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STUDIO: TLA Releasing
RUNNING TIME: 93 Minutes
My Own Private Idaho meets Alice in Wonderland inside the Hotel Earle.
Ben Bonenfant, Raphael Barker, Carlo D’Amore, Nick Frangione, Paul Gerrior. Directed by Joseph Graham.
An unnamed hustler (Bonenfant) in an anonymous city in America finishes sleeping with his current trick only to discover that he can’t find his way out of the apartment building he’s in. As he bounces from apartment to apartment looking for a way out, he sells his body for money, meets a few fascinating characters and learns some lessons about love, life and the dangers of being a man whore.
I have to recommend this movie, but that recommendation comes with a caveat- There is a whole lot of simulated gay sex in this movie. Tons. Probably half the running time. There’s tops and bottoms, sex with seniors, a ten minute long make out session that changes the participants lives and yes, there’s a smidgen of ass to mouth. As long as none of it offends you or your choice of deity then what you’ve got is a powerful character study built on a complex and layered lead performance by Ben Bonenfant.
The entirety of Strapped is just five scenes interconnected by The Hustler as he wanders around the apartment building getting sucked (heh) into different situations. In a way, the film almost feels like a scene study workshop or a loosely connected series of short films about the life of a male prostitute. Strapped seems like it’s more interested in the inner workings of The Hustler’s mind as opposed to the day to day of a rent boy and that’s fine with me, because I feel like I’ve already seen that movie. Then again, my man whore filmic experience boils down to My Own Private Idaho and a few seasons of Queer as Folk (which I gave up on as soon as it stopped being about the characters and just focused on the sex).
What I found so fascinating about the film was the relationships The Hustler allowed himself to have with his tricks. With each customer he meets he sizes them up quickly; becoming the person he thinks they would be most attracted to and then exploiting that ideal until he’s got the money in his pocket. He’s a very shrewd businessman and the film never tries to make you see him as anything other than a young man having sex for money. Just when you start thinking he’s heartless or a victim of his environment, he changes and shows you he’s completely aware of his situation and changes it in a way that benefits him. It’s one of those movies where right when you start thinking “Boy, it’d be nice if he notices this,” he verbalizes exactly what you were thinking. Which is fun and everything, but also leads to a few moments where the dialogue is a bit too on the nose.
The highlight of the film for me was the scene between Bonenfant and an elderly man named Sam (played with a mix of gruff manliness and tender homosexuality by Paul Gerrior). The Hustler gets beaten up in the basement of the apartment building and Sam takes him back up to his place to tend to his wounds. What ensues is a fifteen minute long conversation about loss and identity and these two actors create such an electric partnership together that you really feel like you’re a member of the discussion. The Hustler likes to fuck men but doesn’t consider himself gay so he’s struggling to stay out from under the label of homosexual and, as Sam explains to him the pointlessness of labels and the freedom of creating your own identity, we get to see glimpses of the real boy inside of The Hustler. Later, after they have sex, instead of showing the cold indifference he gave his earlier tricks, he hugs the old man and holds him until he falls asleep. It was a lovely scene bolstered by the very potent chemistry between the actors and by the filmmaker staying out of his own way and letting the power come from the script and performances.
This movie easily could have failed, as so many films built on such a simple structure do, but all of the little things in this movie combine to make a captivating hour and a half. So much of this film is solid; from the art design of the run down apartment building to the excellent character work by each and every person in the film. Any time a character looked liked it was cut whole from gender stereotypes, the actor would find a personal beat to make them three dimensional. Whenever the motivations started to get muddied, they would be found again and focused in on. But none of this would have worked if The Hustler wasn’t sympathetic and Ben Bonenfant (who looks a lot like an American Diego Luna, by the way) brings a softness to him that is shaded in such hard layers of ambiguity that, by the end of the film, I felt like I was just scratching the surface of the character and couldn‘t wait to learn more.
This is a solid little film featuring remarkable performances and a wonderful script that focuses on small character moments instead of overblown drama and agony. It doesn’t make man whoring look glamorous or fun, but it humanizes those in the trade in a way that makes their decisions look understandable. Once you get past the graphic gay sex and slurping ass to mouth, it’s just a story about a lost boy finding a piece of himself through fucking strangers, and deciding whether to keep that piece alive or whether to hide it away again so it doesn’t break for good.
No special features or commentaries since this was a screener disc, but the transfer was much cleaner and less pixilated than you’ll normally get from promotional discs like this.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars