In fact, 45 Years was an unusual project for Haigh, all of whose other works has been gay-themed. His previous movies were Greek Pete (2009), a documentary portrait of a rent boy, and Weekend (2011), about a footloose gay man (Tom Cullen) whose one-night stand with a stranger (Chris New) turns unexpectedly into a relationship. Weekend was my introduction to Haigh, and though it’s not up to 45 Years I was struck by some of the qualities that drew critics and filmgoers to the later picture, particularly its unblinkered approach to the subject matter, its unsentimental treatment of the characters, the intricacy of the detail and the intimacy of the acting. And Haigh wrote five and directed ten of the eighteen episodes of HBO’s half-hour TV series Looking, a buddy drama created by Michael Lannan about three gay friends living in present-day San Francisco: Patrick (Jonathan Groff), a video game designer in his late twenties (and the show’s protagonist); Agustin (Frankie J. Alvarez), his college roommate and an aspiring photographer; and Dom (Murray Bartlett), who’s about a decade older and is toiling in the restaurant business with the hopes of finally open his own place. Looking was one of the pleasant surprises of 2014, but it was short-lived: a second season failed to drum up enough viewers to encourage the network to pick it up for a third. (And season two was somewhat disappointing: as is often the case when a TV show with a borderline audience is renewed, Looking jacked up the soap opera element in an effort to make it more commercial.) HBO’s compensation to its fans for canceling the series was a TV movie, recently aired, that Haigh wrote and directed, and I think it’s just as good as 45 Years.
Looking: The Movie returns to the characters a year later, when Patrick, now living in Denver forty-five minutes from his parents (with whom he has a difficult relationship), returns to SF for Agustin’s wedding to Eddie (Daniel Franseze), the HIV-positive teen counselor he began seeing in season two. (Eddie is outsize, both physically and in personality, and he entered Agustin’s life when it had begun to unravel, romantically and professionally; their unpredictable partnership, which Agustin fell into, had the effect of grounding him.) Though Patrick has persuaded himself that he went back to Colorado for a fresh start and a better job, it becomes increasingly clear in the course of the movie, to us and to him, that he ran away from the mess he’d made of his affairs. At the beginning of season one he initiated a relationship with Richie (Raúl Castillo), a sincere, emotionally committed Latino barber. (In its early stages their romance ran up against the jealousy and class prejudices of the other Latino in Patrick’s life, the resolutely middle-class Agustin.) But then he cheated on Richie with his boss, Kevin (Russell Tovey), and their romance, covert in its early stages, resulted in the break-up of Kevin’s long-term relationship and eventually in his setting up house with Patrick. Or almost: when Patrick discovered that Kevin had never maintained a monogamous lifestyle he walked out before he’d even unpacked his suitcases, despite Kevin’s too-late protests that he was willing to try monogamy for Patrick’s sake.
|Jonathan Groff and Raúl Castillo in Looking: The Movie|
I liked Groff the first time I saw him, on Broadway in the musical Spring Awakening, but the work he does in Looking: The Movie catapults him to another plane. The whole company – including Tyne Daly in a very sweet cameo as the justice of the peace who marries Agusten and Eddie – shines. Michael Rosen has a fine few scenes as a young man who picks Patrick up at a bar on his first night back, and Perfetti, with the help of Haigh’s remarkably adult dialogue, makes Brady’s self-righteousness count as an expression of his own terror that Patrick has returned to San Francisco just so he can steal Richie away again. Brady is so vulnerable here that what made him insufferable, his priggishness, seems to melt away. Haigh doesn’t believe in good guys and bad guys. He deals in drama that’s as far from melodrama as movies get.
– Steve Vineberg is Distinguished Professor of the Arts and Humanities at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, where he teaches theatre and film. He also writes for The Threepenny Review and is the author of three books: Method Actors: Three Generations of an American Acting Style; No Surprises, Please: Movies in the Reagan Decade; and High Comedy in American Movies.