reason for everything. The reason Damien gets bullied by Thomas can’t just be answered: “Because he’s gay.” The reason Damien wants to learn how to fight, you can’t just say “Because he’s gay and knows Thomas will be the least of his troubles growing up.” And so on and so forth.
It’s nearly 2 Hours and It Damn Near Loses You Before It Slightly Gets Interesting
That whole first hour in which Damien is being bullied and we watch Thomas just seem like a weird kid, it is dull. I’m talking, it is so dull that it really makes you question why does Netflix buy the rights to films like these? Ones which, with the internet a constant combatant, makes staying focused and loyal to something like this hard. For truly, neither Damien, Thomas, nor anyone else will hook you into watching withing that first hour.
Though, to be honest, the 2nd hour doesn’t change things much. The reveal that these boys are homosexuals or their homosexual awakening, is without the usual flashiness. There is no coming out really, just experimentation. Of which, as usual, sex and intimacy are a stronger focus than love, but what else is new?
However, as natural as some may think this sort of awakening is, at the same time it seemed like a last minute attempt at making the film interesting. Something I say with some hesitation. If only because I’m the one constantly saying how there isn’t enough representation of masculine gay men. Yet, at the same time, possibly because of the lack of representation, it is hard to tell if a film like this is being genuine or trying to court a market to get some of its budget back.
Overall: Mixed (Divisive)
The main issue with Being 17 is that the majority of the film seems aimless. We watch Thomas enjoy his solitude and the wilderness and Damien train. Then these two are forced together. We see Damien start to experiment, Tom, miraculously, also being willing to do so, and then their bond grows stronger. Now, knowing and hearing the stories of many a queer man, let me tell you how the possibility of what happened with Damien seems slim. An attractive man, your age, who goes to your school, who ends up living with you, not only accepts your homosexuality but is willing to participate? Much less, isn’t just trying to have sex but is willing to kiss, be intimately touched? That sounds like a fairy tale.
And that is why I’m a bit divisive about this movie. In retrospect, you have to enjoy the fact it presents this ideal love (?) story. You have to enjoy that there isn’t a femme and masculine dynamic, but it has the rare depiction of two masculine gay, bi, or just two men experimenting. Yet, unfortunately, the things which make it interesting are downplayed and aren’t really established until you are an hour in. With that, unless you like somber and subtle dramas, you likely are ready to check out. So while the sexual awakening wakes you up, and the sex scenes are a bit unexpected, with the shift almost seeming out of nowhere it is hard to be really captured by the romance. For it really does feel like you were given too little and then it decided to develop the characters too late.