Looking: The Movie

Looking: The Movie is the conclusion to two seasons of the HBO series Looking, the story of three gay best friends living in San Francisco while looking for love and fulfillment. At the start of the movie, all three guys — Patrick, Agustín, and Dom — are adapting to new chapters in their lives. Patrick (Jonathan Groff), the suburban-bred game designer and main protagonist, moved to Denver after breaking up with his boss Kevin (Russell Tovey) and complicating his relationship with former love interest, Richie (Raul Castillo), a barber and native of San Francisco. He is back in San Francisco to be his best friend Agustín's "Maid of Dishonor." Agustín (Frankie J. Alvarez), a Cuban American artist, is getting married to Eddie (Daniel Franzese) his fantastically bearded bear of a partner, who is caring, witty and HIV positive. Dom (Murray Bartlett) has successfully opened a chicken restaurant and is working (obsessively) hard, even as the restaurant is already a huge success and even though his best friend, Doris (Lauren Weedman), has expressed worries that he is neglecting any chance at having a romantic life.

The movie, like much of the series, is presented through the lens of Patrick and opens on his return to San Francisco. It’s clear with each reuniting scene that in the nine months he has been gone, Patrick has not only matured but become more confident and comfortable with his identity. At the same time, each interaction introduces a new moment of growth and understanding of adulthood for Patrick. The writing beautifully displays how each character has reached a new level separately, while in the moment showing each of them take another step forward as they give each other advice. Patrick, Agustín, and Dom might be living separate lives now, but their friendship and support of each other continues to build each other up. They are critical without shaming each other and they give each other pep talks while still being real and sincere.

But Looking is not representative of all queer people. It's not every gay man's story. It's a concise character study with a strength that lies in its representation of the universal emotions and ideals shared by the LGBTQ community. I enjoyed that the movie doesn't try to reiterate every theme and discussion about the gay community it had throughout its two seasons. Instead, it effectively serves as a culmination of what these characters have been through and discusses what the next chapter in each of their stories will be. The characters are real. The audience is given a sense of what their lives are like and how each of them is improving and looking to be successful. And along with their growth and potential success, they seek validation — validation in the sense that they’re doing what’s right for them, but also validation from their peers and loved ones.

Every episode of Looking attempted to incorporate aspects of real life for gay men and queer people in general. The production continued this trend for the movie and then some. The shots and scenery are picturesque but grounded in reality. Every setting is a real place they have lived and has its own energy. Every club scene has its own unique feel and music to fit its setting. Anyone who has been to a gay club knows the atmosphere. And those in the community know how important of a space a gay bar or club can be. Agustín has his friends go to every club from the previous seasons. He describes it as "returning to the scene of his crimes." These places are familiar and sacred because of the memories they have created there. After the city hall marriage ceremony, they celebrate in a club because that is where their community resides. It’s in spaces like this that some of them, such as Patrick and Dom, became friends. With the recent tragedy in Orlando, watching these characters navigate through these club scenes feels essential. An extra level of community ties and recognition is felt when watching them dance and celebrate in a space that feels safe to them.

The writers had the characters discuss a broad theme throughout this movie: every gay is different. Most importantly, every identity deserves to be validated. It's all about being an individual, becoming better with time (hopefully) and living your truth as as an individual. Patrick is fallible and will continue to make mistakes just like everyone else, but he and his friends are learning and working to be better versions of themselves. At the start of the movie, Dom has become intimately stunted by his need to run a successful restaurant in order to avoid failing like his father did when Dom was a child. Patrick screwed up two potential long-term romantic relationships. What’s important is that now he is getting better and learning about himself. He is also learning how to love. Love and community is what every person desires; it’s human nature. The most universal truth of this movie is that every person craves to figure out who they are and fit into a community where there will be a sense of love that validates who they are becoming. Even if there are disagreements in ideologies, we can all understand and support everyone deserving love.

Alongside validating individual identities, the writers also discuss the differences in gays depending on their generational divides. After, Patrick, who is 30, hooks up with Jimmy, who is 22, Patrick is amazed at how experienced he is. This comes after a tantalizing sex scene, where it is made clear that Patrick has explored more with sex and has grown more comfortable with sexual acts he struggled with before moving. Patrick himself has only had three boyfriends, two of them being relationships that started during the series, while Jimmy exclaims that he had his first boyfriend at 16. The concept of being that young and already in a gay relationship astonishes Patrick. He brings it up to Dom later, asking if Dom thinks he would be more well-adjusted if he had started dating other guys that young. Dom explains the importance of not worrying about what could have been done differently in the past because there is no changing it.

Acceptance has always been important for the queer community, especially from parents. Patrick expresses that familiar feeling that many queer people have had when talking about why moving backwards and specifically too close to his parents home can be detrimental to a queer individual's growth. When talking to Richie on his first night back, Patrick says, "I never felt that I can actually be there and be myself." Richie, coming from a very Christian Mexican family, has a strained relationship with his father. During Patrick’s time away, Richie tries to make amends with his homophobic dad, but his dad has no interest in reconciliation. Our parents created us, and every thing they did, once they brought us into this world, affects who we are.

Looking: The Movie expresses its relevance by allowing the characters to have ideological differences, even though they’re all mostly in the same gay male community. With the main event being Agustín getting married to Eddie, each of their friends states their viewpoint toward same-sex marriages. Brady, Richie’s current boyfriend, teases the engaged couple since he feels that marriage equality is just queer people wanting to be like straight people. The jeers are enough to rattle Agustín, leading to a rant about how he is becoming everything he rallied against in college. Patrick and Brady have the most tense relationship throughout this movie. They attempt to get along,but have a heated argument best described by Doris, who exclaims, "I love it when gays argue with other gays about being gays."

From the start of this film, it's pretty clear that these three friends are evolving as gay men. Their wants and needs changing as they get older, and a part of feeling validated is accepting that these things are allowed to change. Agustín explains it best when talking Eddie down from freaking out about getting married, "We're doing this for us...this marriage will be whatever we want it to be." They are setting the terms for their happiness. And within this time being back together, Patrick, Agustín, and Dom inspire each other to set their own terms of happiness for themselves.

After two seasons, Looking: The Movie is showing that the story being told deserves to be loved for its cinematically stunning portrayal of people in a real city whose experiences are specific to them but emotionally resonant with many audiences — gay, straight and every categories in between and beyond. A conversation between Patrick and Richie, after the wedding ceremony, sums up how important a sense of validation can be to a person, and to a community.

Patrick: For all those people who came before us who, you know. That actually had to struggle against something...You can’t help but to feel, I don’t know, validated. Even though I know we shouldn’t need that validation.

Richie: Just because you feel you shouldn’t need something, doesn’t mean you don’t.

J. L. Barnaby's picture
on July 26, 2016

New Yorker. Born a mutant. Designer of books. Reader of comics and manga.