There's something refreshing about 16-year-old Steven Carter in "Get Real." This British schoolboy could be any parent's dream: engaging, intelligent, good-looking, thoughtful. But Steven is obliged to keep the most essential part of himself secret: his sexuality.

Being gay at 16, knowing he's gay, and bursting to declare it to the world--these impulses are loaded weapons pointed directly at his social status. If Steven (played by Ben Silverstone) even hints at these qualities in this southern English suburb in Basingstoke, he's as good as dead. His only confidante is Linda (Charlotte Brittain), a next-door neighbor whose struggle with weight problems and unfortunate experiences with men make her an excellent, empathetic listener.

Steven takes care of his needs by waiting outside a public lavatory for chance encounters, an innocent-seeming schoolboy in blazer and tie, a young pup waiting for momentary love from passing strangers. It's no way to live, but the only way he can resolve his urges.

Those urges find noble definition when he falls for fellow student John Dixon (Brad Gorton), a handsome, friendly senior at school. The good news: It seems John has mutual feelings for him. The bad news: John is the school's star athlete and icon of emerging manhood. He's in no hurry to destroy everything with public declarations of homosexuality.

The movie, adapted by Patrick Wilde from his play "What's Wrong With Angry?," takes a refreshing look at gay lifestyles. Much of this has to do with Silverstone, an engaging performer whose ordeal feels real and rather normal--no different from other teenagers' impulses, but tainted with shame and guilt. The picture also spends private, get-to-know time with both lovers, allowing us to understand their mutual appreciation.

But "Get Real" feels a little formulaic in its agenda. The opposition to Steven and John's future consists of the usual homophobic suspects, including a fellow athlete with a skinhead sensibility, a collection of nattering students and a few sets of shockable moms and dads. Despite a climactic finale before parents, teachers and peers, I'm not sure Steven has the day in court we've been waiting for. But "Get Real" is another hopeful sign of alternative films to come: gay-themed experiences treated with affection and without hysteria.

Get Real (110 minutes, at the Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle) is rated R for language, sexual themes and sexual situations.

CAPTION: Negotiating the sexual traffic: Ben Silverstone gets the help of best pal Charlotte Brittain in "Get Real."