Tennyson Bardwell's coming-out dramedy ''Dorian Blues" would be an ideal mascot movie for America's Gay/Straight Alliances. The esteem is loud and eventually proud (''I'm gay, dammit!"). And even if the story is hackneyed, it's hackneyed in a warm and universal way.
At a more enlightened high school, Dorian Lagatos (Michael McMillian) would try to forge a connection with his straight classmates. But he's stuck at one of those upstate New York suburban schools where homophobic harassers manage to show up at the opening of a locker. The designated bully here wears tight jeans and a sleeveless T-shirt, hangs in a trio of tittering boys, and leans in really close when he teases Dorian. So he could be terrorizing him or making a pass, but never mind.
Dorian sees a therapist, who helps him work up the nerve to tell his conservative blue blood father (Steven C. Fletcher), another bully, that he's gay. He also confides in his jock brother, Nicky (Lea Coco). Oddly, Nicky is both supportive and ashamed. He gives Dorian a concussion trying to teach him how to act manlier. Then he pays a female stripper to deflower his brother.
Things don't start looking up for Dorian until he arrives at New York University, where he makes friends, finds love, loses love, and endures other episodic headaches and heartbreaks. Meanwhile the film finds ways to offer shopworn observations (New York City ''is the greatest city in the world") and to send them up (''New York City is, without a doubt, the most disgusting city in the world").
Dorian is an aspiring novelist, and to Bardwell's credit, the narration and some of the dialogue feel more natural to the page than to the camera (whose proper placement is often elusive). ''Dorian Blues" is overwritten yet underdeveloped. The movie seems to get shallower the longer it goes on. Yet Bardwell is an auspicious writer, and Dorian could be a character out of the short fiction of a writer like Adam Haslett -- only sunnier.
McMillian is particularly good in the part. He has the same unsinkable boyishness as Tobey Maguire and seems incapable of self-pity. But the movie he's carrying rarely feels fresh. It's special, but in an after-school sort of way, which probably makes sense. Isn't that when the Gay/Straight Alliance meets?
Wesley Morris can be reached at email@example.com.