Fittingly enough, “Three Months” is a movie about waiting, and while 12 weeks may seem like an eternity to its openly gay lead character, Caleb (Australian pop star Troye Sivan), it’s nothing compared with the decades others have spent waiting for a project like this to come along. Here, readily available to anyone with a Paramount Plus subscription, is a frank, affirmational portrait of a contemporary queer teenager. Writer-director Jared Frieder’s feature debut feels like the LGBT equivalent of “Juno”: snappy and refreshingly nonjudgmental in dealing with the consequences of a risky one-night stand.
In 2011, when the movie is set, it takes three months for an antibody test to conclusively determine whether someone who might have been exposed to HIV was in fact infected. That’s a simple rule of the road for sexually active gay men, but one rarely discussed in popular culture. It can hardly be understated how important it is for contemporary adolescents, bombarded as they are by pornography and peer pressure, to also be informed about the consequences of casual sex — not in an alarmist or moralistic way, mind you, but empathetically so, by a film that depicts what they’re going through, if and when they find themselves in Caleb’s shoes. (His shoes, it should be said, are one of the film’s most endearing details: classic white canvas Chucks, covered heel to toe in random and sometimes raunchy doodles.)
With his porcelain features and Pre-Raphaelite curls, Sivan serves as an idealized stand-in for an insecure gay teen. He doesn’t seem a fraction as neurotic or insecure as Frieder intended Caleb to be, and yet, the singer (who also acted in gay conversion drama “Boy Erased”) manages to suggest that the character’s sarcasm is a kind of self-defense strategy. Freshly graduated from high school, Caleb enjoyed a dreamy (off-camera) hookup with an out-of-town stranger, only to realize after the condom broke that his partner was HIV positive. Now he’s looking at a summer of agonizing uncertainty.
Patience is not Caleb’s strong suit. That much is apparent from the opening scene, when, biking home through Hollywood, Fla., he throws a small fit when obliged to pause for the local drawbridge to accommodate a passing ship. This vignette reveals a thing or two about Caleb’s personality — as does the big purple tandem bicycle he inherited from his dad.
Clearly, independence is not Caleb’s strong suit either. He goes through life looking for a boyfriend or someone else to “complete” him, to the extent that half the movie is spent with his navigating whether Estha (Viveik Kalra), the cute Indian kid in his support group, could be “the one.” That means nearly the entire time Caleb’s processing the possibility that he is HIV positive, he’s chastely dating someone going through the same thing. Still, corny as it may sound, Caleb’s journey of introspection and self-discovery is ultimately designed to teach this insecure young man to stop worrying about appealing to others and learn to love himself.
That’s perhaps the most valuable lesson one can offer any adolescent, gay or otherwise, though Frieder errs on the side of overdoing all the feel-good messaging. (Spoiler alert: Skip to the next paragraph till you’ve seen “Three Months.”) It’s frustrating that a film in which someone constantly obsesses about his HIV status ultimately decides to withhold the results from audiences. Frieder’s essentially saying that it doesn’t matter, since Caleb realizes that he’s lovable either way. But that’s disingenuous, given the world we live in, and a more interesting personal journey might have begun with a positive diagnosis.
Luckily for Caleb, he’s surrounded by people who accept him unconditionally. Not his parents: His dad died years earlier, and his Orthodox Jewish mom (Amy Landecker) is largely out of the picture. Caleb now lives with his grandmother (Ellen Burstyn, whose star status lends oomph to a minor role) and her preternaturally supportive husband (Louis Gossett Jr.). His lesbian best friend Dara (Brianne Tju) has his back through the whole ordeal, even when Caleb all but forgets about her to focus on his new crush.
Caleb and Estha’s romance should appeal to those who haven’t seen many queer courtships on screen, and the cross-cultural aspect lends it an added dimension of interest. (There’s no shortage of charming gay rom-coms out there, though it’s still rare to stumble across one on a platform like Paramount Plus.) The movie, which was produced by MTV Entertainment Studios, includes a conspicuously self-congratulatory thread in which Caleb rewatches classic episodes of “The Real World,” in which Pedro Zamora makes history by sharing his HIV diagnosis. That MTV series helped destigmatize AIDS for an entire generation, and “Three Months” wants to have the same impact on young audiences, giving them a positive point of reference in a world still reluctant to openly discuss such things.