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TV Review: ‘Looking: The Movie’

The final installment of HBO's series about gay men in San Francisco, starring Jonathan Groff and directed by Andrew Haigh, is a moving and beautiful finale

Jonathan Groff, Frankie J. Alvarez, Murray Bartlett, Lauren Weedman, Russell Tovey, Raúl Castillo, Daniel Franzese, Bashir Salahuddin, Chris Perfetti, O.T. Fagbenle, Michael Rosen, Derek Phillips. With Tyne Daly.

There is, of course, a plot to “Looking: The Movie,” the 84-minute swansong to the short-lived HBO series “Looking.” But, like its predecessor, the best moments of creator Michael Lannan and showrunner Andrew Haigh’s final chapter of the story of a few gay men in San Francisco are not about the plot details. Much of the joy of “Looking” is about enjoying its moments as they unfold, and “Looking: The Movie” is no different, despite having so much ground to cover.

“Looking,” both show and movie, is peppered with long conversations—often while its characters are overlooking breathtaking Bay Area vistas or winding through the streets of San Francisco. The conversations are not always intense or eventful, but the camera is there, anyway, just listening. There’s a presence to those scenes that indicates the richness of life may exist just in the spaces between words we say to each other. It feels less that a story is happening and more that one is being.

In the small but growing canon of queer television—and as a great show—“Looking” will be missed. But, fortunately, “Looking: The Movie” is a lovely coda to a lovely show. It’s not always possible to get a satisfying ending out of television. But this one is also graceful, a closing pirouette that drops the curtain on these characters so that we can let them go, however unwillingly.

But to be honest, not a lot really happens. The main thrust of the film is that Patrick (Jonathan Groff) is back in San Francisco for a wedding, after nine months in Denver. HBO asks that we not spoil who is getting married, though that’s abundantly clear from the film’s trailer. Patrick’s return is marked by going out and picking up boys and getting wasted, by significant conversations with strangers and best friends and people in between. Groff has either become a better actor or has been executing a seasons-long con with Patrick’s mannered, self-deprecating affect; in “Looking: The Movie,” Patrick is finally a bit at ease and even a bit joyous. In one scene, when he’s drunk at a club, getting ready to go out and dance, he’s finally the winsome, rakish, charming man that Richie (Raúl Castillo) always saw in him.

The numerous scenes in gay clubs makes “Looking: The Movie” especially poignant, debuting just weeks after the mass shooting in Orlando at a gay club. It’s a reminder of how these spaces are sanctuaries for their patrons — and that “Looking” has always been a political show, albeit in an understated way. Its politics lie in allowing its characters to be gay along with everything else they are; to be just, you know, people. Most of the characters of “Looking” are gay, but relegating them to a niche mostly serves to emphasize how different they all are from each other.

In the movie, two characters get into a shouting match over which one of them is a worse role model for the gay community. It is, brilliantly, both the silliest possible argument and an incredibly important one. As it turns out, it has its barbs of truth, but the whole spat is probably just a proxy argument for jealousy over the attentions of a third man. On one hand, there’s this philosophical point of discussion, of identity, of survival, even. On the other, there’s the snarling jealousy of who’s been looking at whom for too long, under the cover of darkness, over yet another drink.

The scene is “Looking” in a nutshell. The show can be both so aware of the specific issues relevant to this gay community and also elementally human with its concerns at the exact same time. This is, again, brilliant politicking—a kind of weaponized empathy, through narrative, that makes the mere idea of homophobia seem oddly silly and beside the point. It’s also just how people live—id, ego, and superego all competing for space at the exact same time on the dance floor.

There’s a lovely delicacy to “Looking: The Movie,” as evidenced in the intimacy of its conversations, the shots of San Francisco, and the enthusiasm it has for its lovers finding each other, either just for one night or the rest of their lives. Most beautiful of all is how it has so much love for its own characters—a love that expands to encompass people in general, in San Francisco and elsewhere. People who are all, in their own ways, looking for the answers.

TV Review: 'Looking: The Movie'

TV Movie: HBO, Sat. July 23, 10 p.m. 84 MIN

Crew: Executive producers, Andrew Haigh, Michael Lannan, Sarah Condon; director, Andrew Haigh; writers, Andrew Haigh, Michael Lannan; director of photography, Xavier Grobet; production designer, Todd Fjelsted; editor, Jonathan Alberts; music, Liza Richardson; costume designer, Danny Glicker; casting, Carmen Cuba

Cast: Jonathan Groff, Frankie J. Alvarez, Murray Bartlett, Lauren Weedman, Russell Tovey, Raúl Castillo, Daniel Franzese, Bashir Salahuddin, Chris Perfetti, O.T. Fagbenle, Michael Rosen, Derek Phillips. With Tyne Daly.

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