Film Review: Those PeopleJoey Kuhn’s gay coming-of-age romance is riveting, in spite of (because of?) of occasional detours into melodrama territory.
Shades of Brideshead Revisited abound in first-time feature director Joey Kuhn’s Those People, a coming-of-age romance about a young man (Jonathan Gordon) nursing a monster of a crush on his old-money best friend (Jason Ralph). With abundant drama, tears and Upper East Side glamour on display, Kuhn’s script at times tends towards the overwrought…but hey, so does first love. Out in New York and Los Angeles on May 6, Those People should be stylish and heartfelt enough to attract a decent audience (especially on VOD) despite a lack of big names.
Charlie (as in Charles Ryder, protagonist of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, the gay subtext of which is ever a subject for discussion) is an aspiring painter/college student who’s nursed a painful—and painfully obvious—crush on his best friend Sebastian (as in Sebastian Flyte, Brideshead’s scion of an elite yet declining noble family) since they were kids. Sebastian, also gay, knows about Charles’ feelings for him, but never openly acknowledges them. The only child of a Bernie Madoff-style crooked businessman now languishing in prison, Sebastian spends his days rattling around his townhouse, unable to go outside without paparazzi screaming in his face about his assumed involvement with his father’s shady dealings.
With a core of self-loathing buried not-at-all-deeply under a veneer of devil-may-care bravado and narcissism, Sebastian’s co-dependent relationship with Charlie isn’t particularly healthy for either party. Their mutual friends know it. Charlie’s mother (Allison Mackie) knows it. Aliens watching the planet from outer space probably know it. Something has to break, and it’s Charlie’s new relationship with an older, more well-adjusted concert pianist (Haaz Sleiman) that does the trick.
Jealousy, self-destructive behavior and tearful confessions follow, all leading up to a conclusion that (no spoilers) went exactly where I wanted it to. Those People isn’t exactly the most subtle film—Sebastian, Charlie and Charlie’s new beau Tim all have clearly spelled-out issues with their fathers, and Gordon’s propensity for cutesy, wide-eyed giggling is a bit wearying. But, hell, it’s a tragic coming-of-age romance set in the rarefield world of the Upper East Side—I’m OK with some big emotions.
Ralph, now starring on Syfy’s “The Magicians,” is wonderful as Sebastian, delivering enormous nuance to a character whose every grain of psychological turmoil eventually gets laid out pretty clearly by the script. The love triangle between Charlie, Sebastian and Tim is compelling and not overly simplified. And Christopher J. Morris (production designer) and Mitchell Travers (costume designer) do a pitch-perfect job of giving Those People, though set in the modern day, an old-fashioned, classy, Brideshead or Gatsby-ish feel.
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