2016’s Looking is also known as Looking: The Movie, for reasons that are obvious if you were a fan of the TV show that suddenly got pulled just as everyone involved was gearing up for a third season. Looking: The Movie is HBO’s sop to the fans who bombarded the company with howling letters of complaint, and a neat way for showrunner Michael Lannan and creative sidekick/writer/director Andrew Haigh to tie off various loose ends. This they do.
The original idea for the series was Queer as Folk meets Tales of the City – a look at gay/queer (though “gay” is the word most used here) life as it’s lived by people who may well still be wrestling with the consequences of their sexuality (parents etc) but who on the whole see their lives as normal. The fact it’s based in San Francisco obviously helps here.
New viewers could start here – I did, with no knowledge of the TV show, beyond it being cultish and highly regarded critically if no ratings smash. It’s easy to pick up the threads and Haigh and Lannan give us plenty of help. Patrick (Jonathan Groff) is back in San Francisco from Denver, where he fled after his relationship with his boss and lover Kevin (Russell Tovey) imploded nastily at the end of season two. This we understand almost immediately because he’s back for the marriage of his old college friend Agustín (Frankie J Alvarez) and Eddie (Daniel Franzese), which is the sort of event that allows old friends to get back together, (handily) reminisce, visit familiar haunts, drink, dance, do some drugs and even indulge in the odd bit of sex.
Haigh, who’s directing, and regular DP Xavier Grobet, shoot it again in an Altman-meets-neo-noir style – shadows, neons and overlapping dialogue, which plays to Haigh’s strength as a writer, particularly his way of delineating relationships between people who are on the cusp of change but aren’t going to wang on about it, or not directly at any rate. Films about new relationships negotiated (Weekend) and old ones renegotiated (45 Years) is how Haigh made his name after all.
Haigh’s sort of writing really suits this sort of project. He’s able to tie off various flappy bits while also suggesting new beginnings for Patrick, more obviously Agustín and Eddie (since they’re getting married), but also Doris (Lauren Weedman), Dom (Murray Bartlett), even Kevin (Tovey), who has only one scene with old lover Patrick, but it’s a good, tense one that looks like it could go either way – sex or violence.
Throughout, there’s a vague undertow of what it means to be gay in the 21st century, whether it means anything at all and whether there’s a right and wrong way of doing it. If “it” is even a thing.
The film it’s probably most like is 1983 The Big Chill – old friends reunite and consider the past and the future – and there’s a reminder of that generation of actor with the brief appearance of Tyne Daly, who plays a justice of the peace who marries couples as if on a production line but has a nice line in homespun wisdom. She blurs on and blurs off and, as ever, packs a punch.
I literally watched this by accident, not realising it was the conclusion of a TV show until it was some way along. I enjoyed it and don’t see why anyone with no knowledge of the show wouldn’t either. But then I like everything Haigh has done so far.
Which is just Weekend and 45 Years, I now realise, scanning the IMDb. I see he made a film before Weekend, 2009’s Greek Pete, about a London rent boy, which I must also now seek out. Then there’s Lean on Pete, from 2017, which has also passed me by, and as I write All of Us Strangers is on the way, starring the powerhouse pairing of Andrew Scott and Paul Mescal. So many movies, so little time.
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© Steve Morrissey 2023