Dear Pillow asks what happens behind the ordinary walls of a suburban sprawl apartment complex. The answer is a low-budget meditation on teenage sexuality, friendship and loneliness.
Bryan Poyser’s insightful directorial debut offers an alternative coming-of-age narrative replete with porn rags, phone sex and Blood Brothers t-shirts. Focusing on the solitary life, one mired in quotidian details, of a teenage, emo grocery bagger, Wes (Rusty Kelley), the film explores the irregular burgeoning of his sexuality through his attraction to writing pornography and his companionship with a much older gay man.
As with any curious, libidinous teenager, Wes ruffles through his father’s possessions to find a series of bondage and other pornographic magazines. After an attempt at masturbation and a near “phatal” run-in with his father, Wes inadvertently finds an unopened check addressed to his neighbor, Dusty (Gary Chason), that happens to be from the publishing company responsible for his father’s collection of sex publications. Dusty, who we are introduced to through a voiceover detailing a peculiar sexual escapade, happens to be a porn writer (in letter form) for the magazine Dear Pillow. Partially intrigued and partially disgusted, Wes knocks on Dusty’s door. Almost spewing venom from his awestruck mouth, Wes confronts Dusty, “You’re a sick fuck,” delivering the line with almost tangible teenage angst. Probably due to his profession, Dusty is impervious to Wes’s insults and offers him friendship and mentorship, though not in the forms that any responsible parent would condone. But Dusty’s father is rather inattentive to his son’s interests. Dusty is receptive to Wes’s teenage problems, virginity and confusing fluid sexuality, but their relationship verges on transgressive territory with the introduction of a third party, Lorna (Viviane Vives), the manager of the apartment complex who also has a penchant for erotic exchange.
Early in the film Wes, in his makeshift room separated from the living room by a curtain, is listening in, on a radio, to phone sex calls that he has cleverly intercepted. Lorna makes the calls to innocent parties who quickly become willing participants in the sexual dialogue. However, at the climax of the calls, the moment when the receiver becomes complicit, Lorna hangs up, leaving the party with an uncomfortable cliffhanger in the form of an unassuaged erection. Wes uses the calls to his advantage by transcribing them for Dusty and possible publication. When Lorna discovers Wes’s auditory voyeurism she is not pleased, at first, but she soon finds a way to exploit his sexual inexperience and curiosity.
Kelley’s performance is laudable throughout as he frequently serves up vulgar lines and reads pornographic writing with raw adolescent guilt and torrid rapaciousness. Chason also shines as Wes’s unusual surrogate guardian and teacher, telling Wes to “write for the penis.” The pair has an uncanny dynamic that most independent dramas, let alone Hollywood dramas, are entirely devoid of.
Poyser’s film has a disarming sense of humor with a unique blend of dark comedy and perhaps an unintentional reference to the Jerky Boys’ prank phone calling.
Emerging from the same scene as indie favorites the Duplass brothers (Poyser went to the University of Texas Austin’s film school with Jay Duplass), Poyser’s narrative and aesthetic sensibilities reflect various strands of realism lying somewhere in between mumblecore and Larry Clark. Wherever it lays on that spectrum, Dear Pillow presents an original youth narrative and a particularly eerie and stimulating soundtrack that perhaps deserves more audience attention as it stands almost contra to the narrative action.
Poyser was nominated in the “Someone to Watch” category at the 2005 Independent Spirit Awards and has since worked on a number of critically acclaimed independent films such as Lovers of Hate (2010). Poyser’s next feature, The Bounceback, premiered at SXSW in March, 2013 and is currently raising money on Kickstarter for roadshows of the film.