by Michael Lyons
Two young guys hook up and decide to go on a road trip together, eventually bringing a third into their strange little relationship. In a film like this, you go in with the expectations that it’s either going to be really artistic and beautiful, with a lot of gorgeous, sweeping, epic cinematography—in rural Argentina, no less—or else it’s going to be really sexy: lots of skin, some gratuitous nudity, maybe a flash of peen. The premise is one that has great potential, one way or the other. The reality is something that’s not quite one or the other, and not quite satisfying on either account.
Jess & James, written and directed by Santiago Giralt, has plenty going for it. The boys are beautiful, as is the landscape they travel across. The titular Jess and James, having just met, embark on a rebellious road trip together, with Jess eventually revealing that he wants to visit his estranged brother. The film is well acted with some lovely moments, but some elements are undeniably dissatisfying. From a technical standpoint, the soundscape is distracting more often than not; the cinematography, while sometimes taking advantage of the gorgeous landscape and beautiful men, often feels frenetic or disjointed—a steadier gaze with a more cohesive aesthetic would have worked wonders.
A fellow filmgoer I chatted to afterwards commented that the sex, too, was unsexy. An interesting idea, and I’m actually of the opinion that unsexy sex portrayed in films is more exciting because it better reflects sex in real life—messy, sweaty, awkward and uncomfortable more often than not, let’s all admit it. The first sex scene featured a rutting Jess and an emotionally vulnerable James. The next, the brief, in terms of plot, ménage à trois, was shot in such intense darkness that the audience couldn’t even tell what they were seeing for most of it—a problem exacerbated by the fact that Jess and James look very similar.
The film as a whole could have been tighter and more refined but instead had a lazy, wandering quality. Maybe this would have been all right if it felt like it arrived somewhere, but another filmgoing companion summed it up perfectly when he said that during the movie, he was sitting there trying to figure out what the titular Jess and James wanted, where they wanted to go.
This may sound unduly harsh, because I actually didn’t hate the film, but I wanted more from it. You need a road trip to eventually end up somewhere satisfying, whether it’s a beautiful destination, or finding some closure, or something else. Jess & James made it halfway without ever really getting there.
Jess & James played May 22, 2015, at Inside Out Film Festival in Toronto.
Michael Lyons (@queer_mikey) is a queer-identified writer, journalist and game maker. He writes for DailyXtra.com, where he and a colleague pen History Boys, a bi-monthly column on lesser known LGBT history. He has a story coming out in an upcoming anthology titled Rad Women and the Things They Did. He is also working on his first video game, an episode of a popular LGBT-positive dating sim for young people.