Review: Things Get Steamy in “August” (Both the Month and the Movie!)

Daniel Dugan, Marray Bartlett

Two of the leading actors in the new gay indie film August, Murray Bartlett and Adrian Gonzalez, have at least a brief history in the world of soap operas (All My Children and The Bold and the Beautiful, respectively). It’s an interesting coincidence, because — its moody atmosphere and obvious arthouse pretensions aside — the movie is angst-y and full of impossibly pretty boys, just like, well, a soap opera.

On the other hand, what’s the problem with that? Trust me: you’ve never seen a soap opera quite this “gay” before, nor have you ever seen one this joyously sensual.

Five years ago, Troy (Bartlett) and Jonathan (Daniel Dugan) were in the middle of a passionate relationship — but it was not a healthy relationship for Jonathan, who almost lost himself in Troy’s smoldering sensuality. Maybe it was a good thing Troy eventually dumped Jonathan and moved to Spain. Jonathan moved on, eventually partnering up with smokin’ hot Raul.

But now Troy has suddenly returned and wants to strike up a casual friendship. Or does he want something more? Before long, Jonathan has a choice: does he stay with his increasingly resentful new boyfriend Raul (Gonzalez), or does he try again with Troy, even though they’re already slipping back into old, unhealthy patterns (and even though it’s obvious the relationship will end no differently than before).

First things first: is there a person alive who hasn’t
had to deal with the conflict between the heart and the head — and the realization that a person can turn us on sexually, but still be very bad for us in every other sense? Passion and love sometimes run on completely different tracks. Is it worth the price we pay to get on the “wrong” train?

There’s something interesting to explore here, and I liked that the movie did it without judgment or apology.

Adrian Gonzalez

And let’s make something very clear: this film is more than just soft-core porn, or an excuse to show lots of pretty men shirtless. It’s definitely not Dante’s Cove or The Lair. The acting and production values are much higher, for one thing.

That said, there’s not as much substance here as the movie thinks. Part of the problem is that, looks aside, the characters just aren’t all that engaging: Jonathan has almost no identity of his own — which is the whole point, but it’s still not very watchable — and Troy comes across as something of a flighty, self-absorbed jerk. We’re supposed to fall for his passionate nature along with Jonathan, but for the most part, I didn’t.

It’s telling that some of the most interesting characters, including Jonathan’s brother, have some of the movie’s smallest parts.

Still, I admired the fact that the movie was sensual without being pervy, and I appreciated the love triangle’s inevitable, if campy resolution, not to mention its appropriately bittersweet coda.

I hope the filmmakers didn’t have “crossover” aspirations, because I can’t see this film appealing to anyone other than gay and bi men and their admirers. But if that describes you, there are worse ways than August to spend your August days.

AUGUST premieres at the 2011 NewFest Film Festival, screening Fri. Jul 22 and Sat. Jul 23