“Hollywood, je t’aime” follows a hunky gay Frenchman from Paris to Tinseltown, where he hopes flirting with stardom (and the randy locals) will distract him from his responsibilities back home. But while thesp Eric Debets is likable enough in the central role, it’s the colorful supporting characters who make the trip memorable in this broad but endearing fish-out-of-water comedy. Though an American-in-Paris yarn might have been more exotic, writer-director Jason Bushman knows his niche aud, offering a polished crowd-pleaser likely to rank among the year’s more popular gay pics.
Part of that appeal is Bushman’s willingness to depict the sexual energy that surrounds Jerome Beaunez (Debets, whose schnoz is as big as his character’s surname suggests). Still, the pic is more sentimental than softcore, and the only real sex (beyond Jerome’s fantasy sequences) occurs early on, when he walks in on another guy diddling his ex-boyfriend (Jonathan Blanc) — a sign that he could use some time away.
And so the heartbroken Jerome decides to try his luck in Hollywood, where his accent and lost-puppy looks are like catnip to his California admirers. Hookup opportunities abound in L.A., but Jerome’s head is still halfway across the Atlantic, thinking about his ex (the pic presents the Parisian scenes in black-and-white, not switching to color until this friend of Dorothy reaches his Oz).
Once in Hollywood, Jerome tries his best to enjoy the city, making endearing first-timer mistakes. The bus ride to the beach takes all day, for instance, but once there, Jerome hits it off with a gay pot dealer (Chad Allen), who drives him halfway home. A taco-stand tranny named Kaleesha (Diarra Kilpatrick) escorts him the rest of the way, introducing him to Norma Desire (Michael Airington), a “shabby chic” Silverlake drag queen who takes Jerome under her wing.
A Texas-to-L.A. transplant who also spent time in Paris, Bushman pokes fun at his own short-lived acting career as Jerome attempts to navigate the absurdity of the audition process. While everyone around him goes overboard to get noticed, Jerome simply looks bewildered — yet another example in which the pic’s peripheral characters seem more interesting than its star. Jerome’s essentially on holiday, pining over someone he’s probably better off without, but the others are dealing with real problems, and they give the story weight.
Though delivered in sitcom style, “Hollywood, je t’aime” also manages to address such issues as HIV and prostitution in the gay community, as well as the double standard facing gay actors. When it comes to love and Hollywood, Bushman is jaded but not bitter; his approach has a welcome “Tales of the City”-like vibe to it, using kooky characters and situations to project a positive yet honest depiction of gay life.
Making the most of his modest budget, Bushman shot lively HD footage in real locations all over the city. And though the finale feels a bit anticlimactic, it’s easy to imagine a sequel continuing Jerome’s adventures abroad.