In a lifetime of queer film watching, the theme of losers seeking redemption–men losing their dignity and humanity in owning, or fleeing, their homosexuality–is the strongest constant I’ve observed. Men loving one another can be an ugly business, or so it often seems. A couple recent films I’ve seen typify this.
In the first, seen at the recent Outfest here in L.A., Pip, an aging Peter Pan sexually and emotionally, lives with and off his alcoholic mother. His ex- Danny, is an actor, slightly frigid yet career-driven, who benefitted from Pip’s largess, and is conflicted about their rupture.
The film teeters between mocking suspense and noirish rom-com. Any deeper ideas are hinted at, but the symbolism isn’t quite “armed,” as silly oversights frequently shatter the suspension of disbelief (using the L.A. Gay Center for a “class” with a tough straight guy who happens to have a nice home in WeHo; the protagonists wearing sound protection at a mostly silent gun range). I was really hoping it would be a kind of out Archer, given Pip’s ressemblance, and the strong talent and production values made up for a lot. Ultimately I got lost in the scattered narratives the first-time director pursued, climaxing in a kind of Rope-ish self-hating snap of any shard of believability I might have still held (honestly making me wonder in that moment how this actor-cum-detective was such a disciplined shooter, and George Zimmerman tragically was not.)
In the other, more nuanced, but still flawed film (available on Netflix), Anthony bonds and breaks away from his first relationship through uneven shifts in time. That’s he’s naïvely crossed the country on whim to be with a stranger he barely knows is sad, or daring, enough, but his would-be husband turns out to be a downward-spiraling addict prone to domestic violence. Anthony soon encounters a much younger drifter, Adam, who hustles, and it’s there the story blossoms. They essentially take turns trying to prop one another up, but Adam ultimately can’t tolerate Anthony’s seeming addiction to his abusive partner.
Knowing first-hand the versimilitude of San Francisco’s seedy extremes, I think this film might’ve swept me up more easily than the first, though being a new and enthusiastic Angeleno I very much wanted the other to work. There, infrequent dark introspection undercut the frothiness, while in the latter the two lost souls hopelessly trying to save the other was much more interesting.
Both give short-shrift to the larger, hetero, world. Does putting ourselves in a greater context help such seemingly small stories, or does focusing the magnifying glass too hard end up singeing parts of the miniatures each director tries to build? I would so much rather see some light, some greater measure of a fuller humanity that neither of these films, sadly, conjures despite their divergent tones and purposes.