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MOVIE REVIEW: "Those People" is a powerful tale of gay infatuations

I remember a time when I thought love was just something people fell into. I had no idea that its concept included self-respect, dignity and reciprocation. But then again, I was only 16.

In Joey Kuhn’s “Those People,” (a one-time screening FilmOut San Diego Monthly Premiere at Landmark Hillcrest Cinema's on Wednesday, August 19) these definitions of love are still absent within two rich twenty-somethings that inhabit stone buildings with awning covered entryways, and uniformed doorman in New York’s Upper East Side.

Charlie and Sebastian are handsome, intelligent and rich. But as they closely approach the third decade of their lives, each is confronted with different emotional conflicts that slowly threaten to rip apart the binding of their profound friendship.

Charlie (Jonathan Gordon) is so obsessed with the uncontrollable Sebastian (Jason Ralph) that he can’t seem to break free of his spell.

Charlie is a fine art major, and all of his school projects are paintings of Sebastian, causing his instructor to verbally scold him in class for doing yet another portrait of his infatuation.

But Charlie doesn’t see a problem. He is fully enchanted by his muse and for reasons that are later explained in the film, his unhealthy pining seems to be a result of daddy issues and teenage puppy love that were never resolved.

The naïve Charlie would rather not feel the pain of rejection, but instead bathe in the glory of denial over the course of fifteen years, becoming the affected Sebastian’s personal, emotional whipping boy who is quick to nurse him back to health.

The complexities of the troubled Sebastian is that he does love Charlie, but is so emotionally damaged that his definition of love is to constantly be the object of it without being fully committed. He has somehow been able to control the immature Charlie by wallowing in his own self-pity.

Jason Ralph’s powerful performance gives Sebastian an almost sociopathic quality, not in a way that would harm someone physically, but attack them without thought emotionally. He is a mess, but an attractive one.

Enter the much older Tim, a concert pianist who instantly takes a liking to art student Charlie and threatens the psychological chemistry of Charlie and Sebastian, by recognizing the underdeveloped maturity of both of them.

This causes a triangle with conflict at every turn. Everybody involved must suddenly breach their tightly-held and habitual lock boxes of pain and torment, including Tim who seems to lean toward abusive relationships, both physical and emotional.

There are sex scenes in the film, however the director has composed them as an extension of each personality’s station in maturity. The masks each character wears defines their sexual aggression or lack thereof. I’ll leave it up to you to see what I mean.

“Those People” is a well-acted and gloriously photographed picture that will most likely agitate some of you. These men have had privileged lives and boundless opportunities. But they seem to whine and cry at every turn.

But keep in mind that they have never progressed beyond deep emotional scarring that is only now healing in their twenties. One has to wonder why the well-off families never invested in Park Avenue therapists.

Yet, Sebastian is such an attractive force. With his looks, bad-boy attitude and empathetic vulnerabilities, you may want to walk through the screen and help him yourself. You can certainly see why Charlie has done it for fifteen years.

It’s a challenging movie which digs deeper than more commercial dramas. Kuhn reminds us that we, at some point in our lives, had unhealthy crushes, lead someone on for our own benefit, and played wise to a younger partner in order to manipulate them into something we thought was ideal.

“Those People” exposes every character flaw one can possess as an adolescent and strings them along in people who are in their mid-twenties. The unresolved moments of a coming-of-age teenager gets bottlenecked behind the coming-of-age trials of a twenty-something.

Perhaps the best part of “Those People” is seeing how lucky we are to have made our poor mistakes and ploughed through them early, however hard it was to do so at the time.

“Those People” dances over the threshold of great gay film making. Kuhn’s ability to completely fill a movie with interesting drama is impeccable.

The movie never lags and the performances carry the viewer from one scene to the next with great anticipation. It is as if Kuhn were making an emotional action movie, using despair for car chases. The whole thing sounds depressing, and it is, but the resolutions are satisfying.

Kuhn challenges you to think about what it is like to be an emotional gay man who never had to struggle too much with admitting he’s gay so much as the damage it can cause when love and its definitions are at stake.

“Those People” introduces us to characters who may have everything on the outside, but cautions us to not over-ripen the bruises we have nursed on the inside.

“Those People” Plays at the Landmark Hillcrest on Wednesday Aug. 19 at 7 pm.

The Landmark Hillcrest is located at 3965 Fifth Avenue, 92103

For more details about the Landmark Hillcrest, and to purchase tickets click HERE

Timothy Rawles is the Community Editor of SDGLN. He can be reached at editor@sdgln.com, @reporter66 on Twitter, or by calling toll-free to 888-442-9639, ext. 713.