Movies, as scholars of Hitchcock and De Palma like to say, are a voyeuristic medium. But as soon as you say the word “voyeuristic,” it sounds like you’re talking about something sensational and titillating — i.e., sex. An indie drama like “Lazy Eye,” by contrast, is voyeuristic, but in a far more refined and emotionally sophisticated way. The movie does have moments of raw sex. Mostly, though, we’re at a weekend-getaway cabin in the middle of the Mojave Desert, watching and listening to Dean (Lucas Near-Verbrugghe), a pensively handsome Los Angeles graphic designer, play host to Alex (Aaron Costa Ganis), whom he had a serious fling with 15 years before, back when they were young bucks who picked each other up at an East Village dive bar and whiled away a carefree no-budget romantic summer together in New York City.
The two haven’t spoken since (for reasons the movie fills in slowly), but as they sit around now, talking about life, art, sex, love, work, real estate, the ethics of lying, the pull of creativity versus the lust for security, the whirlpool of marriage, and how, after all these years (which have melted away in the blink of an eye), the two actually feel about each other, you’re teased and tugged along by their conversation in a way that can only be called…voyeuristic. But that’s all because of how juicy and lifelike the talk is. The writer-director, Tim Kirkman, who made the acclaimed 1997 documentary “Dear Jesse” as well as the vibrant and touching Southern ensemble drama “Loggerheads,” creates Dean and Alex as vividly believable characters, so that the audience just about leans in to catch every detail of what they’re saying, the jokes and anecdotes and occasionally bitchy back-and-forth jabs. “Lazy Eye” makes you realize how rare it is to see a movie, even an indie movie, that gives you the privilege of listening to authentically smart conversation. The understated flow of talk makes us feel like we’re eavesdropping.
It helps that Dean and Alex are witty and highly self-aware men, and that both are intensely likable. That feels like a subtle subversion of formula, since in this kind of voluble two-hander, it often works out that one of the characters is the “problematic” one — neurotic, untrustworthy, difficult to deal with — while the other one is the more tolerant and humane. Dean and Alex are different: They’re heartfelt dudes with a genuine edge to them, so the drama of who’s wrong and who’s right, who’s worldly and who’s naïve, keeps taking unexpected spins. It’s worth noting, too, that while both characters are gay, there isn’t a moment when that spawns an “issue.” The two discuss marriage, having kids, etc., in the spirit of those things being part of a world that they can count on.
At one point, they reminisce about their first date, when Dean took the two of them to see his all-time favorite movie, “Harold and Maude.” Alex, he can now reveal, hated it, which for a moment turns Dean apoplectic with defensiveness about his beloved cult movie anthem. The funny thing is, Alex’s thoughts on the film are actually more perceptive. The tables get turned in other ways. The film springs a major surprise about Dean’s relationship status, and Alex gets high and mighty about it, yet he himself has never been with anyone for long, which raises the question: Is he a guy who can’t commit? Or has he been holding out, all these years, for his romantic memories of Dean? Even though he has only just realized it now? “Lazy Eye” catches how the rhythms of love interact — sometimes awkwardly, sometimes impossibly — with the rhythms of growing up.
A movie like this one wouldn’t work if the actors were anything less than inspired, and Lucas Near-Verbrugghe and Aaron Costa Ganis are both so good that by the end of the film they feel like new friends you’ve made. Near-Verbrugghe, with his quick and slightly guarded acuity, suggests a more intellectually perky Guy Pearce, and Costa Ganis gives Alex a dark-humored sensual vibrancy. The mark of how beautifully these two work together is that Dean and Alex are, at times, nearly compulsive about revealing themselves, yet even when they’re doing that there’s something held in reserve — by the actors, and by Kirkman’s filmmaking. It’s not just the piece of information that we haven’t heard yet; it’s the thrumming mystery of how they feel. The Mojave settings are magnificent, and they lend the film some real visual flavor, even if the photography is a little too functional. “Lazy Eye” is a small-scale movie, but there are far bigger dramas that don’t leave this kind of afterglow.