| CLAYTON WALTER
THERE’S A DECEPTIVE simplicity at play in Joseph Graham’s gorgeous tale of casual connections and the yearning for something deeper. That tale is Beautiful Something, one of the highlights of LA’s queer film festival, Outfest. The film finds four men wandering - if not geographically, at least mentally and emotionally - in Philadelphia. What they’re looking for isn’t always clear, but once that elusive treasure is found, it seems obvious, as if there’s no other goal these searching souls could have been pursuing. Beautiful Something is rather like its subjects: Unfocused, but brilliantly chasing its desire to matter.
Brian (Brian Sheppard, a dogged Johnny Depp doppelgänger) is a poet in the midst of a sophomore slump, crushed under the pressure to match his impressive debut, longing for his straight best friend, and just generally being horny. His desire to find some sort of connection sends him on a sort of odyssey where he crosses paths with the gorgeous Jim (Zach Ryan), a live-in model for renowned sculptor Drew (Colman Domingo). Jim is fed up with being objectified - both as art and as a sexual partner. Jim, an aspiring actor who wants to move to New York, eventually ends up in the limousine of Bob (John Lescault), an older talent agent cruising around town in the hopes of finding the eponymous “beautiful something.”
It all feels a bit random and messy, though admittedly authentic in its randomness and mess. As a gay man, I’ve rarely seen queer life depicted so honestly, even if the characters are perhaps more articulate than the average guy you might meet at a club or on the street. People collide, they take what they want, they give what they’re willing, and they leave. Bob symbolizes sex as a product to be perused, chosen, and consumed, the (unused condom) wrappers tossed aside after. In an age where the next hot guy is only a swipe on Tinder away, people have become disposable, lucky to be deemed worthy more than once.
This is where the meat of Beautiful Something comes into play. After a playful bit of dancing and flirting, Bob opens up to Jim about his long-dead love, taken from him in the Vietnam War. He talks about how lucky the gay community is today, able to walk hand-in-hand, even get married. He would’ve loved such a freedom in his romantic heyday, when such a relationship had to be hidden away. His personal anecdote, which Lescault delivers with gentle heartache, rings as a rebuke to the entire cast of characters, and will likely sting viewers, too. The queer community is enjoying its greatest visibility and acceptance ever, and to celebrate, there’s in-fighting, manipulation, and careless sexual rendezvous.
Not that the film is a harsh judge of sex, in general. It depicts the hurt that can come from casually giving it away, yes, but these characters are supremely sexual beings, and we still sympathize and care for them. Brian’s candidness, Jim’s ambition, Drew’s affection, and Bob’s warmth point to the goodness that lies within all of us, and can be wielded in powerful ways, within the bedroom and without. Graham isn’t telling his viewers to remain chaste until marriage; rather, he’s telling them that they’re allowed to want more. It’s scary to voice such desires, but the outcome can only be beautiful.