The latest attempt at a “gay crossover date movie” almost succeeds
Just One Time will trigger déjà vu in some viewers. This feature-length comedy is an expanded version of a popular short that played the festival circuit in 1997, resurfaced in the video compilation Boys’ Life 3, and wound up double-billing with Ma Vie en Rose. Not bad for a short. But the feature, while certainly flawed, is better. The core crew and cast are the same, and the longer format gives actor/writer/director/producer Lane Janger a chance to flesh out his characters and turn a one-joke premise into a good-natured comic romp that samples issues of sex and romance, if none too deeply.
Janger plays Anthony, a New York Catholic fireman on the verge of marrying Amy (Joelle Carter). He’s torn between the idea of fidelity and a fantasy he can’t seem to shake: orchestrating a premarital ménage with Amy and another woman. This common hetero dream is causing an increasing rift between the two until an irritated Amy devises what she believes is a fair solution. She agrees to act out his fantasy if he will return the favor by bedding a boy. Anthony is so anxious for the lesbian tryst that he forgets he’ll have to hold up his end of the bargain too. Serendipitously, Amy has a ready candidate for the third member of her own ménage: Victor (Guillermo Diaz), a closeted teenage gay virgin ready to chuck the porn mags and go for his own fantasy: Anthony. Inevitably, the latter wants to renege on the bargain when it comes time to do Victor, and this triggers all manner of comic complications, from panicky “dates” with his potential boytoy at the local gay bar to Amy’s apparent infatuation with a gorgeous neighborhood dyke, Michelle (Jennifer Esposito).
Part of the film’s charm is in Janger’s clever dialogue that’s often convincingly character-based. Anthony’s “concessions” to Amy in the matter of a lesbian tryst have an amusing air of duplicity: “I don’t even care if you go down on her!” When their relationship is in near-total collapse, he stumbles fatally: “Just because I don’t trust you doesn’t mean I don’t want to marry you!” Anthony is a dead-ringer for the confused, juvenile, but well-meaning Everymale who just can’t understand why an all-important (to him) fantasy should go unfulfilled. Typical of such delusional mindsets, he’s desperate that it happen fast, not just because he’s horny but because, with his marriage happening in two weeks, he wants to get it over with so he can say he’s never cheated on his wife.
Janger spices the farce with some witty bits. Amy’s toe-dipping into dykedom takes her to the local “sisterhood is powerful” bookstore, where she fantasizes sitting down with an encounter group that instantly unmask her as an outsider. The gals literally sniff her out: “Is there a straight girl here!” A queenly phone voice clues her into the many queer support groups available: “Gays and Lesbians of Color Who Are Dealing with Issues of Color, Adult Children of Alcoholic Lesbians…”
There’s a sweetness and generosity of spirit in the film that validates Janger’s claim that this is a crossover date film. (At Sundance, he said, with too much brio: “Just One Time is the first film of its kind. It appeals to both straight and gay audiences. It is truly the only romantic comedy that involves relationships of all types, not just conventional ones.”) Indeed, there’s little that’s threatening here, and much that’s affirming, if sometimes too glibly so. Anthony’s fellow firemen, three twentysomething hunks, start off as half-heartedly homophobic and end up being wildly supportive of Anthony, even if it means he’s going to bed with Victor. An initial nervous foray by the boys into the local gay bar – to show support for Anthony in his dilemma of having to fuck a queerboy – eventually finds the hunks laughing and dancing with the local queens, even donning wigs and dresses for an evening on the town. While these sequences don’t seem remotely believable, at least Janger has picked three hunky actors for his firemen: Vincent Laresca (Nick), David Lee Russek (Dom); and as Cyrill, Domenick Lombardozzi, familiar as Joey Chips, the dimwit who gets laid by the drag queen played by Craig Chester in Kiss Me, Guido.
Shot in New York’s Lower East Side (on the block where Janger lives, he says), the film has a bright, colorful look that dovetails nicely with its buoyant story. Acting is middling-decent throughout, with special honors going to Guillermo Diaz as the slightly ditzy gayboy who lusts for Anthony. At first glance he comes off as a typical young mad queen, alarmed that his “mommy” might interpret his fuchsia tennis shoes as a sign that he’s gay. But Diaz, a fixture on the queer indie scene, has an extensive repertoire of expressions that keep the movie moving even when it’s not going anywhere in particular. Two of the film’s best moments are simple scenes of Victor hugging Anthony. In the first, he does it out of need and confusion. In the second, he does it because he’s found his own relationship and doesn’t need the straight man so often alleged to be the dream of every queen.