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The Mysteries of Adolescence and Sex Explored Beautifully in ‘Slash’ (FILM REVIEW)

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Slash fiction is the kind of thing you only hear about if you’ve descended so deep into a rabbit hole of hardcore internet nerdity that you dream in meme and speak in the kind of language suitable for forming coherent thoughts in 140 characters or less. Even then, most of us only know of slash fiction as the brunt of jokes, not as something to be considered with any seriousness.

But the reality is that writers and consumers of slash fiction—erotic stories written by fans which couple characters together in unusual ways, ie “Captain Picard/Han Solo”—are probably more numerous than we might think or believe. It’s easy to sit here and dismiss the slash fiction community as deviants, losers, or freaks, but the ongoing and ever-growing popularity of this particular brand of nerdom is an increasingly welcome community for those whom we might outcast.

Slash offers a surprisingly heartwarming exploration of this community hidden between the lines of a stellar coming of age dramedy. It’s almost difficult to rectify the sweetness of the film with its bizarre conceit, but that’s sort of the point. We’re forced to confront our innate biases and preconceived notions as to who and what these people are and, in doing so, offers us a mirror from which to view our own awkward, misspent adolescences.

The film follows the standard teen-dramedy formula—Neil (Michael Johnston) is the perpetual outcast, who finds solace in the books he loves, and in writing gay erotica of his favorite novels, the fictional Vanguard series. He becomes the brunt of bullying and jokes when his notebook of stories is stolen, and finds an unlikely ally in the form of Julia (Hannah Marks), who also writes slash fiction. Encouraging him to publish his work on a site devoted to such literary works, Neil finds himself becoming somewhat of a superstar in the community, which sparks both romantic interest and jealousy in Julia.

Whatever preconceptions you have about Slash are quickly smashed by this charming and unique indie. Writer/director Clay Liford has crafted a heartwarming, heartbreaking look at the perils of growing up. Neil is a near perfect embodiment of male angst as he tries to navigate the treacherous roads of self-identity and sexuality. That the slightly older, much cooler Julia would take any interest in him is confusing enough for a kid his age, but add to that a healthy dose of orientation confusion and things get complicated quickly.

Johnston and Marks have a chemistry that that immediately warms over even the staunchest of naysayers. Their forays into an unconventional romance—if even you could call it that—capture those awkward moments of not-quite-dating that exist best between teenagers. Furtive glances, lingering laughs, inexplicable jealousy—he likes her, but he doesn’t like like her, unless she like likes him, why did she say something?—which certainly exist in relationships later in life, but never quite so urgently as they do in adolescence.

Slash’s two young stars carry the weight of this expectation admirably, executing Liford’s subtle script—and yes, a script about two teenagers who kind of sort of fall in love over their shared joy in writing gay erotica about fictional characters can apparently be subtle—with such skill that Neil and Julia jump off the screen.

For all its subtlety and implications, however, Liford’s script is often laugh out loud hilarious, punctuating jokes with an intelligence so rarely seen in modern comedy. His is a highly literate humor that turns raunch into art. Nestled in there is a sweet tale about discovering yourself and finding your place in a world that’s unsure what to make of you.

And that’s sort of the way of adolescence. No one knows what to make of anyone or anything, and everyone is just trying to find that place that they belong. Some seek shelter in sports, others in academics; these characters simply seek their sense of belonging in erotic fan fiction. We may desire to cast them out, but so too do they us. Maybe what we all need is a little less room to judge, and a little more attempts at understanding. Just because we don’t get it, doesn’t mean it can’t be got. In the end, we’re all just looking for the same thing as everyone else.

Slash is now available on VOD.

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