When HBO decided to can a great series about three gay male friends living in San Francisco and their love lorn lives (a la Sex and the City), the only way to close the story was to make a movie. I have to say I was utterly disappointed when for budgetary reasons (really?) HBO canned this well-written, well-crafted and competently filmed show, called Looking, which tried to step away from the usual tokenism and stereotyping of gay male characters we see onscreen. This was about real people, I think pretty representative of the gay male world of San Fran and overall pretty engaging. But when we found out that there would be no third season of the show, fans complained and HBO relented with Looking, the movie.
So Patrick (played by boyish charm ridden Jonathan Groff) is back in San Francisco, after a year-ish away in Denver, where he was trying to escape his doomed relationship with Kevin (jock British actor Russell Tovey) and his never ending emotional entanglement with Ritchie (the stunning and brilliant actor Raul Castillo). Patrick is back because Augustine (the effervescent Frankie Alvarez) has finally decided to say his ‘I dos’ to Eddie (played by Daniel Franzese and who is my favorite character in the show).
Patrick’s return to San Fran is bittersweet; he claims to have gotten some ‘alone time’ and space to think things through. And he returns to partake in his close friend’s nuptials of joy. The setting is balanced and some progress has been made with people’s lives moving forward.
Patrick comes back expecting the world to have changed in the ten months he was away, but as life is, things don’t shift as dramatically as and when we want them to. Patrick, in his typically wise manner, decides to close the chapter of his relationship with Kevin, and meets him for coffee. An emotional confrontation ensues, with a final revelation that Kevin is still in love with Patrick.
At this point in the story, the writing is on the wall; Patrick is the one running away from people and situations. The weak, vulnerable, emotional character that is Patrick makes him woefully relatable and hated, both at the same time.
Augustine, for his part, is finally breaking free from his political stance against conforming to the institution of marriage and marrying someone he has come to love more than anyone. During the second season of Looking when Augustine met Eddie, I knew that this unlikely relationship was going to last. Eddie’s mild manner and kindred spirit was perfect to calm Augustine’s dispersed personality. But their ride to the altar is not free of hiccups. Augustine goes through his pangs of last minute doubts and ‘what if’s about marriage, while Eddie feels that the ceremony is not special enough when they walk to City Hall and say their vows in front of a clerk. It helps that they are able to Skype Eddie’s mother in to watch the ceremony.
Dom (the handsome Murray Bartlett)’s refuge remains his work. Even the latest addition of a friend from Chicago is not enough to distract Dom into leaving his safe zone. Deeply bruised by Lynn (Scott Bukala) from the previous season, Dom still craves love, but settles for sex. His alter ego Doris (Lauren Weedman) is now going steady with Malik (Bashir Salahuddin) and will probably have a baby with him. Dom and her share the most touching moment, when she confesses to him that her first choice of a father would have been him, but given where their lives are she must move on with Malik. Dom and Doris make the perfect friendship couple, where happiness found separately is still shared.
Now to the Patrick-Ritchie dramatics: our long lost loverboy Patrick goes through the film playing coy about his feelings for Ritchie. Watching Brady and Ritchie together has not been easy and things finally come to a head, when Patrick calls Brady out on his gay perfectionist rant/rhetoric. Ritchie has to finally step in to stop his current and former lover from clawing each others’ eyes out, but by then the damage is done.
Looking brought together perhaps the new normal of being gay in 2016, having lives and loves and relationships. I firmly believe that there is no one normal and this type of image is very specific to the West. Large parts of the world are still going through their evolution with LGBTQ activism, but it’s still heartening to see that in my lifetime we are moving away from bigotry and intolerance towards letting people just be.
This was a safe, moderately dramatic and expected conclusion by director Andrew Haigh, to a well made show about the love lives of three gay men that took us a few steps forward from Queer as Folk and a San Francisco style Sex and the City. It didn’t always have the zing of New York, but this is one show I will surely miss.
Looking the movie is now out on HBO.