Gregg Araki ladles up a rather stale serving of gay teenage angst in “Totally F***ed Up.” Somewhat surprisingly slated for the New York Film Festival in thewake of its Toronto Fest world preem, this ultra-low-budget, Godardian “homo movie” feels like a step backward to his earlier group mopes rather than an advance beyond his provocative last film, “The Living End.” Commercial prospects are limited to gay and highly alternative venues.
Dubbed by its director as “a kinda twisted cross between avant-garde experimental cinema and a queer John Hughes flick,” this boasts neither the excitement of the former at its best nor the entertainment value of the latter. Pic was written concurrently with “The Living End” and shot just after it but shelved for two years as Araki edited and promoted his most successful film to date.
In the manner of his 1989 feature “The Long Weekend (O’ Despair)” but with a pinch more filmmaking flair, new effort wallows in the terminal ennui of a handful of marginally articulate L.A. kids. Their conversations focus upon sex or how totally f***ed up everything is in their lives. Working deeply in the shadow of Godard’s landmark “Masculine-Feminine,” which pictured “the children of Marx and Coca-Cola,” Araki presents “lifestyles of the bored and disenfranchised” in fragmented, disconnected scenes that are regularly interrupted by titles in the style of his artistic mentor.
Alienation rules the lives of six young gay friends — the utterly confused, good-looking Andy, aspiring videomaker Steven and his artist b.f. Deric, skateboarding dude Tommy and two ditzy lesbians, Michele and Patricia. Opening couple of reels are devoted to their alternately vapid and vaguely amusing complaints about life in the 1990s, during which it becomes clear that there is a dichotomy between Araki’s radical, activist attitude and the passive, victimized mind-set of his characters.
After 25 minutes, a clever title card announces, “Start Narrative Here” and, lo and behold, something actually happens. The directionless Andy meets a slightly older guy named Ian who lights his fire, and their nocturnal wanderings around a chillingly desolate L.A. do generate some mood and interest.
But whatever tenuous acquaintance most of the characters have with optimism is extinguished by gaybashing, homophobia and, more than anything, failed love affairs.
Like Araki’s previous work, pic undeniably conveys a strong sense of a certain attitude toward life. But arbitrary structure and lack of interesting characters prove off-putting, and the virtual disappearance of the two women in the second half underscores their marginal importance to the film. Ultimately, the desperation here seems like an artistic pose compared to the genuine anarchic nihilism born of utter hopelessness in “The Living End.”
Visually, this guerrilla-style production, which mixes some transferred Super 8 video material with the 16mm footage, is murkier and harder to watch than Araki’s last picture. This would seem like the time for the filmmaker to move on to more varied subjects and budgets if he is to broaden his palette.