GAY FILM REVIEWS BY MICHAEL D. KLEMM
Like It Is
First Run Features,
Unrated, 90 minutes
It's a major cliche in many coming-out films; the young gay man is usually a shy sensitive lad who listens to Broadway showtunes and gets beaten up by the bullies at school. Wouldn't it be refreshing for a change to see the young neophyte portrayed as somebody different? Like, maybe... a bare-knuckles street fighter? Well, prepare to see worlds collide when such a character comes out amidst London's Soho club scene in Like It Is, a 1998 British sleeper by out director Paul Oremland.
Craig (Steve Bell) is a young man who makes a living with his fists brawling in the basements of Blackpool, England. He is also struggling with the realization that he is queer. The film's opening images show Craig standing outside of a gay cub and watching, with confused longing, the men who come and go through its doors.
Inside the club, we meet Matt (Ian Rose), a handsome young record producer and DJ who is bored with the men on the dance floor. Upon leaving, his eyes fall on Craig and he smiles in his direction. Craig, suddenly intrigued, follows him. Matt goes home with Craig and they seem to bond over a shared love of music. Their bedroom tryst, however, is disastrous and Craig freaks out when things get too intimate. Matt seems to understand and, before making an exit stage right, leaves Craig his card and says "call me sometime." This scene cuts to a basement fight club where Craig, undoubtedly frustrated by the previous night's events, is beating an older man to a pulp.
Following an argument with his older brother, and some subsequent soul-searching, Craig takes off for London and shows up on Matt's doorstep, hoping to make a fresh start. Matt has been unable to stop thinking about that rough bloke from Blackpool, so he lets him crash at his flat. He introduces his young protege to the club scene, and Craig views everything with amazement. While still unable to admit that he is queer, Craig does admit that he "doesn't fancy girls" and that Matt is "all I got." And so love blossoms slowly, if awkwardly, between the two men. All seems well, but there are two people in Matt's life who are threatened by Craig and will do anything to get him out of the picture.
The first is Paula (Dani Behr), Matt's flatmate. Paula, a very spoiled club singer, demands constant attention from Matt, who is her producer and manager. She is also the quintessential fag hag who can't get it into her head that Matt is unavailable. Wishing Craig would get lost, she tells him that Matt is a "typical serial shagger," making the already-confused street fighter wonder if he is only "the flavor of the month." The second is Matt's bitchy boss, Kelvin, who (in a truly bizarre bit of casting) is played by The Who's Roger Daltrey. Kelvin is a middle-aged sexual predator whose bedroom is the doorway for any young man who wants to make it in the music business. Kelvin is expecting Matt to mix a boy band's new single and thinks Craig is too much of a distraction.
Many of the best scenes in Like It Is portray Craig's internal conflicts as he struggles with feelings of being gay while trapped in a macho working class environment. London is seen as a great Mecca and an escape, but Craig is disenchanted by what he perceives to be a shallow lifestyle in the clubs. Equally conflicted is Matt, who is torn between the fast life he has enjoyed, not to mention his ambitions within the music industry, and the growing love he feels towards a man who is truly out of place in his world. It doesn't help when he is being pressured by both Kelvin and Paula to dump his first serious boyfriend.
There is great chemistry between the two leads and both seem totally at ease in their roles. The standout performance comes from Roger Daltrey as the jaded Kelvin. Daltrey, who has always been the poster child of testosterone in his days as front-man for The Who, plays Kelvin as a gay Alexis Carrington from TV's Dynasty and has a blast chewing the scenery. Daltrey plays him with just enough panache to get the point across without making him an over-the-top stereotype. (He tells Craig on their first meeting, "I'd like to stay and chat but I have something similar waiting for me in the car.") Daltrey is still quite muscular, and looks terrific for his age, and the only visual cues to his foppishness are a mop of curly hair and some extremely loud neckties. This flamboyance is trumpeted in his first scene: he is being given collagen injections by a doctor while boasting about his latest conquest with a "Tom Cruise look-a-alike." He is loathsome and charismatic at the same time; the kind of character you love to hate.
Like It Is is rife with conflict, and some are resolved a bit too quickly, but generally it is a believable tale that is smartly written with nicely developed characters. Like many films that take place in the entertainment world, it often veers a little too close to a Valley of the Dolls camp sensibility, (most notably in a scene where Kelvin tells Matt that they are both cut from the same mold and that they aren't made for love). Viewers who like their drama to be punctuated with sex, drugs and techno will not be disappointed.
While it may lack the polish of a Hollywood studio release, Like It Is is gritty and sexy. Yes, the film is not without its faults. The background score in the non-club scenes is terrible (one of the most dramatic scenes is ruined by the sudden intrusion of cutesy techno pop music) and the ending is so abrupt that you almost wonder if the filmmakers ran out of money. For some, the dialects might be maddening. Like many British films, The Full Monty or Trainspotting for example, it almost requires subtitles in a few scenes and I'm sure I missed a few lines here and there because of the accents and the slang. Like the original British Queer as Folk (which this film resembles in some ways), the characters use the word "shag" a lot and this adds to its charm.
The DVD is short
on extras but the brief documentary is highlighted by the director relating
how the opening scenes were derived from his own life experience. This
is hardly a great film but it is a very enjoyable one that puts a new
spin on the coming-out genre. Recommended.
More on Paul Oremland
and Ian Rose:
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