Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Looking: The Movie (2016)

Film: Looking: The Movie (2016)
Stars: Jonathan Groff, Frankie J. Alvarez, Murray Bartlett, Lauren Weedman, Russell Tovey, Raul Castillo, Daniele Franzese
Director: Andrew Haigh
Oscar History: While it was on, the show could never get any Emmy love-I have sincere doubts that will continue now.
Snap Judgment Ranking: 4/5 stars (the series itself combined with this movie remains a 5/5 star endeavor for me though)

I have had such a bad run of luck with television in recent years, that I waited a lot longer than I normally would have to catch the latest HBO TV movie, one that says a fond farewell to a show that I have been a fan of since the beginning and been quite vocal about on this blog.  I, quite frankly, didn't want to say goodbye to a shot that I genuinely wanted to turn into each week.  Andrew Haigh's tale of three men, all in their thirties and forties in modern-day San Francisco, and their quest to self-actualization in a society that is on the cusp of accepting them but in reality is still very much cloistered, was wonderful in its first two years.  I even stand behind the first season, much lambasted by some but not I, as it showed a slow, steady look at the world of gay men, and magnified the occasional loneliness that comes with being single and gay in a world where neither is as supported as you'd want, but everyone thinks it is because that's what it says on Slate or Salon.  I didn't want to say goodbye, and was nervous because I actually quite liked last season's finale, with us left in the air about the show's signature love triangle, and with most of the characters headed in strong but ambiguous directions.

(Spoilers Ahead) But Andrew Haigh and HBO gave us one last glimpse into this world, and I couldn't deny a last dance with Patrick, Agustin, and Dom.  The film is also another picture from Andrew Haigh, whose work so far (Looking the Series, Weekend, and 45 Years) has been a flawless cascade of pictures-honestly, it's not often that I give three consecutive works by a director 5-stars, but there it is for him.  Here he is given a much greater task-pushing what surely he imagined being a season or perhaps several seasons of television into one ninety minute picture, which as we've seen in other shows cut short but given brief opportunity to end the way they always hoped (ie Veronica Mars), it's a mixed bag in the film.

Here we have a much more conventional look at these three men.  Gone are the naturalistic quiets and conversations that drove some mad but genuinely felt fresh and original in the world of a television landscape that has grown dull and tired from everyone doing relatively the same thing.  Instead we have Agustin (Alvarez), the character whose evolution was most mandated by the audience, but in the process became likable but ultimately not particularly interesting, getting married to his sainted boyfriend Eddie (Franzese) despite both of them having trepidation about going into an institution that they have long railed against.  We have Doris (Weedman) trying to compromise being happy with a lifetime of unhappiness being her identity (I still wish that Weedman had been given more room to explore this in a third season, as it could have been amazing), particularly since she has to sacrifice so much of her previous identity of hatred of conformity to gain that happiness.  We have Dom (Bartlett), getting the short shift of the fact that this is a ninety-minute show with too many characters to give everyone their proper spotlight, getting an underwritten love interest (literally named Hot Jake), and an identity crisis that's never fully-fleshed out, particularly if you're coming into Looking: The Movie as a lay-fan of the show.  And then of course we have our central character of Patrick (Groff), still trying to find himself after once again running away from his problems, particularly his complicated feelings for Kevin (Tovey) and Richie (Castillo).

The movie itself is at its best when it makes it feel like we're watching an episode of Looking and not a movie that's trying to tie together a bunch of loose ends.  One of the greatest attributes of the series, as well as Haigh's other work, is that it focuses so much on our truly private lives.  Not just the lives we call private, the things that are easily identifiable (romance, family, intimacy), but on things that we don't admit to anyone, sometimes even ourselves.  Look at the way that he has spent so much time focusing on Patrick's identity crisis over being gay, the hypochondria that spurs from it and the way he can't seem to find a way to please himself or his mother in any avenue of his life, even if he seems to know where he's going.  There's an honesty there for a single person his age that I've never seen before in a show, and it occasionally comes across in the truly magnificent moments of Looking.  The best scene of the film is surely the one where Patrick and Dom are both in bed together, and Patrick decides to seduce him a little bit to see what might happen.  It's a typical wrench in his life that he continually is throwing to self-sabotage, trying to see what happens next in a situation like this (sleep with my best friend and see what happens) that's rife with peril, and the conversation feels so organic you think they might just sleep together to see if there's something there.  It's very personal, showing those rarefied moments when we let our guards down.  You see that when Kevin confesses to Patrick a series of nasty barbs, and then cannot hide the fact that he was in love with this man, and that Patrick will be the guy he thinks about years later when he's married with a "what if," and the truly devastating realization for him that Patrick likely will never think about Kevin in that way in years to come, since his "what if" guy is Richie, whom the series implies he ends up with romantically.

I do feel like this is not a perfect work in comparison to Haigh's three other masterpieces, and surely would have been better had Haigh gotten the flag for a third-and-final season, as I think some scenes are rushed, and rarely is that helpful (aside from perhaps the Dom-and-Patrick moment, which surely would have turned into more drama than was needed if stretched over an episode).  There's so much rich story there that could have unfolded over 8-10 episodes for a more masterful conclusion.  The desperate need to make the ending happy for literally everyone, and a relatively steady source of happiness is kind of annoying-I don't wish any ill-will to these characters (and admittedly both Kevin and Brady are left devastated by the wreckage of Patrick's reemergence in town, though the writers don't seem to care much about them), but did we really need to see every character shifted to a sunny disposition by the end of the series?  I am reminded of Sex and the City, where happiness on your terms was considered so crucial to the show's six seasons and yet when the series finale happened, every character ended up with happiness being a stable relationship with a man.  Looking was about the surrogate families in our lives, and how mistakes have consequences, and that sometimes people don't know what they want even when they're on TV and that's what we expect from TV characters.  So this ending is going to be something I'm going to have to ponder, and will have to watch in conjunction with the original series (which I didn't have time to re-watch prior to the movie, and why the hell isn't Season 2 on DVD yet?), to see if it is truly satisfying.

But overall I was reminded of the ways this TV series, cut down in its prime, truly was something different and unique in its pacing and stories.  Reflecting a weird combination of Girls and The Leftovers (I may need another article to justify that comparison, but I feel like it's apt), Looking: The Movie gave us closure and one last go-around with these men that I'd so loved for two seasons.  And they did it with a style and a meandering pace similar enough to the TV series that it felt just worthy to be our final bout, however melancholy that fact that may be.

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