If they make a sequel to “The Celluloid Closet” – the historical document about the history of LGBT representation on screen – Lukas Gage should warrant at least two male leads. First, there’s a scene from season 1 of “White Lotus” where Jake Lacy walks into the resort manager’s office, only to find Gage getting his power (a history-making moment for gay TV fans). And now there’s “Down Low,” a run-down comedy that wants to be to the gay community what “The Hangover” was to the mainstream — which is to say, terribly disrespectful and incredibly wrong.
Starring openly gay “Heroes” villain Zachary Quinto as Gary, a newly divorced and wealthy nerd hoping for a happy ending, “Down Low” doesn’t quite understand its own title — the code within the Black and Latino community for men who think so themselves straight during sex with other men – but that’s okay. Still hopelessly shallow Down Low is light years ahead of mainstream blockbusters (including last year’s “Bros”) as debut feature director Rightor Doyle delivers what a whole host of queer audiences have been asking for all their lives: comedy that’s sleazy and inappropriate. Like the jokes they make among themselves.
Like “Pretty Woman” on meth, the movie comes packed with pop culture references, from “The Real Housewives” to “Sex and the City 2,” and features gay icons Judith Light and Simon Rex (still very much “Putting the Red Rocket”) ). “Down Low” knows its audience and is refreshingly disinterested in sounding respectable in the slightest. This is very much evident from the opening scene, where Doyle projects the film’s title onto a candid silhouette of Gary getting a hand job from a handsome, gum-pumping masseuse – that would be Gage’s Cameron, a sex-positive blink who kind of finds it endearing that it’s the first time he’s allowed Gary for someone else to touch him there.
Once Gary admits his inexperience, Cameron makes it his mission to help the guy, logging on to a Grindr-like hookup app to find a lover for the two to enjoy together. Right off the bat, there’s a key difference between “Down Low” and “Bros”: Instead of trying to explain things to the straight community, Gage (who co-wrote the screenplay with Phoebe Fisher, who fully intends to star) posits that gay men have let their hormones guide them. to some outrageous situations, so the main appeal here is knowing that however unfortunate your worst experience may be, it doesn’t hold the candle to the incredibly painful start that Gary has in store.
After posting a picture of Cameron’s muscles under the name “Boy and Dad,” the duo quickly lures a Playmate (Sebastian Arroyo) to Gary’s lakefront mansion. The stranger insists he’s straight — though “looking2Succ” is rather unconvincing with his mouth full, if you know what I mean. If any of the characters in “Down Low” are on the DL, it’s this guy. Meanwhile, Gary is very open about his sexuality – his ex-wife Patty (Audra McDonald) sees it, and sends custom-printed cards to all of their friends with the news. Quinto seems a little too petite and tough for the role, which could have been funnier (but obviously impossible) with Kevin Spacey’s type.
Anyway, Gary’s first trio takes a turn for the worse when their guest becomes aggressive, accusing Cameron and accidentally falling out of a second floor window. Now, instead of a life-altering cure, they have a dead trick on their hands, as the movie turns into a very dark, very bad thing. While dragging the body inside, Gary receives a visit from Sandy (Light), a nosy Christian neighbor. It’s a strange addition to the mix that’s mostly there for laughs, but has some embarrassing confirmations to share as well. It’s a running theme in the movie that everyone is fine with Gary’s sexuality except for Gary, and by the time it’s over, he’ll have loosened up enough to lose his virginity.
Sandy is high enough on Ambien to overlook her suspicious behaviour, but eventually stumbles across the corpse while searching for the bathroom. For a minute, you might assume she would die too, but this farce isn’t that cruel. Instead, the movie allows Sandy to lock herself in the closet for the next few hours, then forget about her as Cameron and Gary turn their attention back to the larger mess on their hands. For some reason, they decided to find a specialist on the dark web to come pick up the body. Enter Rex’s “Flesh Puppet,” a non-romantic thriller with a very specific fetish. (Hint: It turns him on to hear that Gary has less than a month to live.)
That’s right, as if the movie wasn’t weird enough already, it arrives to find that Quinto’s character has an inoperable brain tumor – which goes a long way toward lowering his inhibitions and explains all three inept montages in this slick, otherwise-looking movie. Early on, there’s a very difficult trying sequence where Lad and Dad try on most of Patty’s wardrobe. Montage #2 plays like a pseudo-music video, after the Flesh Puppet takes out a crack pipe and the Bliss trio pops out on Vincent’s “Higher.” And finally, there’s Gary’s first time, which is supposed to be sexy, but instead looks like a badly edited, skin-skinning cologne commercial.
Good thing he’s getting his happy ending, at least. Doyle moves on from there to the film’s inappropriate finale, in which we meet the family with Gary turned upside down when he walked out. Tender as their script has been thus far, Gage and Fisher are still gracious enough to write a big scene for Patty, before tasking Cameron with finally disposing of the corpse (this one has a divine bounty, which makes the final shot even more memorable). As much as Doyle intends his occasional debut to be, the movie has a surprisingly emotional center. He and Gage want gay men—especially those of a certain generation—to overcome their shyness and embrace their true selves, which “Down Low” says: Better late than never.
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