EDITH SITWELL ONCE WARNED that homosexuals should keep their perversion to themselves, rather than making art about it. "Don't let them write bad books," she told a lunch companion. "It will only discourage young people." Nowhere has bad art been more discouraging than in the realm of youth-homo films, where "liberation" has given us a series of cloying, treacly tales about the goodness of love and the horror of hate, blah blah blah. England seems to specialize in exporting these ridiculous, mawkish movies, Get Real being the standard-bearer. I would think fat girls around the world would have bombed movie theaters by now, sick of being cast as the sexless help-mates for handsome gay boys who inevitably escape into the triumph of ghettoized urban gay life, leaving the girls behind to suffer their drab futures of suburban housewifery.

You've probably guessed this bilious preamble is just to say the exception has arrived. Despite its flaws (and they are legion), Eban and Charley manages the rare virtue of exposing us to real kids who navigate fairly real problems. Sunshine loves Kevin, but her parents don't like him because he's deaf and Native American. Underage, they run away, leaving their pal Charley to figure out his own growing affection for Eban. Over a melancholy Christmas holiday in Seaside, OR (the film was shot there, in Portland, and in Astoria for less than $40,000, all of it raised by Portland producer Chris Monlux), the two fall in love and then try to deal with it.

First-time director James Bolton has coaxed excellent performances from his three teens (though the regrettably clichéd roles of Charley's and Eban's hateful dads pollute some otherwise beguiling scenes). Giovanni Andrade is astonishing as Charley, speaking his lines more than acting them. His performance is full of shy, nervous joy, and a great deal of real fear. The story is simple and simply told, allowing this film's big heart to shine right through a sometimes awkward good guys/bad guys script and some sketchy shooting.