Morgan Oliver (an effective Leo Minaya) was a supremely athletic and highly competitive young man until a tragic accident during a bike race rendered him a paraplegic with a deflated spirit, depleted funds and more of a will to merely function than to actually live.
So begins the lovely story of the 2012 film Morgan — which effectively sets up both this backstory and current life situation within its first few minutes.
Morgan is passing through a park on a beer run one day when a fatefully errant basketball belonging to a cute guy named Dean (Jack Kesy, well-cast opposite Minaya) rolls by him. Seeing how desperately Morgan wants to play, Dean encourages him to join him on the court for a game.
The two exchange tips on shooting — and then phone numbers. They meet up later at a bar to watch a game even though neither were certain enough of the other’s sexual preference to determine whether or not it would constitute a date.
To each other’s relief, they iron this out quickly at the bar.
With a new enthusiasm for life sparked by Dean but not necessarily predicated on him, Morgan orders a new sports wheelchair and starts meeting up with him to play basketball. This quickly evolves into dating and then into a delightfully idyllic relationship.
Ready to compete again, Morgan decides to enter the wheelchair division of the bike race that felled him the year before. He gets clearance from his doctor, training support from Dean and even a sponsorship from a local bike shop that will pay for his specialized bicycle.
But the ever-competitive Morgan pushes himself too far with the training and collapses while showering at Dean’s apartment. A fearful Dean pleads for Morgan to quit the race, his doctor rescinds his consent and the bike shop has to withdraw its sponsorship.
Frustrated but undeterred, Morgan is determined to stay in the race – even after alienating Dean, his worried mother (Madalyn McCay) and his annoyed best friend Lane (Darra Boyd).
A dose of reality hits Morgan when the turn that tripped him up in the previous year’s bike race trips him up again while he tries to navigate it in his wheelchair. He realizes he isn’t quite ready to compete and doesn’t want to face these realities alone. He makes amends with his mother by acknowledging all she has done for him, with Lane over a meal and after a short passage of time, with Dean by kissing him in public on the basketball court — which resolved a minor through line in the film about public displays of affection that caused some conflict in a relationship largely free of it.
I found myself quickly coming to care about the relationship between Morgan and Dean because the main sources of conflict weren’t external forces keeping them apart or internal forces keeping them from being happy with each other.
Instead, the film’s main conflict is between Morgan and himself as it relates to the new life situation that he has yet to fully adjust to. With that in mind, the character of Dean is well-placed as someone who we come to find out is also at a new starting point in his own life and positions him as the perfect supportive boyfriend. Though this duality does cause some of additional conflict in his largely conflict-free relationship with Morgan, the overall shift in conflict from the actual relationship itself makes for a refreshing take on gay romance – however incidental or providential it may be.
The characters of Morgan and Dean, whether through their development in the scriptwriting process or the interpretation of them by the actors cast to play them, are similarly refreshing in that some of the standard gay character tropes are avoided. Instead of going to the gym, they get their exercise on the basketball court. Instead of knowing more about Lady Gaga than sports, they actually follow them closely — showing those who don’t know (and many still don’t) that gays can be just as interested in sports as their straight counterparts without making a specific issue out of it. And instead of drinking cosmos and martinis (not that there’s anything wrong with that), they drink beer.
So whether organically or with a specific purpose by the writer/producer/actors, the characters of Morgan and Dean are drawn more as guys who are attracted to other guys and less as whatever version of gay we need to be seen as at any given time.
And Morgan is perhaps the only independent gay film (certainly the only one I can think of) with a leading paraplegic character. That being the case, Morgan may also be the only independent gay film (certainly the only one I can think of) that even touches on the dynamic between the non-disabled and disabled in a gay relationship.
So if writer/director Michael Akers and co-writer Sander Berg were to revisit these or other characters in this type of situation, there’s definitely a story there and interest from at least this writer in seeing it played out on screen.