ZOMG, the gays are coming! And they’re in San Francisco! To be fair, La Mission, a painfully earnest labor of love from the brothers Bratt (writer-director Peter and his famous actor sibling Benjamin), concerns an old-school father from the Mission District, not the Castro. And it stands to reason that his troubled history as a gang-banger and alcoholic would not make him the most tolerant person in the city when it’s revealed that his only son is gay. But La Mission feels more like Sundance fodder from 20 or 25 years ago than something with much relevance today. Attitudes have shifted, but that isn’t so much the problem—the real issue is that the story plays out as though gay-themed cinema hasn’t evolved, either. It’s as if the Bratts have been sitting on this project since before Longtime Companion.
It doesn’t help that Benjamin’s performance as a widowed bus driver and old-school neighborhood guy rings with false bravado and seemingly arbitrary shifts from glad-handing charmer to temperamental jerk. Still living in the same apartment building that’s passed through his family for decades, Bratt survived a jail stint and a bout with alcoholism, and raised a high-school-aged son (Jeremy Ray Valdez) who gets good grades and stays out of trouble. But when he sees Polaroids of his son in a nightclub with his boyfriend, Bratt unleashes a torrent of verbal and physical abuse and kicks Valdez to the curb. Several intermediaries, most notably an attractive single renter (Erika Alexander), try to talk Bratt off the ledge, but his inner Archie Bunker proves resilient.
Shot on location by veteran cinematographer Hiro Narita (Never Cry Wolf), La Mission succeeds to some degree in capturing the spirit and rituals of the neighborhood, and how it has and hasn’t changed, for better or for worse. But the script is so TV-movie programmatic—and at nearly two hours, absurdly slow about hitting its marks—that the vitality of the setting doesn’t seep through. Bratt’s character is stuck in old ways of thinking, and the movie, for all its well-meaning social intent, is right there with him.