Film Review: After Louie

Ambitious but ultimately overreaching treatise on an AIDS survivor and his anger towards the modern world has its serious potential botched by script and direction, both awash in banality.
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Ah, show business! The cast of After Louie is comprised of a plethora of deeply beloved and stalwart New York-based actors, some of whom this writer even knows. But often one is torn between gladness that they’re getting such highly visible work in a gay film, which permits them to not have to conceal their joyously out and proud queer selves, and dismay at what the project actually is.

To say that After Louie is well-intentioned is truly to damn it with faint praise, because that is about all the film has going for it. It focuses on Sam (Alan Cumming), a successful Manhattan painter who has turned to filmmaking to explore his survivor’s guilt and mourning of a lover (David Drake) who died of AIDS, which also took so many of his former friends and mentors. Although the owner of the gallery (Justin Bond) where he has previously shown strenuously objects to this change of medium, Sam is determined to honor his dead and inform the gay young today about what his generation went through before the world became so much more accepting of human difference. His contempt for the younger generation finds both an outlet and target in the person of Braeden (Zachary Booth), a twenty-something with whom he strikes up a love/hate affair.

“Do we really need another AIDS movie?” a bitter Braeden cries when, once again, Sam’s frustrated and intolerant anger results in some cruel, volatile and over-the-top behavior. Actually, I found myself thinking the very same thing, as this uninspired and self-indulgent dirge of a film spun itsef out with excruciating slowness. Writer-director Vincent Gagliostro is a former art director who was involved with the AIDS protest group ACT UP (as was Sam in the film), so one assumes this is rather his story, and in many ways his movie is as unsubtle and in-your-face as some of the graphics he designed when that black plague was raging through a generation of men. Although Sam dominates throughout, you end up knowing very little about him, except that he is a massive pain in the ass to just about everyone. One must assume, for example, that he gives Braeden an unasked-for embarrassingly huge sum of money after their first mutually consensual night together because he has low esteem, and not because of his stated reason. “I like giving you money,” he proclaims, making one wish there were a lot more fairytale princes like him lurking around Gotham in 2018. It just doesn’t ring true.

When not dabbling in implausibilities, Gagliostro goes in for pure cliché,sans any depth. There’s the sole woman friend (Sarita Choudhury, who seems to have made a full if tiny career playing this role endlessly in indies), there just for some giggles, a soupçon of concern and a pointless little snippet of a song, as well as the older, well-heeled gay gent (Everett Quinton) who had a thing for Sam a lifetime ago but has long resigned himself to a sexless friendship. Although he has his own place and a lovely summer haven in the Hamptons, he suddenly finds it necessary to crash at Sam’s studio apartment for an extended length of time (which would never happen in New York City).

For his part, Braeden has his own (open) relationship with a more skeptical guy of his own age, Lukas (co-scriptwriter Anthony Johnston), but the two come off as callow to the core. They both willingly undergo a most uncomfortable video shoot  organized by Sam at his cruelest and most exploitative, angered as he is by the sudden news that  one of them is HIV-positive. This, along with a scene in which Sam attacks a pair of just-married old friends (Patrick Breen and Wilson Cruz) for being conformist and hetero-normative, betraying the organic subversiveness that he sees as being the only way to be gay, addresses some meaty, very real issues faced in the gay community. But Gagliostro’s delineation is both so heavy- and ham-handed that they come off as nothing more than Sam being a nasty little bitch again.

Gagliostro rather reveals his former occupation in two queasy, “deeply visual” and tiresome drunken sequences I could have lived without: a whimsical, would-be-sexy body painting episode between Sam and Braeden, and a moment of despair wherein Sam scrawls the names of all the dead people he has known on his apartment wall, already plastered as it is with ACT UP memorabilia.

Cumming tamps down his innate elfinness to approximate the world-weary seriousness that made his turn in Any Day Now so deeply impressive, but the shallowness of the material defeats him and he simply cannot turn so much narcissistic obnoxiousness into anything resembling heroism.

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