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STUDIO: Guest House Films
RUNNING TIME: 85 minutes
Two people meet, love each other, and then yell at each other in a Palm Springs resort. Original, ain’t it?
Steve Callahan, Matthew Montgomery, David Pevsner, Brian Nolan, Jim J. Bullock
Graham Windsor is a soap star who was recently outed by a sex tape scandal. Trey Reed (these names are pure gold) is a gay marriage activist whose own marriage recently went to shit. The two meet (semi) cute at a small resort in Palm Springs and become a couple after about twenty seconds of talking. Happy fun resort time until… SECRETS AND LIES! Only not like the Mike Leigh film. More like that shitty play you saw at a coffeehouse that one time.
Role/Play feels like a bad stage production. The acting is wooden and prone to exaggeration. The writing is full of characters that sound the same and give long, meandering monologues. The single location never stops being bland. It’s also a very insular film. I don’t think there is a single straight character in the movie. This is where I say not that there is anything wrong with that, because it should go without being said that there isn’t. I’m not trying to reinforce my sexual preference when I say I’m not the intended audience. In this case I think it’s important to note for some people. Although I don’t think it would change my overall opinion, there were some gay specific themes at play here that I may have missed or overlooked. I went in knowing full well I wasn’t part of the intended audience, but I think either way you are going to find yourself watching a bland, uninteresting mess.
The film is framed by an interview with soap/sex tape star (and great British porn star name) Graham Windsor. This device does absolutely nothing but set up a cute ending. The interview exists to make you go aww before the credits role. The interviewer sounds like someone in witness protection and feeds Windsor questions that would have already been answered at that point in the films timeline. Even less thought out is the meet cute for the stars, they hate each other…and, wait two more seconds, now they love each other. There is no developing of the relationship, it just suddenly is a relationship. It’s all to serve a purpose, to get to a really obvious set of dramatic twists two thirds of the way in. It’s so streamlined into the mechanical beats of a genre it forgoes any setup. It doesn’t matter though, because the character revelations have an impact on the story for all of five minutes. One of the characters gets over his problems instantly after two awful back-to-back monologues. It was actually at that point in the film where I thought I was watching some intentional kuso. No writer would position two speeches with the same purpose literally next to each other without having some super sly master plan in his back pocket, right? It’s gotta be satire. Unless it was in an unchecked niche genre. Or the writer is just awful.
Role/Play pretty much does nothing because it’s mere existence guarantees an audience. With such a high low-budget output and a multitude of distribution channels, it’s a common problem these days. You see it in tax shelter Syfi originals and DVD sequels to forgotten action films. Really, it’s a blown up example of problems inherent in the Hollywood system, but in the niche genres the pandering can be cheap and thus always come out a sure thing. The result is less of a film and more of a checklist. Hitting the points of a romantic drama with a gay emphasis is the sole purpose of the film, everything else be damned. Wise older man with a dead partner? Check? Gay marriage activist with a dark secret? Oh yeah. Monologue spouting dying guy to keep characters in check? He gets a five minute monologue here, woot. Dark revelations and secrets that actually add up to very little? Two of em, and put right next to each other to ease confusion. Nudity? I’ll give them that, because every movie can benefit from attractive naked people.
Even the actors don’t really seem to give a shit, the only acting decision made was what syllables to emphasize. Every character uses the same turns of phrase and has an omnipotent knowledge of each other. The two main characters repeat the same argument, vaguely changing locations within the small resort and then continuing on. Shuffling around like zombies and stopping in place to deliver their lines like community theater stars. I could place the blame squarely on the bad writing, seriously the script should not have even been printed to save paper, but the acting is so uniformly bad that no script could save this film from these actors. They are either not trying at all or attempting for some sort of award for awkward overtly dramatic work. A lazy script with lazy actors is a formula for sleep, but they managed to keep me awake by making horrible decision on top of horrible decision.
This is a no budget pile of shit that obviously wasn’t meant for me. Kind of makes it hard to give the film a final score. But, I’m also sure that a largely gay audience would not find this any more entertaining or even passable. Issues and themes aside, which are handled like tank driving through a crowded department store anyways, there isn’t much gay specific going on here. The idea of public and private roles in life is a universal concern, and still ripe for the thematic plucking, but isn’t much more than a forced hand guiding the conversations in Role/Play. Good filmmaking is good filmmaking and bad filmmaking is bad filmmaking, fuck the genre and the intended audience. This is bad filmmaking on so many levels it borders on educational. This is what you don’t do when you make movies, almost beat for beat. In the end any themes or issues that I may have missed by not being part of a community are irrelevant. I can understand and enjoy Ozu films despite having next to no knowledge of post-war Japan. And those films are steeped in culture much more foreign to me. Communicating to an audience is the primary goal of any film. That communication is built on the basic language of drama developed over hundreds of years. It’s a language meant to broaden social understanding. And most importantly a universal language. The filmmakers behind Role/Play are deaf to this language. I couldn’t emphasize with these characters not because of some difference of culture or sexuality, but because the characters were hardly characters at all.
Transfer is actually fantastic for a budget film. The cinematography is as bland and obvious as the rest of the film, but the cold color pallete does translate nicely to an HD setup. Sound is equally strong, but its kind of hard to fuck up 90 minutes of pure dialogue these days. Extras are there, but uninteresting and full of back patting. The commentary has some fun stories about low budget filmmaking, but is nothing interested parties didn’t know already and it’s not worth slogging through the mindless babbling of the rest of the track to get to.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars