True Love is a low-budget film, shot in 2004 by gay Los Angeles filmmaker Michael Saul. The film's gimmick is that it is a collection of seven vignettes, depiciting the range of emotional situations a gay man might experience at various points in his life, from childhood to comfortable old (well, middle) age. While sometimes wandering into the melodramatic, for the most part the film is remarkably affecting.
Nearly each vignette's story leaves you wanting more, a strong testament to the writing as well as the overall acting chops of Saul's extremely diverse, and completely unknown, cast. The film opens with a non-verbal musical introduction, called A Christmas Story. We are taken back via grainy film effect to Christmas, 1969 and a home movie of a young married couple and their two children, a daughter and son. As the story unfolds through visuals only, we see the young daughter thrilled with her gifts of makeup and pretty, frilly dresses, and the younger son grow increasingly discomfited with his gifts of basketball, toy trucks, and whatnot. The weakest link in the chain of stories in the film, A Christmas Story is the most melodramatic and over-acted of the bunch, yet still ends on a shockingly violent note that might catch some viewers by surprise.
The second segment, Going Gay is where the film, for this reviewer, really started. A teenage boy is picked up from a friend's house by his father, and on the drive home we're informed by their strained, diffident, and angry conversation that the two teenagers were discovered in bed together, doing what some boys do. When the father demands to know his son's sexual preference, in order so that "we can do something about it," if necessary, the young man angrily exits the moving vehicle and returns to his friend's house to confide. During this conversation we discover that one of the young men isn't as gay as was first thought, and that the other is absolutely heartbroken by that knowledge. The story ends (as do a couple of others) with rising, discordant music, casting the pall of a possible (offscreen) gay teen suicide over the scene.
The third story is the most powerful and disturbing of the bunch. In History we see a young gay man just out of college having dinner in a restaurant with his favorite relative, his middle-aged uncle--who also happens to be gay. The conversation they have over dinner starts out pleasant enough, but as it progresses, the viewer begins to feel a little bit uneasy at some of the suggestive and confrontational remarks made by the younger man. The climax of the story occurs when the younger man accuses his uncle of molesting him when he was twelve years old, but the manner in which this accusation is made suggests that the younger man may also be somewhat mentally unstable. By the time the story ends, the viewer is left clammy-skinned and cold as the realization is made that an innocent man just might be the victim of a vicious blackmail attempt. The motivations for each character's behavior are left largely up to the viewer. Was the young man indeed molested as a child? Did that "make" him gay? Is someone being blackmailed? Is the accuser a victim, a cunning criminal, or seriously unhinged?
Next up is a very short segment, Sunday which is refreshingly loving and normal. We see an older couple in bed, just waking up on a Sunday. That's pretty much it, but its quite delightful after the uncomfortable nature of the first three scenes. A pause, so to speak, to reflect that true love can be relatively painless for men willing to commit deeply to one another.
In He Was Perfect, a young college-aged man, obviously more uncomfortable with being visibly out of the closet than most of his clubkid friends, experiences love at first sight from across the dance floor. Becoming somewhat obsessive over this find, the main character through a series of events manages to snare the object of his affection, yet ends up having his romantic delusions irreparably shattered by the end of the scene. The most emotionally cold of all the vignettes in the film, He Was Perfect demonstrates that, indeed, true love can hurt, and hurt utterly.
The next segment, entitled Staying Together we see the dregs of a party thrown by a couple of gay men in their late 20s (or early 30s). As the party winds down, the couple, one of whom is HIV positive have a confrontation in the kitchen about their shared past leading them to speculate why they've maintained their relationship for so long. As counterpoint the--somewhat inebriated--posse of the couple's friends also wonder the same thing. By the end of this story, we discover that the commitment the couple has to one another may be somewhat uneven, but nonetheless incredibly strong.
The final story, A Little Drama ends the film as it began, with music, and no dialogue. During a (college? high school?) production of Romeo and Juliet we are treated to a backstage view of the play, centering on a young man running the light board. As the play progresses, we see him become utterly enthralled...but is he falling in love with the good-looking actor playing Romeo, or simply being overcome with the dramatic power of Shakespeare? As the music fades to its denouement, the story ends with one soft, sweet kiss, but we are left--as in so many of the stories that make up True Love--with (sometimes bitter, sometimes sweet) ambiguity.
Overall the film is impressive in its general refusal to give us all the details. There are hardly any feel-good happy endings here, yet all the endings are satisfying in their own ways. They conclude, for the most part, logically and with an emotional zing based on what has gone before, yet always leave the viewer with questions. That's rare in most mainstream filmmaking today, and a refreshing change from many modern queer films, which either end in utter darkness or overdone Hollywood heavenly joy. True Love tries to demonstrate that the world consists of shades of gray, and that feeling "true love" is no exception.
It was tough to format the (quite extensive) production credits for this movie without overwhelming the whole node itself, so instead of listing cast and behind the camera crew, I direct you to the movie's website, www.truelovemovie.com, or entreat you to visit the IMDB.