August is a refreshingly post-gay drama of romantic entanglement. Its West Hollywood milieu neatly sidesteps the seemingly obligatory queer cinema tropes of coming out, contagion and identity in favor of the universal challenges of the ex-factor and an avowedly queer take on post-closet freedoms, negotiating relationships and fidelity.
Its title locates the drama at the height of the northern summer and an LA heat wave that serves as both framing device and tipping point. Essentially a four-hander that pivots on the now coupled Jonathan and his newly returned ex Troy, their entire history is neatly encapsulated when Troy reminisces that “We had a great summer” and Jonathan notes ”...and a terrible fall”.
Jonathan is literally the film’s dramatic center, and his jittery energy suggests a sense of feeling boxed in and not being quite sure why. There’s certainly an implication that he’s transitioned from a party boy to domesticity, and his looming thirtieth birthday underlines a distance between him and Troy. Played by out Australian actor Murray Bartlett, Troy is essentially an aging Peter Pansy, a lost boy who never grew up and seemingly gets by on charm.
Jonathan’s almost too perfect partner Raul – loyal, mature, ridiculously handsome – and Jonathan’s fag hag bestie Nina round things out, and they’re arguably more interesting and certainly nicer characters; married for the sake of Raul’s residency, they probably have the most at stake but are also, perhaps necessarily, marginalised.
Jonathan’s unresolved issues, however, play out as little more than scar tissue and a desire to be desired, so Troy is effectively a cipher. Similarly, for all his buff confidence, Troy’s charms clearly wear thin a lot more quickly than he realizes and no matter how much the camera swoons, a narcissistic jerk is pretty hard to relate to over the long haul, regardless of sexual identity and muscle definition.
The third act of August is enlivened by uncertainty over its resolution and a hazy threesome that briefly generates real heat and speaks to a uniquely queer dynamic that goes frustratingly unexplored. There’s a similarly bracing moment when Jonathan whispers ‘Raul is going to kill me’ while Troy fucks him that suggests a real spark that doesn’t ever really ignite as the script is largely schematic and almost entirely without both real insight and, crucially, a sense of humor.
August is ultimately far too reliant on a raft of soap opera and porn stereotypes to play out like much more than ‘My Big Gay Yellow Taxi’ and for all its talk of heat, it simply runs out of steam.
August is available now through Love Films. See its trailer below.