DVD Review - Bathroom Stalls & Parking Lots

Let us not be fooled by the title. There are no plural of either bathroom stalls or parking lots. Within the bounds of this brief feature, we enter into only one bathroom stall and we dawdle at only one parking lot. Yet, the point is that perhaps these places are emblematic of where gay men go to hook-up or hang-out. While mainstream films haven't provided us with a narrative that's about modern-day, openly gay men and their dating lives, we've also seen little of it in the independent space either. Even independent queer cinema focuses inordinately on either coming-out stories or stories involving homophobia and the pathology that prevent gay men from being normal. There have been recent strides against that on both the big screen and television. In fact, as I watched the feature debut of director and co-writer Thales Corrêa, my mind went to two TV programs.

This film feels like an extended episode of the British series Queer As Folk, which focused on three men immersed in the gay dating world of Manchester, England, with the men seen frequently roaming the famous Canal Street. Instead of Manchester, this film is set in the equally, if not more queer San Francisco, California, with the men here seen frequently roaming the famous Castro Street. That series was back in 1999. For a more contemporary reference, this film also feels like an extended episode of the HBO series Looking, which also focused on three men immersed in the gay dating world, and in the same city here, the City by the Bay.

Thales Corrêa himself stars as Leo, a Brazilian immigrant living in Los Angeles. He works in advertising, design merchandising to be exact, but he recently got laid off. He's in San Fran visiting his best friend, but he's also hoping to meet a guy who first got his attention online and with whom he has occasionally had sex. Leo is hoping not simply to have sex with this guy again but possibly pursue a more serious relationship. Leo contrasts with the other men on the scene because he's not into doing drugs or even having casual sex, anymore. He also seems the most anxious and awkward when it comes to pursuing the guy that he wants.

Leo definitely isn't shy. He has no real qualms with pursuing the guy that he wants. He's just a bit nervous. The film though never allows us to see him actually in action, as Leo's efforts to come face-to-face with his mystery man are constantly thwarted or side-tracked. It makes the film less about dating and more about the search, the nebulousness between hope and heartbreak as expressed through social media and phone apps like Grindr. It makes the film more an embodiment of the typing awareness indicator for text messaging on iPhones, as symbolized with an animated ellipsis. This film is that iPhone ellipsis. Instead of embracing the culture or the experience of Grindr though, Corrêa is more critiquing or criticizing those men in question who are led by their phones, and who are constantly jumping or swiping from one thing to the next.

Izzy Palazzini co-stars as Donatello or Donnie, the best friend to Leo and a fellow Brazilian immigrant who lives in San Francisco. For most of the night, he wears a long-sleeve, red, cut-off shirt. He is very effeminate. He considers himself to be a gay cliché. He's a hairdresser by day and a Zumba teacher by night. If one is familiar with Netflix's Queer Eye, then Donnie is basically the Brazilian version of Jonathan Van Ness in full Gay of Thrones glory. Donnie is funny. He's fierce and he's totally bold. He's also "all in" when it comes to the drugs and the casual sex. He in fact seems to be all about the jumping or swiping from one thing to the next.

What's interesting is that Palazzini is the other co-writer of this film with Corrêa. They portray friends on screen. It's a question though if they're friends off screen. If so, then this film would be akin to something like Blindspotting (2018), which was written by the actors who star in it, playing buddies whose friendship is tested. The friendship in that film is tested with racism and violence. Here, the friendship is tested through sex and drugs, drilling down in what the two friends want out of their lives and for their lives.

One seemingly wants to be more hedonistic and not to be tied down. The other is a bit the opposite. He's not ascetic. He's simply not as promiscuous. He's not a player. The entire film occurs in just one night and as the night progresses, it becomes a realization that dating is seen as a game. One simply has to decide whether one wants to be a game-piece or not, and if you want to associate with those who play or those who don't. Do you continue the chase or do you just walk away?

Oscar Mansky plays Hunter, a friend to Donnie who is a personal trainer. For most of the film, he wears a checkered tank-top. He's a cool and down-to-Earth guy who just wants to dance and have drinks. He sees Leo's anxiety and tries to give him advice on how to snag the guy he wants. The wrinkle is that Hunter is straight. He hangs out, spending half the night with two gay men and in various gay bars or gay clubs. This distinguishes this film from things like Queer As Folk and Looking. It also distinguishes itself from something like Will & Grace, which perpetuates the stereotype that the only straight friends that gay men have are women. It puts it more in line with the aforementioned Queer Eye.

Hunter though doesn't need a makeover. If anything, he's the one giving Leo fashion and culture tips. It's also arguable that Hunter isn't 100-percent straight. Hunter gets the only true sex scene in the film. Yes, this is a film about gay men but the only sex scene is a straight one. Yet, it's hinted Hunter was open to homosexuality, possibly scoring a 1 or 1.5 on the Kinsey scale. Unfortunately, his character is dropped from the narrative a third of the way through and never returns, which is a shame because Mansky's performance was very charming.

Mansky is also a very good-looking guy in a film that certainly isn't deficient in attractive men. This includes Brazilian YouTube star, Guilherme Zaiden who looks like a more beefcake version of  the only other gay Brazilian of any fame, Rodiney Santiago (More Scenes From a Marriage and The A-List: New York). The only other actor of note here is Lucas Pagac who plays Ethan, a potential love interest to Donnie. He's adorably sweet and a presage for Leo, as well as a perfect expression of that idea of hopeful yet heartbreaking that runs like a river through this movie.

Not Rated but contains sexuality, nudity, drug use and language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 18 mins.

Available on DVD and VOD on September 10.


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