Being a micro-budget comedy, this film requires a bit of effort from the audience to overcome some technical issues (mainly the lighting and sound), but the story and characters strong enough to make it worth a look. Available online, No Chocolate, No Rice is a lively gay movie that touches on a range of bigger issues even as it keeps viewers laughing. It also helps that the actors are sexy and the situations they find themselves in are both funny and engaging.
The story is refreshingly set outside the usual gay epicentres, taking place in Washington, DC, where the cute/smart app technician Dre (Ricky Mempin) is getting tired of being treated as a token Asian. His current sugar daddy Monty (Kyle Merker) is such a rice queen that he can’t comprehend that Dre was born in Oklahoma and has no real interest in his Filipino roots. Meanwhile, Dre’s flatmate Phil (played by screenwriter Donovan Trott) is happy to hook up with almost anyone, including his massage clients, but he’s getting tired of guys who are only into him because he’s black. As they whinge about this state of affairs with their lovelorn waitress friend Monique (Danielle Green), they decide to swear off white guys altogether, and whoever gives in first has to pay the other’s rent. Initially, they try to sabotage each other using practical jokes. Then the stakes rise when hot Southern boy Aaron (Vic Sorrell) moves in next door.
The script is packed with witty dialogue and plot twists, which keep the film entertaining even though it lacks the usual Hollywood sheen. There’s a sense that the screenplay could have used some tightening, but the bare bones are solid, establishing a terrific premise and then building on it with warmth, humour and some jagged sex appeal. There are also some intriguing sideroads, including Dre’s hilariously annoying boss (Polly Kreisman), who insists that he retain an option in their dating app that allows gay men to filter potential hook-ups on the basis of race. Dre thinks this causes division in the community, and sure enough it comes back to haunt the company.
Most impressive is the way the film carries its potentially heavy racial themes so lightly. It helps that both Mempin and Trott deliver relaxed, offhanded performances that only occasionally play up the comedy. Some scenes may turn rather silly, but both actors remain grounded, believable and thoroughly likeable as they interact with a variety of colourful characters. Best of all is the friendship between Dre and Phil, which feels realistically effortless, and of course raises the question of a possible romance between them. The film nicely plays with this, and Sorrell’s earnest interloper adds an enjoyable wrinkle to the formula, bringing his own meaningful backstory with him.
Director Leo Christopher Sheridan clearly needs some more experience, but this is a great place to start. No Chocolate, No Rice may have its rather ridiculous moments, but it’s brought to life by the depth of feeling in the interaction between people who are easy to identify with. And it finds real meaning in the way it gently grapples with the way we all put limitations on ourselves, sometimes preventing us from seeing our best options.