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When 19-year-old gay-rights activist Tommy and 24-year-old Alan first meet in 1973, they find themselves on the opposite sides of the political coin. Despite their many differences, they form a loving long-term relationship. In 1977, during Anita Bryant's crusade, an anti-gay book Alan wrote years before gets published without his consent. The book destroys Tommy's credibility as a well-known activist, resulting in Tommy and Alan's break-up. Seven years later, Alan is given a second chance, a reunion with Tommy and the opportunity to set things right.Written by
We have seen this before; it is known as "a very special episode," or at least it is when it pops up on TV sitcoms. It is when the comedy suddenly gets serious or the comedy disappears completely so that a sermon and platitude can be served up. It happens unfortunately in even the best of sitcoms; actors who obviously are intelligent, talented and charismatic, comfortably playing characters who are interesting and ingratiating, suddenly have to pander to some misbegotten need to "get real" and educate the viewer. The jokey attitude and contrived situations that somehow are acceptable in a comedy, become transparent when applied to the attempts at dramatic honesty. Even a bad sitcom can be funny, but there is nothing worse than a bad "serious" sitcom.
At first it seems as though THE TRIP can slip by solely on the charms of its two protagonists. One is Alan Oakley, a pleasant, nerdy, somewhat goofy, wannabe writer, who claims to have a purely journalistic interest in exploring "the homosexual lifestyle," since he also claims to be both straight and a Republican. He crosses paths with Tommy Ballenger, an idealistic, no-nonsense gay activist who wants to explore more than just Alan's lifestyle. The story begins in 1973 when everyone is on shaky ground when it comes to gay protocol. Thus, whether he knows it or not, Alan is something of a tease in the way he pursues Tommy's friendship, and a lustful Tommy is left uncertain if he is being the prey or the predator in this vague game of cat and mouse.
Despite an amateur sitcom-like script by writer/director Miles Swain, the story draws you in, thanks largely to the chemistry between Larry Sullivan as Alan and Steve Braun as Tommy. Their mating ritual is sweetly awkward and it amuses, even as it is apparent that their coy flirtations are far from spontaneous. THE TRIP seems to be charting a course along the familiar road of a typical opposites-attract movie romance, albeit from a gay perspective, but Swain seems as uncertain about his intentions as Alan does about his homosexuality.
So the film breaks down into three episodes and the story jumps ahead in time and makes desperate attempts at being serious, first in 1977 during the Anita Bryant years and then again in 1984 during the early outbreaks of AIDS. The clumsy attempts at being a romantic comedy ("It's my parents! Quick hide in the closet!") fall by the wayside as THE TRIP makes even clumsier attempts at political statements. Telling their story against the panorama of the gay rights movement is a great idea, but like those "very special episodes," THE TRIP unsuccessfully tries to shift from funny to poignant, but hasn't built up the necessary supply of good will to justify the demands on the audience.
As THE TRIP goes from sitcom to soap opera to unbelievable melodrama, Alan and Tommy find themselves at the mercy of convoluted plot twists that just don't make a lot of sense. The film can't pull off trying to have it both ways, being seriously sentimental and outrageously funny; as the road gets bumpier, Swain's sometimes desperate attempts at humor just aren't enough to absorb the shocks.
Good traveling companions certainly can help. Most are broad clichés (Jill St. John as Alan's boozy mom, Sirena Irwin as the kooky fag hag, Alexis Arquette as, once again, a swishy party boy, etc.), but Sullivan and Braun sidestep the stereotypes and play nicely realized characters. They both have a flair for comedy and even overcome the heavy-handed drama well enough to make you care. Sullivan in particular gives an endearing performance as a man who isn't quite prepared to be swept up by love or social revolution. He more than anything else makes THE TRIP worth taking.
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