NEW YORK -- A gay love story featuring alternating doses of melodrama and farcical comedy, this debut feature from Miles Swain boasts sincerity and good intentions that are consistently undermined by mediocre execution. Using such touchstones of gay history as the onset of AIDS and the Anita Bryant controversy in its depiction of the years-long relationship between a reformed straight Republican and a gay activist, "The Trip" is ultimately most successful when it is at its least ambitious. It is playing an exclusive theatrical engagement at New York's Quad Cinema before opening wider later in the spring.
The film begins in 1973, when we are introduced to the two principals: Alan (Larry Sullivan), a 24-year-old straight conservative journalist who has just written an antigay screed titled "The Straight Truth", and Tommy (Steve Braun), a younger, long-haired blond Texan newly arrived in Los Angeles to form a gay civil rights group. Despite Alan's professed sexual orientation and his ditsy blond girlfriend, he and Tommy are clearly attracted to each other, and the pair eventually find themselves in a relationship, with Alan abandoning plans to publish his book.
A few years later, during Bryant's antigay crusade, Peter Ray Baxter), a jealous lawyer, arranges to have the book published without Alan's consent, thereby breaking up his relationship with Tommy. Alan, not knowing of Peter's subterfuge, becomes his lover, being dominated by the imperious older man. When he later learns that Tommy has become ill in Mexico, he quickly reunites with his former love, with the two embarking on the trouble-plagued road trip that gives the film both its literal and metaphorical title.
Director-screenwriter Swain is unable to maintain full control over his overly complex plot, with the film further undermined by its superficial characterizations, awkward shifts of tone and less than scintillating dialogue. (One example of the latter: Tommy advising Alan, who's reluctant to smoke marijuana: "If you're worried about a political career, just don't inhale.") It is most successful when concentrating on the tender and good-humored relationship between the two main characters, played touchingly and amusingly, if at times a little too broadly, by Sullivan and Braun.
Jill St. John, seemingly untouched by the years since playing a Bond girl in "Diamonds Are Forever", delivers a lively and amusing performance as Alan's outspoken mother, and effective cameos are delivered by Alexis Arquette, Julie Brown and real-life gay activist David Mixner.
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