Movie Review - Those People

The title of Joey Kuhn's film has an air of prejudice and aloofness or else it's highly standoffish. Whether you're a wealthy person looking down or you're a poor person looking up, the title and the overall tone of the film apply. Given the imagery and the majority of the setting, one might assume Kuhn is siding with the spoiled brats, the children of the rich and Manhattan elite, or at least he's trying to make one such spoiled brat sympathetic, while so many around him struggle to survive, or struggle to just find a job. That could be problematic for some viewers because they might shrug their shoulders by the end or balk at the conclusion, but Kuhn writes and directs this piece so sensitively and captures what is every movie's saving grace, and that is amazing performances. Kuhn's cast is not only beautiful but superb, and the acting from the three principals are some of the best I've seen all year.

Jonathan Gordon, in his feature debut, stars as Charlie Kinberg, a college student who is aspiring to be a painter. He's Jewish and gay and not particularly bothered by either, except it might contribute to the torch he's carrying. Jason Ralph, who has an extensive TV career, stars as Sebastian Blackworth, the spoiled brat in question who is the son of a Bernie Madoff-type still in the immediate wake of his imprisoned father's crime. Haaz Sleiman, who has an even more extensive credit list, also stars as Tim Malek, a Lebanese immigrant who is aspiring to be a concert pianist.

Gordon is so open-hearted in his performance, leaning toward ebullience. He effortlessly inhabits his confection of a character, a sweetheart whose eyes reveal all. The mark of a good actor is how well or how much his eyes give him away, and through his eyes, Gordon can hide nothing, but that's how he'll reel you in and it's why, even in his first leading role in a feature film, he's truly a star, shining brightly.

For an actor like Ralph, it's less about the eyes and more about the body language and how he delivers lines. It's clearer that for Ralph it's how he moves himself. Whether it's how he stands or slouches, whether how he leans either toward or away from someone, or whether he faces them or not, a large part of his acting is about his physical being and placement. As such, he is quite graceful, and deliberate, especially in his diction, easily inhabiting his Gilbert and Sullivan-loving character and behaving mostly as if he's just stepped off the stage of his beloved The Pirates of Penzance.

Sleiman is graceful and deliberate as well. He first impressed in his breakout film The Visitor (2007). Elements echo but his style is certainly more refined as compared to nearly a decade ago. He definitely brings a strength and a confidence or a kind of fortitude to both roles, if not every role. It makes him as solid as a rock as an actor, practically unflappable. He's also suave for sure and warmly charming with such a smooth and soothing voice that he disarms any and all in his path.

Ostensibly, this movie might seem like any other gay film reckoning with a love triangle between these three men, but Kuhn's writing and direction transcends such tropes. It's not just about figuring out who Charlie, the one in the middle, is going to choose. It's about Charlie figuring out what love even is and how it can manifest differently in different people. It's also not just about Charlie but Sebastian as well. His daddy issues put into question what he thinks love is or how it should be.

The film is like a slice of life and even if the thin narrative, constituting four months, isn't enough for one's taste, it shouldn't matter. Each scene is so rich with great acting from this incredible cast that the joy doesn't come from the minor, plot mechanics. The joy comes from mostly watching the actors exist and simply breathe on screen. They are all so compelling. At times, it didn't matter where the story was going. I just loved seeing them interact. I could literally watch them read the phone book and still be so compelled.

Yet, Kuhn's cinematography is nothing to dismiss. The camerawork, the colors and the lighting are so inviting and cozy. Even a scene in the evening where two characters run naked on a beach, possibly in upstate New York on what purportedly was a chilly, November night, didn't feel cold. The scene was hot and not just in the perception of temperature.

This movie is incredibly sexy, and it's not in the naked bodies on display or in coitus. It's in the heartfelt emotions that pulse through the screen, as everything about the film makes you feel it's beating rhythm. It's also like being wrapped in a full blanket. Kuhn and cast have done a fantastic job here.

Five Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but contains sexual situations and language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 29 mins.

May 6th in NY/LA theaters.
May 13th on Vimeo.
June 14th on DVD/VOD.


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