Trick (1999): Jim Fall’s Gay Date Movie

Trick may be one of the most appealing and erotic gay date movies.

Superior to Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss, which premiered at Sundance Festival last year, Jim Fall’s delightfully charming film belongs to a new cycle (it’s premature to call it a genre) of gay movies that are not about AIDS or about social issues, but “simply” deal with universal situations, such as dating and first love, relevant to any individual regardless of sexual orientation.

With the right marketing, Fine Line can score big with a smart, emotionally true, and entertaining picture, that may not have strong crossover appeal, but will enthusiastically be embraced by all strata of the gay community, particularly the twentysomething crowd.

Gay Directors, Gay Films? By Emanuel Levy (Columbia University Press, August 2015).

In structure, scripter Jason Schafer’s romantic tale recalls classic Hollywood screwball comedies, from the 1930s to more recent ones, such as Scorsese’s After Hours and The Daytrippers, detailing the (mis)adventures of a newly formed couple during one long frustrating night. Schafer gets a considerable mileage out of the simple promise: Two boys, infatuated with each other, are desperate to find a place to consummate their passion.

Gabriel (Christian Campbell) is a young, ambitious musical theater writer/composer whose romantic life leaves a lot to be desired. In the first scene, Gabriel falls asleep in the hallway while waiting for Rich (Brad Beyer), his macho straight roommate, to let him in after yet another night of obsessive sex. Like many aspiring artists, Gab keeps a day job, but whenever possible, he rehearses on the phone scenes from his new play with best friend Katherine (Tori Spelling), a struggling, self-absorbed actress.

After hearing a song from his new musical, older friend and colleague Perry (Steve Hayes) feels that something is missing from Gab’s work–it’s too bland, too cautious–which he believes reflects his barren life. What’s a nice but shy boy like Gab gonna do He heads out to the local gay bar to loosen up. Upon arrival, he is struck by the sight of a gorgeous go-go boy, Mark (John Paul Pitoc), and some looks are exchanged. Utterly enraptured, but not courageous enough to approach Mark, Gab heads to the subway and, as fate would have it, Mark is there. A visual flirtation leads to talk on the subway platform. It feels like the perfect one-night stand, except they have no place to go.

Following generic conventions, the filmmakers realize that the trick is to present barriers so that Gab and Mark will not consummate their burning desire. Indeed, they pile up so many obstacles that the couple feels there’s conspiracy against them. It’s in this aspect that Trick recalls After Hours, in which a straight computer guy spends one long night in SoHo, in which he encounters one eccentric and problematic person after another.

The first obstacle in Trick is presented by the insensitive Katherine, who’s in Gab’s apartment printing out 150 copies of her resume. From then on, the well-constructed film unfolds as a road comedy, a long day’s journey into the night. With Perry’s gracious consent, Gab gets the key to his apartment, except that the heartbroken Perry runs into his ex-lover and they decide to patch up their disagreements.

It doesn’t help that roommate Rich refuses to leave their space, as he’s now having sex with the ditzy but not dumb, Judy (Lorri Bagley), newly arrived from Paris. In one of the film’s most poignant scenes, Gab and Mark find themselves in an empty public restroom, where, alas, they can kiss. They begin doing it, but it doesn’t feel right, and this time, it’s Mark who interrupts the act.

Trick suffers from one major problem: Most of the secondary characters are stereotypical and narrowly defined. The film’s gallery of stock characters, by now too familiar from other gay movies, includes: the “sensitive,” burnt-out drag queen; the fag-hag often to mistaken to be a lesbian; the brutish, none too bright hetero (it doesn’t make much sense that Gab will share an apartment with someone like Rich); the older queen who sings musicals at piano bars.

Nonetheless, it’s a tribute to the filmmakers that whenever their yarn sags–as in a weak diner scene in which a hysterical Katherine (irritatingly overacted by Spelling) throws a tantrum–they come up with an inventive idea that places their charming duo center stage, where they belong. Ultimately, Trick’s spell depends on the magnetism of its two protagonists, and on the strong chemistry between the actors who embody them, both perfectly cast. When Campbell and Pitoc are onscreen, which is most of the time, they touch a deep chord, encouraging viewers, gays and straight, to nostalgically revisit their first amorous adventure.

The upbeat, emotionally satisfying denouement, in which a smiling Gab walks down the street felicitously recalls Julietta Massina in Nights of Cabiria and Holly Hunter in Living out Loud. The very last shot, which evokes the dreamy, almost surreal sense of early morning New York, is particularly gratifying.

Production values are impressively modest as befit the film’s intimate scale–and budget. One of the strongest entries in this year’s dramatic competition, Trick could become the “hottest” gay movie of the year.

A Fine Line (domestic) and Good Machine (international) release of Roadside Attraction and Good Machine production. Produced by Eric d’Arbeloff, Jim Fall, Ross Katz. Executive producers, Anthony Bregman, Mary Jane Skalski, Mark l. Beigelman. Co-producer, Robert Hawk. Directed by Jim Fall. Screenplay, Jason Schafer. Camera (DuArt), Terry Stacey; editor, Brian A. Kates; music, David Friedman; production design, Jody Asnes; costume design, Mary Gasser; choreographer, Robin Carrigan; casting, Susan Shopmaker. Reviewed at Sundance Festival (in Dramatic competition), Jan. 27, 1999. Running time: 90 min.