Looking: The Movie Review: Looking For Meaning in the Face of Cancellation

Photo Credit:http://www.hbo.com/movies/looking-the-movie

Friends went on probably a season and a half too long. By the time Rachel showed up at Ross’ door and said, “I got off the plane,” most of the audience had pieced together exactly what the classic sitcom’s final moments were going to be about. The will-they-won’t-they romance to end all will-they-won’t-they romances had to end with them together. It was predictable, took way too long to get there, and hit a lot of bumps in the show’s ninth and weakest season. But there likely wasn’t a dry eye in the house when, after ten years, Ross and Rachel finally decided to give it a real go, only after the writers delivered two of the best long-term, maturation arcs in the history of the medium. Looking: The Movie feels very similar to the Friends series finale, which is both a good and bad thing, even though the series had a mere 18-episode run.

After a shaky first season and a sublime second season, HBO pulled the plug on the semi-controversial (mostly in the gay circles themselves rather than the homophobic ones) gay comedy, but not without a movie to try and wrap everything up. And wrap everything up it does, though so neatly to the point that it feels like fan service. In that way, the movie is the opposite of the Friends finale. One set of writers had waited too long to give us the moment we wanted while the other set was forced to give us what we wanted too soon. For two very different paths, the same hollowness accompanies the end credits of both finales, however. We’re thankful that the characters we love found happiness where we the audience knew it probably would be waiting for them. But the means of getting there were just too obvious.

Looking: The Movie starts with Patrick (Jonathan Groff) landing back in San Francisco after moving away to Colorado as a means to escape the difficult love life he partially caused for himself. The trip back is for Agustin’s (Frankie J. Alvarez) wedding with Eddie (Daniel Franzese) after season two brought those two characters to a place where the show could justifiably end for them. Of the main group of friends, Agustin has the most satisfying ending, simply because the show did such phenomenal work with him in season two and his growth feels natural to the very end. They’re the Monica and Chandler of this series, if you will.

But Patrick’s conquest for love is very far from over. He sleeps with a 22-year-old at a club just because he can. The movie immediately fills in some gaps for Patrick’s series-long arc, giving him more maturity then we’re used to seeing. Perhaps the most interesting piece of their sexual encounter is that the 22-year-old claims to have been having boyfriends since he was 16 years old. This astounds Patrick, as it likely would any gay man who didn’t grow up in an outwardly accepting household. But the fact is, more households are becoming gay friendly, especially in an urban populous. In a way, this is a sign of Looking doing some introspection on its own relevance. The story of a group of 30-40 something gay men, one of which lived through the AIDS crisis, isn’t the same experience as the younger generation who only hit the legal drinking age after SCOTUS ruled in favor of marriage equality. The fight obviously isn’t over for true equality, as the Orlando shooting tragically reminded us just one month ago, but even the outpouring of love, friendship, and pride after the attack was way larger than I think the community anticipated. It’s a different world to grow up gay in, which is something I appreciate Looking got to touch on before it ended.

Yet, Patrick is distracted from the life of his friends throughout his visit thanks to some very obvious framing from director Andrew Haigh. The distraction is Richie (Raul Castillo), still with his borderline alcoholic boyfriend Brady (Chris Perfetti). The early scenes they share in the movie, as Richie has become more of a staple of the group of friends in Patrick’s absence, wonderfully play like two former lovers tip-toeing around each other. They’re desperate to share every last detail and complex emotion with each other, but hold back in fear of hurting each other as they did in the past. But as the finale progresses and Patrick wallows harder and harder, the camera keeps showing us Richie, as if he’s the answer. Anyone who watched the loose love triangle of season two knows he’s right for Patrick.

Speaking of, however, Kevin (Russell Tovey) played such an important role over the course of the show that having him not appear in the finale movie would have just been wrong. Patrick’s coffee date with him is probably the best written and acted scene of the whole 90-minute movie. It’s a scene we’ve seen in countless other romances before, but how Patrick hopes and exerts his plan to move forward is immensely rewarding. His rejection of Kevin in such an eloquent and polite manner, though not without a few tears for himself, is proof that Patrick is ready for something real. If not for this moment, kissing Richie in the club in those final moments might just feel like another mistake. It doesn’t, but it is really cheesy.

Patrick and Richie’s final chat separate from the group is nice, but there’s a sense that it’s all happening too easily. Looking didn’t have the luxury of the slow development to this point that it deserved, which isn’t necessarily the movie’s fault. Luckily, Haigh knows this and instead focuses the final shot on this wonderful group of characters just shooting the shit in a 24-hour diner after an epic night out. The show’s best quality was the authenticity of friendships in the gay community, but ending on a moment where any group of friends can relate is important. These characters are and have always been people. They experience heartbreak, have fun, and cry and laugh together, just like everyone outside the gay community. The balance the show struck with being a show about gay people and a show for everyone survives to the very last moment. As short as our time with these characters ended up being, it was still incredibly worthwhile. Grade: B+

Some Other Notes:

  • Dom (Murray Bartlett) and Doris (Lauren Weedman) not really hanging out as much was pretty depressing. Most of Dom’s material here in general was dour, but they still ended on a nice positive note.
  • That said, Doris trying to have a baby with Malik (Bashir Salahuddin) felt a little tacked on.
  • Patrick standing up for himself to Brady was a really wonderful moment. The point of the whole conversation was important too. There’s not just one way to be gay.
  • Jonathan Groff was great for most of Looking, but the movie was probably his best performance as the character. Even when the script wasn’t totally selling his character growth, he landed every scene he needed to make it work.
  • For how much the movie packs in, I can’t help but feel sad and wonder what the third and fourth and fifth seasons would have looked like. Still, I’m so glad this show exists and said everything it got to say.
  • For my final point, I want to talk about a throwaway line from Andrew Haigh’s Looking precursor, an indie film called Weekend. In it, one of the characters talks about how straight people don’t watch gay things because they don’t think it’s for them. There are many moments in Looking that challenge that, but the result obviously didn’t work, as the show got cancelled for lack of viewership. This is a call for straight people to watch gay things. I trust you’ll find that we’re just like you in a lot of ways. But we deserve representation like this too. And yes, lots of great shows feature gay characters, but none talk about the issues within the gay community as significantly as Looking did.  We share this world and one day there hopefully won’t be shows and gay shows as much as there are weddings and gay weddings. No one gets gay married, they just get married. So please, if you’re straight, please give our TV a shot. We don’t get shows like Looking often enough.

By Matt Dougherty

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