Thursday, October 4, 2007

Movie Review: Luster

Trying to reassume some semblance of normal posting again... let's hope it works. :)

My movie club tends to designate certain months as Theme Months - we did Horror in June, and Psychodrama in January. October is Gay Cinema Month: over the next four Saturdays, we'll be getting together to watch gay-themed films from all genres. Technically, we were supposed to start this Saturday, but Daniella's going abroad so we bumped it up a bit.

This week's entry was a charming indie film called "Luster". Like most gay films, it's primarily centered around a mixed group of friends in an urban setting; I'm not sure why that format is such a solid mainstay of the genre, though I guess it's to do with an inherent, implicit social agenda. The gay character starts off with a pre-existing social network that already accepts him or her, so being gay - that dreaded categorization which usually overshadows all other character traits - isn't really the issue at hand.

"Luster" actually reminded me quite a bit of "Heights", in the sense that my appreciation of both films is largely due to their proper use of the slice-of-life drama. As in "Heights", there aren't any over-the-top dramatic situations here, no outrageous moments that strain our suspension of disbelief. It's about ordinary people going about their ordinary lives, and if some of them (Billy) are much more fucked-up than we might initially expect, it's still within the bounds of normalcy. As with the best slice-of-life tales, the characters make the story.

That said, what makes this film particularly interesting is that the plot takes its cues from the way the characters define themselves. Jackson, our protagonist, is a blue-haired twenty-something aspiring poet who kills time in a record store that only sells albums by bands no one has ever heard of. Jackson, and his friends, are classic "alternative" archetypes (in other words, virulently opposed to the mainstream), and as a result the storyline makes a point of twisting around mainstream plot conventions. A character commits suicide for reasons that are never fully explored, even though the rules of drama necessitate closure (despite the fact that, in reality, suicide doesn't always make sense). Derek's infatuation with Jackson is this huge, looming cliche - love at first sight, opposites attract, constance and patience bring reciprocation, etc. - but the cliche gets cut off at the knees before it can fully play itself out.

"Luster" demonstrates its desire to be different (or, at the very least, to be perceived differently) through every aspect of the movie: visually, the film has a very unpolished look, decidedly unglamourous, with fresh-faced actors who straddle the line between awkward and genuine. Narratively, character development is a touch erratic - we're probably not supposed to understand Jed's motives, but he has such a profound impact on the people around him that it seems a bit odd we never get into his head. Then again, if we are to see "Luster" as a conscious rebellion against the Hollywood formula, I assume the point is to break that tradition of "endings" in film - whether happy or sad, practically the entire cinematic medium is geared towards the notion that when the credits roll, you can safely walk away with "The End" of the story. But it's unclear whether Jackson's fate gives us closure: things just seem to go on after the plot climaxes, and while our protagonist does get to make a final choice, it's pretty obviously not the choice he would have made under different circumstances. It's a very ambivalent and ambiguous conclusion, and yet it's so appropriate to the story that I can't see it ending any other way.

All in all, I enjoyed "Luster" as a sort of momentary departure from the more tired trends of mainstream film - you don't have to know the conventions to get the point, but if you do, it makes for a much more interesting viewing experience.

Next week's film is "Latter Days", review (probably) to follow.