Sunday, August 8, 2010

The People I’ve Slept With – A Crayon Mona Lisa

By Tony Adams

What is it about gay indie films that keeps us coming back despite frequent disappointment? Their style is usually not refined because their budgets are small and their makers are relatively inexperienced with the machinery of filming. Usually, their subject matter is naïve love and first awakenings because their makers are often young and inexperienced as lovers.

When I watch an indie film, my expectations are therefore low, but I always hope to find something of promise that will bode well for future viewing. I hope to be arrested by writing that is not studied in a popular style, by unsophisticated but clever cinematography, by surprising directorial perspective, intriguing new music and fresh artistry. I look for performances that are wise beyond the age of the actors delivering them.

The People I’ve Slept With is a charming romantic romp with some of those elements that I hope for in a gay indie film. It is about a young Asian-American woman named Angela who has a picaresque sex life and a best gay friend named Gabriel.  Angela is an unknown/unshown artist  who uses crayons and is a sexual conquistadora. Gabriel is sparkly cute guy with a winning smile and a twinkish mind that match like a sweater set on Archie’s Betty. Both of them change for the better in the course of the film. If the maturity lessons of the young are of no interest to you, you should skip this movie and rent Autumn Sonata, but I can give you several reasons for seeing The People I’ve Slept With.

Karin Anna Chueng as Angela overrides a lackluster script and creates someone alluring and believable. The director, Quentin Lee, obviously and justifiably adores her face, holding the camera like the panting head of a worshipful puppy throughout most of the film. A lesser actress would have been merely pouty, but Chueng stands up to this heavy scrutiny. I hope she will be offered better parts in better films but I fear she’ll be devoured by TV where she could easily devolve into Valerie Bertinelli.

Radiantly sexy Wilson Cruz as Gabriel overcomes not only the tiresome stock character assigned him but also the film’s lethargic pacing. Whenever he speaks, it’s as if the slo-mo button is mercifully released and things move along in real time. He also overcomes the fact that the director has little regard for his natural magnetism and gives him just enough camera time to deliver lines that would have been better improvised. Wilson Cruz is an actor comparable to Shelley Winters, always bouncing between sexpot and potential dramatic artist. Shelley finally showed the depth of her talent in A Place in the Sun, and I’m lighting a candle for Wilson Cruz with hope that he’ll soon have that same opportunity.

I liked the whodunit structure of the plot and I thoroughly enjoyed the various suspects including Jefferson played by the handsome Archie Kao, and the hilarious Randall Park as “Nice But Boring Guy”. In fact, there’s not a bad apple in the entire cast of The People I’ve Slept With, making a bland script all the  more objectionable.

There are a few things to quibble with. I didn’t need to see a lingering close-up of a used condom being squeezed empty. I didn’t need to see two different heads barfing into two different toilets. I didn’t need to see repeated ultrasound images. These added up to tedium that should have been cut with better editing. The music was forgettable and appeared to have been tacked on at points when the writer had even less than usual to say. These are elements that mark the insurmountable distance between an Ang Lee and a Quentin Lee, the director of this film.

I enjoyed this movie despite its weaknesses. Like the beautiful Angela’s crayon artwork, The People I’ve Slept With is recommended as lighter fare, full of promise, not annoying and well endowed with the first rate performances of Karin Anna Chueng and Wilson Cruz .

The exclusive theatrical engagement of The People I’ve Slept With begins August 13,
2010 at Clearview Chelsea Cinemas, 260 West 23rd Street, New York, NY

Visit the official website to see the trailer and the schedule/locations of showings.

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