At the end of this movie, there is a dedication, which reads, "For Gavin." You may not realize it but the character of Gavin is actually the first person that you see. As the film progresses, Gavin becomes a friend. He may annoy. He may frustrate, but he definitely becomes someone you care about. He walks into frame out of darkness like a stranger and after all is said and done he walks out of frame as a person no different from you.
It begs to wonder if writer-director Scott Boswell knew in his real-life someone on which this Gavin was based. If so, it begs to wonder if in this scenario Boswell was himself Anthony. As it stands, Anthony is the protagonist. It's his life on display.
Anthony, played by Raphael Barker, naively follows his boyfriend, Stephen, played by Scott Cox, across the country from DC to San Francisco. Anthony is in his mid to upper-20s, but doesn't seem like he's been in a lot of relationships. He's an aspiring novelist who's probably never lived in a city before. He probably comes from a nice, suburban and possibly sheltered area.
Anthony arrives in San Fran to be and live with Stephen and immediately you can see there's trouble in paradise. After problems with drugs, sex, stress and even issues of physical abuse, Anthony finds himself walking the streets at night. Anthony who is seemingly a poet calls the night a sanctuary.
Out of the strangers, the lost souls looking, if not desperate, for a connection with another human, any human, Gavin, played by Adam Perez, approaches Anthony. At first, it's just for sex, the most basic form of human connection, but, later, almost inexplicably Gavin approaches Anthony again. Why? Is it that Gavin sees or recognizes something within this stranger, something to bond them beyond the interlocking of their physical bodies?
What you expect from Boswell is a predictable kind of gay love story, one where Anthony and Gavin meet, fall in love and have sex and not necessarily in that order. Instead, Boswell handles his film differently and perhaps more beautifully. What's implied is that Gavin is a hustler, a male prostitute who is also underage. Despite this, the impulse for a filmmaker might be to have Gavin and Anthony hook up in some kind of Pretty Woman meets My Own Private Idaho fantasy, but no!
Boswell doesn't have these two fornicate with one another. What he does instead is have a lovely and poignant friendship evolve. I appreciated that. I appreciated that the relationship didn't take the typical path. I also appreciated that this film in general didn't take a typical path.
Arguably, the typical path would be a linear one. Boswell could have started at one point and drew a straight line till he ended at another. Yet, he didn't. Yes, Boswell's story all takes place within the span of a year, but he jumps back and forth creating what could be considered a bilinear plot.
The movie starts in what you assume is present time and as you follow the movie into the future, Boswell interweaves these flashbacks, which don't stand alone but follow a plotline themselves. It's like an episode of the TV series Lost. Thankfully, Boswell incorporates a handy, timeline graphic, which appears on screen frequently to help viewers keep track of when they are.
Not that the graphic was necessary, the emotion and thrust of each scene, which Boswell crafts very well, are enough by themselves to carry you through. The film is reminiscent of Sébastien Lifshitz's Come Undone or Alejandro González Iñárritu's Amores Perros. Both those movies jumped back and forth in time within their narratives as they pivoted about a central event in a couple's life.
The Stranger in Us pivoted about the breakup of Anthony and Stephen. Boswell provides great dramatic material here, which his actors tackle fairly well. Scott Cox's portrayal of Stephen as this bipolar, ex-drug addict is sinister. He and Raphael Barker have an argument following a three-way that felt very cinéma vérité. While that scene has its deep and possibly over-the-top moments, Boswell delivers it in a way that feels realistic and fresh, using skilled editing bouncing off dedicated actors.
With this film comes a subtle sense of humor. You see that expressed in his awkward sex scenes as well as a sequence involving free pizza. More importantly though, there's a sweetness and tenderness here, a sense of loneliness and compassion that both washes over and are highly relatable.
Five Stars out of Five.
Not Rated But Recommended for Mature Audiences.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 47 mins.