A shining example of the old saw that the neophyte artist should stick to what he knows, Matthew Swain’s naively amateurish feature bow strains to be a comic treatment of the uncloseting of a straight young Republican. Unfortunately, Swain seems to know as little about straight young Republicans as he does about their trendy bimbo girlfriends, and his clueless actors can bring next to nothing to their roles. Thus the cataclysmic changes in attitude and lifestyles the characters pass through at irregular intervals from 1973 to 1984, each chapter heralded by a montage of archival footage of the times, seem to consist wholly of changes in hairstyle that look as wildly stereotyped and inauthentic as the gestures and lines that accompany them. A proven gay fest favorite, pic seems an unlikely candidate for wider distribution, though it’s a good bet for cable outlets.
Pic is posited as a story about a profound change in the sensibility of the hero, Alan Oakley (Larry Sullivan), but only the character’s final transformation carries any credibility; the stages of his evolution prior to his epiphany are presented as a jumbled comic-book mock-up of ’70s cliches. To contrast straight-arrow Oakley, Swain gives us the more self-aware Tommy (Steve Braun), a cute, sweet, politically savvy gay activist with a wry sense of humor whom our writer-hero meets while researching a right-wing book on homosexuality through the ages. Oakley falls in love with Tommy, unwittingly betrays him and ultimately accompanies him on the titular journey. Braun, by far the better actor, gets all the good lines (a plentiful supply of ironic asides) and marginally better wigs. His character also gets AIDS.
Film’s first two-thirds are set up as broad farce, with a motley array of supporting loons to surround and consecrate the central couple: the perpetually horny opportunist (Alexis Arquette) eager to use any cause to further his own sexual agenda; the ditzy blond (Sirena Irwin), moronic on the surface but sharp enough to spot a budding gay romance at 50 paces. Surprise guest-turns by Julie Brown, showing up as an Out Loud receptionist, and by Jill St. John as Oakley’s supportive but flaky kleptomaniac mother, only briefly enliven the proceedings.
Film’s final third is last-ditch romantic adventure a la Gregg Araki’s “The Living End,” but without any edge. Traveling across Mexico, Oakley and Tommy encounter extreme prejudice, lack of credit card acceptance, a gas station bandito and his vengeful gun-toting federale relative. Tommy dies and Oakley, having thus completed his education, writes a book about his experiences (called, you guessed it — “The Trip”) which, in the words of a worshipful fan at the book-signing finale, will inspire generations to follow.
Tech credits are adequate, and the editing of era-defining wrap around docu snippets is particularly sharp.