Joseph Graham's latest feature, as writer-director, is very much a spiritual sequel to his amazing, feature debut Strapped (2010). It's a film that takes place all in one 24-hour period, mainly all during one night, exploring the lives and loves of various gay men. Instead of limiting the action to one building, Graham opens up his canvas and captures a sliver of the city of Philadelphia. In fact, if one imagines the two characters who are at the end of Strapped, this movie could be a sequel for one of the guys and a quasi-prequel for the other.
This might be a spoiler for Strapped, but that film ends in an almost transcendent, sex scene between the Hustler character and Gary. The Hustler is an actor in a sense who like a chameleon adapts his behavior or identity, depending on who's around, in order to ingratiate them, charm them or ultimately have sex with them. Gary is a sensitive writer who isn't just about having sex but forming a connection in ways beyond the mere act of intercourse.
Graham's film this time around is about four men. Yet, two men in particular take center stage. The life and love of Brian and Jim are at the core. In terms of Gary, the sensitive writer from Strapped, Brian's story here could be viewed as a sequel to his. In terms of the Hustler, the sexy chameleon from Strapped, Jim's story here could be somewhat of a prequel. We see where a frustrated and lonely author like Gary could have gone, or, how a gay, sex worker who puts on pretenses like the Hustler could have gotten his start.
Brian Sheppard stars as Brian, the writer in question. In fact, Brian is a poet in the City of Brotherly Love. He's had a book of poetry published, which sold pretty well. It didn't make him a millionaire or anything, so he needs to keep writing, but he's currently suffering from writer's block. He's gone through his advance or what money he's had and now he's desperate to put out another book.
Zack Ryan co-stars as Jim, the sexy chameleon in question, or at least the prequel to which. In fact, Jim is an actor, an aspiring thespian. He's also a model, or when we first see him, he's doing some modeling for one of Philadelphia's or even one of the country's most famous artists. The problem is that Jim lives with and is the boyfriend of that artist, but Jim fears that the artist cares more for his art than their relationship. Jim also fears that he's just a glorified sex toy.
Colman Domingo (Lincoln and Selma) also stars as Drew Tiger. He's the artist in the relationship with Jim. We first see him doing photography, taking sexy pictures of Jim. However, Drew's primary art is sculpting. He's currently working on a huge sculpture in his home and studio. His concentration seems to be on perfecting the sculpture, only taking breaks to release tension by having intense sexual encounters with Jim. It's assumed that Drew isn't doing anything like taking Jim out or spending time with him otherwise.
John Lescault plays Bob, a powerful talent agent, an old man who is wealthy-enough to be able to spend the whole night being chauffeured in a white, stretched limousine. While Bob is driven around in a huge, white limo, he searches for young men to pick up for reasons unknown. Ostensibly, he's looking for sex, but, in opportunities where he could easily get laid, he turns it down. He's surprisingly a believer in love, surprisingly given he recounts losing his love years ago.
By the end, it's clear that Graham too is a believer in love. It may not be apparent being that Strapped was about a cynical prostitute and being that this movie features quite a few graphic and very intense sex scenes, scenes that certainly aren't shy. Each plays out in real time and each running till climax, but those are just window dressing.
Graham shows his true intentions with moments like Jim collapsing during his stage rehearsal of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Graham also shows the true intentions of this movie in a scene where Brian sits and stares at his muse and possible soul-mate Dan, played by Grant Lancaster. The look on Sheppard's face in that scene reveals how much of a romantic this movie is. Sheppard is perhaps the MVP in that regard, but Domingo and Ryan are given great, separate monologues about one another's characters that absolutely pull on the heartstrings too.
There are also great performances from minor actors like David Melissaratos and Matthew Rios that are cherries on top of this lovely concoction. Like with Strapped, Graham has again cut a sleek and sexy slice of gay male life. I thought it would be difficult for him to top Strapped, and some might not agree that he has, but he has certainly crafted something of equal measure, and a film that, if nothing else, lives up to its title. Five Stars out of Five. Not Rated but contains full-frontal, male nudity and graphic sex. Running Time: 1 hr. and 32 mins.