Joseph Graham’s “Beautiful Something” approaches different aspects of gay life, some you will have experienced, some you will have judged, but all you will recognize.
In order to see where "Beautiful Something" sits in relation to modern gay men and their problems being portrayed in film, one must first look at the history of the art and remember how audiences saw them in the previous decades.
Through film history, gay men have always been portrayed as sympathetic characters. First there was the ambiguous, tragic, 1950’s love affair between James Dean and Sal Mineo in “Rebel Without a Cause.”
Then came movies such as “Boys in the Band’” and “Cruisin,’” big steps for gay men being showcased in mainstream cinema, but the content was always the same; gay men were either psychotic, sympathetic or simpering, limp-wristed bitches with chips on their shoulders.
In the early 80’s gay men in mainstream films were not existent, and if they were, it was only to struggle with soap opera-style family drama such as in “An Early Frost” or “Parting Glances.”
By the late 80’s HIV and AIDS had hit the community hard, and one movie changed the dichotomy of gay men being portrayed in cinema forever, “Longtime Companion.” It is in this film we see gay men, still victimized, but more empowered and undivided; a true force, battling not only a deadly disease, but the world who wished it upon them.
“Beautiful Something” is a true amalgam of past and present gay men movie architypes. Each character dabbles in the problems of life, but it seems they cannot find their way out of them without first having unprotected sex.
But this is not a bad criticism of the movie. Actually, the film takes great strides in exploring modern day, promiscuous gay men as they try to escape the ever-encroaching walls shackling them to their self-inflicted problems.
Brian (Brian Sheppard) is a thirty-something recognized poet who can’t seem to recreate the success of his first book. Jim (Zack Ryan), in his twenties lives with 40-year-old Drew (Coleman Domingo), a famous black artist, who at first seems domineering and abusive. Finally there is rich talent agent Bob (John Lescault), who managed to live through the Vietnam War, but not without casualty.
These men are each at different seasons in their lives but still hold on to the notion that love is the answer to the mystery of their miseries. However, they are not understanding that sex is the true antagonist which stunts them at every turn.
I couldn’t help but feel if this is what is really going on in the gay world around me as I live my married life, raising two children in the comfort of my condominium, I should count my blessings.
Each steamy sex scene in “Beautiful Something” is a titillating and sometimes explicit showcase of what drives almost every gay man wild: nice bodies, cute faces and full frontal nudity.
In fact, director Graham seems to want his audience to get as lost and misguided with the sex on the screen as the characters are while having it. I have to admit, it was arousing to see two men in the throes of love who didn’t bother to protect themselves and waste time with a condom. I was hoping they were all on PrEP.
“Beautiful Something” takes place in Philadelphia in the course of an entire evening. As each character develops their story they soon interweave their arcs and some confront each other on different levels.
Brian Shepperd, as Brian, gives a stand-out performance as the tortured artist who fell in love with the wrong muse. It seems the pages of his manuscript are as empty as his life because he can’t find a suitable replacement.
Shepperd plays Brian as an addictive force who thrives on the feeling of being rejected by others. Perhaps his pain is a constant reminder of that perception of love just before heartbreak, and the few minutes leading up to its effects.
Another performance worth watching is Colman Domingo as Drew. Another obsessed character who can only see beauty as it escapes through, and travels back into his senses. His reality is almost a handicap in that his life must be surrounded by artistic renditions of the real thing.
When he makes love to his boyfriend Joe, he must constantly repeat how beautiful he is and have every one of his senses stimulated in order to feel ecstasy. What he fails to realize is that Joe cannot feel that same intensity because of his fear and insecurity.
Domingo is clearly the veteran actor of the bunch because he doesn’t need to rely on the safety of his character’s definition, he takes us on a myriad of emotional levels until we are never sure on which setting his facets are based.
“Beautiful Something” is an enthralling and audacious piece of film making. It is reckless and bold, but never reduces itself under the weight of a significant message. If it assumes to be important, it is only because gay men have gaps between their relationships both with lovers and strangers and the warning is that sex, although satisfying, can perpetuate an un-examined life.
With these things in mind, “Beautiful Something” lies at the very end of the gay movie timeline; a place in which mainstream movie goers, both gay and straight, must finally get used to.
“Beautiful Something” (92 mins) plays Wednesday, September 16 at 7 pm at Hillcrest Cinemas - Landmark Theatres 3965 5th Ave. San Diego, CA 92103
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Timothy Rawles is Community Editor of SDGLN. He can be reached at email@example.com, @reporter66 on Twitter, or by calling toll-free to 888-442-9639, ext. 713.