'Like You Mean It': Outfest Review

Courtesy of Outfest Film Festival
A well-acted but superficial gay relationship drama 

A struggling gay actor sees his professional and personal life falling apart in this L.A. story.

Outfest audiences hoping to see attractive actors in a series of mildly provocative sexual couplings may well be satisfied by Like You Mean It, which had its world premiere at the festival. Those who are looking for deeper insights into gay relationships…well, maybe not so much. The seemingly autobiographical film from writer/director/star Philipp Karner may have been therapeutic for him, but it is too opaque and slow-moving to compel the attention of many audiences beyond the gay festival circuit.

It must be admitted, however, that the film is slick and professionally produced, a pleasant change of pace from many festival offerings. Karner plays a struggling actor named Mark who is frustrated with his demeaning auditions around Los Angeles and also frustrated by the declining passion in his relationship with his musician boyfriend, Jonah (Denver Milord). Since Jonah is selfless, caring and attractive, Mark recognizes that the problem may be his, and he suggests couple's therapy. But he resists the suggestions of the therapist (well played by Hilary Ward), and his attempts to resuscitate their passion, like slipping ecstasy into Jonah’s drink, are not exactly well considered either.

The sources of Mark’s coldness are only hinted at. He stopped taking medication for depression, and he seems to have had a troubled relationship with his Austrian father. Mark speaks fluent German, but we are given scant information about when he came to America and exactly what went wrong with his family relationships. A visit from his sister (Claudia Graf) offers little help in solving the mystery.

One has to give Karner credit for his willingness to present his own character in such an unflattering light. But it does grow tiresome watching such a cold, self-absorbed and self-destructive character. Milord, however, contributes a warm portrayal that balances the protagonist’s narcissism. Some of the best scenes are comic asides depicting Mark’s adventures on the fringes of Hollywood, auditioning for demeaning commercials and voiceover spots.

Cinematographer Aaron Kovalchik gives the film a handsome professional sheen, though repeated scenes of Mark taking his car through a car wash seem to have symbolic intent that will escape most viewers. A final meeting between Mark and Jonah months after they have split up generates some emotion that the rest of the film could have used. This poignant epiphany comes too late to redeem the one-note chronicle of the downfall of a handsome narcissist.

Production: Round One

Cast: Philipp Karner, Denver Milord, Hilary Ward, Claudia Graf, Gillian Shure, Andrew Dits

Director-screenwriter: Philipp Karner

Producers: Jason Boegh, Thomas Ethan Harris, Philipp Karner

Executive producers: Nelson Rex Hung, Philipp Karner

Director of photography: Aaron Kovalchik

Production designer: Rae Panas

Costume designer: Nina Minnelli

Editor: Dana Turken

No rating, 90 minutes