Looking: The Movie begins with the question, “So, is it good to be back?” It’s a taxi driver making small talk with his passenger, Patrick, who’s shot through the window so his head is in the clouds as the buildings fly by in reflection. It must be a good day because Patrick doesn’t immediately unload all his anxieties on his cellmate, saying instead, “Ask me in a couple of days.” Time and timing are great themes of Looking, as they are in much of showrunner and Looking: The Movie director Andrew Haigh’s work. Here’s a meditative dramedy that demands its audience slow down, a gay coming-of-age story that pivots on how its characters’ personal journeys resonate with the wider historical movement of gay acceptance, and television’s great romance that finds grandeur in the everyday activity of simply getting to know someone. The show was cancelled, but, in the glorious tradition of Derek, granted an epilogue movie. So it’s a question for us, too, is it good to be back, and the answer is no, it’s kind of disappointing. Looking: The Movie is a beautiful finale, but what kind of a sadist resurrects a cancelled show just to end it for good?
More seriously, why would you wrap up a TV series with a movie? Looking—the very title is about continuous action, a present-tense sense of seeing and searching and yearning that won’t ever be resolved anyway—is a TV show whose successes are bound up with that format. Part of what makes “Looking For The Future” so great is how it interrupts the status quo, deviates from it, carves out its own space, or more accurately time. The Modesto trip works in the same way. The season two premiere, “Looking For The Promised Land,” runs away from its obligations by disregarding the expected catching up and hiding out at the Russian River instead. The wedding, the Halloween party, and the fight at the new apartment are great sequences that bubble up from long-roiling tensions. None of these highs can be achieved in the same way by a wrap-up movie that has to deliver a season premiere, a season finale, and some kind of bridge between the two in one 85-minute standalone. For the writers, creator Michael Lannan and Andrew Haigh, the generous offer to greenlight a two-and-five-sixths-episode chunk becomes an engineering problem. How do you make a space shuttle a satisfactory caboose?
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About the only top-shelf episode that could provide a model for Looking: The Movie is the small but ambitious “Looking For Results,” a day in the life of a gay community. And given the way the first half of the movie unfurls across a night out at gay clubs populated by familiar faces, it kind of does. In the past year, Patrick has moved to Denver, Agustín’s gotten hitched to Eddie, and Dom’s kept a chicken window (and parklet) afloat. They’re all growing up, and they’re all dissatisfied with that. So instead of the usual Looking feelings of romance, bittersweetness, comic awkwardness, or the electricity of anticipation, much of the Looking movie dwells in resignation, permanence, realistic awkwardness, and the anxiety of anticipation. Because Patrick is in such a funk, literally dragging his baggage around, everything feels a little obligatory—the dancing, the sex scene designed to show his progress, even the catching up with old friends. Looking’s a buzz, and the movie’s a little too sober.
But almost all the fault lies in the format. That’s the root of the problems: the extended funk, the rush from scene to scene, the arbitrarily postponed Dealing With Brady, which the too wise Richie probably would have done in season two or the year since if it wouldn’t have robbed the movie of its drama. Dom gets off the worst, because it’s hard to evoke his isolation when this is Patrick’s story. The closest thing in the movie to a moment of privacy from Patrick is when he and Doris leave Dom alone at his chicken window, and Dom, facing away from the door, takes a moment to register some worry before the cut to the next scene. He’s entering middle age and scared of it, and convinced love isn’t in the cards for him. It’s a throwaway line in a movie that has places to be, but to hear that Dom and Doris hadn’t seen each other in months before the movie begins is a punch in the gut. And with Agustín getting married and Patrick in Denver, Dom’s even warming to Brady, which is what medical professionals call a warning sign. A season could have kept Dom in the background but still brought out his loneliness, but much of the movie’s power comes from being rigorous about Patrick’s perspective.
Because the whole point of this movie, the only hanging thread, is to see where Patrick stands with Richie and Kevin. Which in Looking terms is a question of timing—history, cycles, roads not traveled. The first half of the movie is a tour of the group’s old haunts. Patrick and Richie joke about becoming their parents, and Doris and Dom are adamant they’re not their parents. The movie specifically references almost every episode of the show—Patrick’s enthusiastic drunk dancing, Kevin’s fried chicken cravings, The Goonies—and maybe all of them outright. Patrick says moving to Denver was about pressing the reset button, but whether or not it worked is conspicuously left hanging. Patrick, Kevin, Richie, Agustín, Dom, and Eddie are all in states of running away, but they can’t escape the bulldogs in their own backyards, to borrow a phrase. Dom gets to the heart of Haigh’s work when he says, “It’s so easy to let the past make a mess of the present.”
So Agustín gets over his mistakes with Frank and marries Eddie, and Dom gets over his romantic failures and gets back out in the pool. All it takes is some good counsel. Which is also what motivates Patrick, although his advice doesn’t just come from his good friends. He hooks up with a 22-year-old he barely knows, so we get a little Weekend scene about how easy it can be to be honest with strangers, and the 22-year-old is the one who sends Patrick to Kevin. “You have to bury your dead real good, you know, so they don’t come back and haunt you.” Kevin’s been in therapy, where he’s been learning how to be mean to others in new and fun ways. But his diagnosis of Patrick is on the money: Patrick’s a coward. He runs away instead of taking risks. And that’s what inspires him in the end to take a risk to be with someone he loves.
For all the talk, Looking has always come alive in visuals, and The Movie is a beautiful parting shot. The blocking alone practically tells the story: the camera catching Richie and Patrick alone together in the middle of the group, Brady using his arm as a wall to close off the space between Richie and Patrick, the focus racking to catch Richie Looking at Patrick across the bar, the big fight that leaves Richie stranded between Brady and Patrick. After Brady’s series wrap, Patrick tells everyone he just wants them all to dance, and then he pays a visit to the restroom. When he comes out, he’s the only one not dancing in this magnificent pan across the room where all his friends in varying states of couplehood—Agustín and Eddie just married, Doris and Malik living in sin (their words), Dom and Handsome Jake seeing where the night takes them—amid an array of same-sex couples and triads as Perfume Genius’ “Hood” plays. “Boy, I wish I grew up the second / I first held you in my arms” blares as Patrick takes everything in. His cowardice, his big mouth, his directionlessness. And then the focus racks to catch Richie staring at Patrick again, in the mirror behind him. There’s something magical about the way the reflection gives way to the real Richie, with the camera barely moving, and at last Patrick and Richie line up again. It’s the moment the movie was made for, and it’s the moment that makes the movie.
The follow-up scenes reveal just how lost Richie is, too, as he and Patrick walk down the deserted street at night. In the end the question is in the air: Does Richie want to take Patrick to Texas? And in the booth with their friends, the camera isolates Richie’s face as he gives this barely perceptible nod, and then a mirror image shows Patrick barely curling into a smile as his eyes well with tears. It’s resolution that leaves the future wide open, the perfect ending to a show about the big questions and the little moments.
- Looking: The Movie is written by Michael Lannan and Andrew Haigh and directed by Haigh, and I can’t wait to see what they do next.
- I never say enough about the actors, but Jonathan Groff impresses me every year. He lands every Braff-y moment of soul-searching, and that’s no small feat.
- I love the little details of life in this show: the way Patrick and Kevin’s coffees don’t come out at the same time, Eddie’s aside that he’s trying to get his friend to move there. I once officiated a small wedding for friends, and relatives watched on phones via Skype.
- Doris: “Marriage is for the gays.” Looking has never been one-size-fits-all, and even now it’s admirably ambivalent about marriage. But I’m with Patrick on this one. “I can’t help but feel, I don’t know, validated, even though I know we shouldn’t need that validation.” It’s not about us feeling validated by a government that still won’t lift a finger to help us. It’s about us not being unequal and gay kids growing up with options.
- Doris: “How’s Boise?” “Well, it’s Denver, not Boise.” I’ll allow it.
- Brady: “Do they have gays in Denver?” I won’t allow it. Typical coastal media.
- Richie tells Patrick he followed his advice about working things out with his dad. “Turns out he is a raging homophobe.” In season two, Patrick said if that’s the case, “Then fuck him.”
- I squealed for Frank. His appearance was a welcome surprise, until it wasn’t. Frank gets awfully drunk and Brady-like, dredging up someone’s past relationship mistakes in the guise of kidding. Everyone’s falling into each other’s patterns in Looking: The Movie.
- That’s why I like this booth arrangement, with the group thoroughly intermixed: Brady’s arm around Agustín, Doris across from Dom and Malik, Richie between them.
- The personal is political: “I rimmed him, he rimmed me, I fucked him, he fucked me, it was very democratic.” Brady would be proud (except probably not).
- Patrick sums up Brady: “He’s like a blog that nobody reads but in human form.” Maybe, but You’re Doing It Wrong is a tried and tested clickbait formula.
- Dom isn’t always such a fount of wisdom: “Maybe it’s not worth thinking about it. You know, you can’t go back in time.” No, but those who don’t study the past are doomed to repeat it.
- Kevin tells Patrick, “Oh, Meredith, she finally came out.” “What?” “I’m kidding.” Patrick sees Kevin for the last time by riding the escalator up to him and then loses him for the last time down a flight of stairs. They just don’t line up.
- “Kevin, do you honestly think we would have worked?” “I’d like to have given it a try.” During their goodbye kiss, Kevin fondles Patrick’s ears. Lots of reversals at work in this scene.
- Doris: “I love it when gays argue with other gays about being gays.”
- “Wouldn’t you like to be with someone while you work through your shit? Someone who understands you, someone who cares about you?”