There is something that has always bothered me about gay cinema from the US and that is its lack of nuance and depth that European gay cinema seems to get. Since gay cinema hit the mainstream in the 80s and 90s with films like My Beautiful Laundrette and Philadelphia and TV like Angels in America and the game changing Queer as Folk there has been no end of films that explore the lives of gay men in America, but either fall into the coming out story or the portrayal of sexual liberation, and unlike the first which usually need depth in order to explore the character’s narrative arc, the latter simply needs passing ships in the night in order to get from one sex scene to the next. Don’t get me wrong, I love a steamy sex scene in a film as much as the next man but I would like a little side order of narrative for me to connect with at the same time, call me an ol’ romantic. I understand that there was a fight to fight, a voice to be heard but these days, is that really an excuse? Do we need to wave the flag by having sex with it wherever we can? And of course, it’s always hard and aggressive and top and bottom and none of the grey in between. There are of course exceptions to this, Robin William’s last film Boulevard for example was a beautiful film that didn’t have anything political behind it but instead was a small story about two people lost in the world who happened to be gay.
The latest from Peccadillo Pictures, normally the stamp of approval for me offering those nuanced and subtle European flicks I mentioned earlier, is Something Beautiful from emerging writer director Joseph Graham. Sold as ‘four diverse gay men navigate art, sex and love in one sublime night’, Beautiful Something falls into that trap of trying to conceal an excuse for gay sex scenes in a clumsy and thinly veiled plot. We first meet Brian, a struggling writer who has fallen into a clichéd pit of artistic despair and tries desperately to find someone to love, usually looking in the wrong places where he shares a fleeting moment with Jim. Jim is, or course, a young, beautiful, struggling actor (who spends a lot of time taking his clothes off) who has just walked out on his lover Drew, an artist who fails to be able to connect to the world because he is too lost in his art. Finally we meet Bob, a talent agent from L.A. in his sixties who is being driven around in his white limo until he finds the right boy to pick up, well why not, he can afford it.
On the outside, the concept it rather attractive, four men of different ages, backgrounds and ethnicities cross paths over the period of one night as they look to understand their place in life and love, however the script never manages to develop the characters enough to really care about their plight. Towards the end, the film starts to find a little heart but all too quickly resolves before the morning sun rises.
Graham’s film isn’t bad by any means, and has enough in it to keep you entertained for the 90 minute running time, but frustratingly it doesn’t work hard enough to make it memorable much past that. To repeat myself, it isn’t bad, it’s just not the ‘something beautiful’ we were promised.