'A Reunion': Provincetown Review

A Reunion Film Still - H 2014
Courtesy of Provincetown

A Reunion Film Still - H 2014

A promising first feature that requires patience but is nonetheless a journey worth taking.

A Los Angeles-to-Chicago road trip yields intimate reflections for two male former college friends and sometime lovers in Hernando Bansuelo's debut.

A low-budget, semi-improvised drama in which the American landscape to a large degree shapes the supple modulations in tone, rhythm and texture, A Reunion owes a debt to Andrew Haigh's Weekend. That gorgeous 2011 Brit film immersed the viewer in a concentrated evolution of passion and mutual discovery between two newly acquainted men that was destined to continue resonating into the future. But Hernando Bansuelo's debut gazes back into the past, over a complicated history of unfinished emotional business. Gay niche audiences should appreciate this slender but seductive pas de deux, which is equal parts funny, silly, frustrating, sexy and affecting.

Bansuelo wrote the film with his leads Michael Lovan and Josh Watson, who play characters also named Michael and Josh. Their dynamic is a familiar one and yet the performances are sufficiently lived-in to feel fresh. Close friends at college, they fell out of touch when Michael took off to Japan without a word and Josh settled in Los Angeles. And while the exact terms of their past relationship are never fully divulged, it's clear from the sexual tension between them that a longstanding mutual intoxication still exists.

Michael is playful, peppy and a little evasive about his life when he resurfaces to accompany Josh on a cross-country drive to their 10-year college reunion in Chicago. With a whiny voice and a hint of a lisp, Lovan makes him simultaneously charming and annoying—like an androgynously attractive hipster version of Christopher Mintz-Plasse. Clearly in no hurry to end his extended adolescence, Michael professes admiration for Josh's convincing impersonation of adult seriousness, though the game-player may also just be toying with his uptight friend.

Promising surprise stops along the way, Michael maps out a "lucky horseshoe" route, heading across Death Valley to Las Vegas and then along Route 66 through Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Missouri. A visit to their old college friend Lisa (Maria Monge), now married and pregnant, turns awkward, and a stopover to see Michael's brother (Joe Fingerhut), his Japanese wife (Michiyo Fingerhut) and their children inadvertently uncovers a major step looming in Michael's future.

But it's their time on the road alone or in touristic detours together that reveals the unspoken issues between Josh and Michael—a drunken binge night in Las Vegas; quiet contemplation of the Grand Canyon or the rolling plains; wandering among the stone monoliths of Grants, New Mexico, or the limestone caves of Missouri.

Bansuelo and cinematographer Aaron Torres have a gift for building visual momentum via these arresting locations and the shifting states of mind they bring with them. And the energizing indie pop of Roddy Bottum and his band Imperial Teen works in counterpoint with the elegantly composed images.

While the dialogue at times feels over-written, and too studied in its circling ambiguities, the director elsewhere indulges his co-writer-actors with too many dawdling improvised scenes that allow the film to become baggy and shapeless in patches. But the cumulative effect is satisfying as it quietly scratches beneath the characters' skins, pushing them closer together and then pulling them apart again.

Josh is the less interesting of the two, and Watson plays him a little stiffly. But his tendency to drink too much and fall into sullen silences points to an unhappiness that has festered for a decade, preventing him from moving on with his life or opening himself up to love. Michael is a figure most of us have known either first-hand or from a distance. He's charismatic but flaky, feeding off other people's desire to be around him and yielding only enough to maintain the connection while still remaining unattainable in the long term.

From the opening shots that provide a glimpse of what happens toward the end of the journey, it's clear that Michael's teasing messages of flirtation and rejection do eventually lead somewhere. And the unselfconscious nudity of both actors makes sex between them seem inevitable. But equally inevitable is the confrontation in which Josh forces Michael to think about his behavior and the hurt he causes—perhaps for the first time.

A Reunion is a loose-limbed, drifting movie that sometimes seems to be going nowhere even while it's casting a spell. By the time Josh and Michael wash up on the shores of Lake Michigan, what it ultimately delivers is a tender portrait of an unresolved relationship that closes on a bittersweet open-ended note while suggesting a stinging new sense of clarity on both sides.

Cast: Michael Lovan, Josh Watson, Joe Fingerhut, Michiyo Fingerhut, Maria Monge, Will Monge

Production companies: Ebersole Hughes Company, Tricoastal Entertainment

Director: Hernando Bansuelo

Screenwriters: Hernando Bansuelo, Michael Lovan, Josh Watson

Producers: Hernando Bansuelo, Josh Watson

Executive producers: P. David Ebersole, Todd Hughes, Michael Lovan

Director of photography: Aaron Torres

Editor: Garveaux Sibulboro

Music: Roddy Bottum

No rating; 80 minutes