Film Brief - School pride

What’s a popular 14-year-old girl to do when she realizes she might be a lesbian? And how do we, the audience, react when said girl is played by a burly 45-year-old gay man? The short film “No Prom for Cindy,” to be screened at IMAGE Film & Video’s After School Specials, employs a pert, winking wit in tackling issues such as conformity and gender identity.

Things seem to be going great for the well-liked, athletic Cindy, until she slips her female friend the tongue during an innocent slumber-party smooch. Charlie Adler (who also directs) plays the conflicted schoolgirl with an admirable conviction, squeezing his bearish, biker physique into junior miss-sized panties and tennis skirts. A “Quantum Leap” episode by way of “Strangers With Candy,” “No Prom for Cindy” aptly uses Adler’s hilariously miscast appearance as a striking visual metaphor for teenage angst and the search for acceptance.

Similar themes of isolation play prominently in the other gay-themed shorts included in After School Specials, most notably in the creepy “Back at the Bar.” The silent, surreal head-trip suggests a connection between the cruelty of childhood and adult alienation felt on the bar scene. The title piece, “After-School Special,” also mostly silent, concerns the fantasy life of a teen addicted to masturbation, who ends up practicing his art in a porta-potty. The film arrives at an unlikely (and somewhat ambiguous) conclusion, with the protagonist finding an unexpected sex partner and putting a twist on the familiar title.

More enjoyable is “Clay Pride: Being Clay in America,” a claymation mockumentary (yes, you read that right) following a young man’s coming-out process as he accepts the fact that he might be — gasp! — clay. Though only four minutes long, the gimmick garners a couple of genuine belly laughs and has the good sense to let the joke go before it dries out.

IMAGE Film & Video presents After School Specials Feb. 19 at 8 p.m. Red Chair Restaurant and Video Bar, 550-C Amsterdam Ave. $5, free for IMAGE members. 404-352-4225.