"I should have known something was up when I developed a sudden craving for Ding Dongs."
- Gil Ramirez
I had given up on Back Soon after an hour of viewing when I was suddenly greeted with six minutes of somewhat meaningful (if predictable) material. But my joy was brief: At the 1-hour, 6-minute mark, a scene so ridiculously absurd slapped me back to reality. Even though the final scene was handled well, I felt a huge sense of frustration with the wasted potential. There's a good idea here, but it's handled horribly.
When the drama starts, aspiring actor Logan Foster (Windham Beacham) is at the hospital, where his wife dies after being hit by a drunk driver (who was never caught). A year later, he sells their home to Gil Ramirez (Matthew Montgomery), a man with a checkered past who was drawn to the location. He is also trying to move on from tragedy, aided by friend Jamie (Bret Wolfe). As Foster tries to move on with his life, he keeps seeing images of wife Adrianne (Maggie Eilertson), a friendly ghost who offers advice and also appears in flashbacks.
Logan and Gil are mysteriously drawn to each other, developing an odd attraction considering neither one of them is gay. Unfortunately, one of the many problems with the film is that the actors have no chemistry (surprising, considered they both worked together--along with many of the cast--on director Rob Williams' Long-Term Relationship), and the acting here is weak all around.
At one point, Gil watches Logan's performance in the low-budget Strangers with Crack Whores 2: Trixie's Revenge. The movie-within-a-movie clip drags on for two minutes. It's intended to be funny, but the real joke is that the bad acting and lack of focus are too close to Back Soon to be truly effective. ("It paid surprisingly well," notes Logan of the film, before Gil adds: "Money they obviously should have spent on say...a writer, or an editor, cinematographer...")
I'm not sure what Williams was thinking when he wrote the script, or what Montgomery was thinking when he read it. Montgomery is the strongest actor in the film, but he's too gentle here to pull off the tough, former drug dealer, from-the-streets persona. And here's a sampling of the laughably horrid verbal abuse Gil takes in the film, at the expense of Logan and his former brother-in-law Spence (Artie O'Daly):
- "Your garden equipment is in the back yard in the shed...oh right: el lawn mower is in el shed-o in the back yard-o!"
- "There's a taco stand down the block if you're hungry."
- "Is there a mulatto word equivalent for kids that are half-white and half-Hispanic?"
- "Not everyone can get away with the gangbanger look."
And dear lord, who even uses the word "wetback" anymore?! Spence is written and performed with such broad, exaggerated strokes, it's impossible to take him--or his co-stars' reactions, or the film--seriously. When he senses Logan's sexual transformation, he even arranges a night of fun with prostitutes, and later says this to Logan: "I thought I could talk you into going out for a little Mexican...oh wait, you probably had that last night."
There are plenty of other thankless roles, including some stereotypical horny homos; Spence's wife Mona (Bethany Dotson), a timid mouse who serves no purpose other than to be yelled at; and Logan's realtor Grace (Kelly Keaton), a friend who harbors a crush--a mission she gives priority over his grieving ("Forget sushi, I could eat you for dinner!" is one of many out-of-place lines unnecessarily lowering the material). And when Jamie isn't forcing exclamations like "Ay, dios mìo!", he drums up some of the film's more suggestive dialogue. (His locker room admission "I have an award-winning ass" is a wink to porn fans: In Wolfe's adult film career, he picked up a few awards for Best Newcummer...er, excuse me, Newcomer, in 2003.)
One of the mistakes Williams makes is sharing too much about Gil too soon. The film's crucial scene would have carried more weight if the director led us down a different path in our assumptions of Gil, something he could have easily done. But from the opening scene, you can pretty much piece things together. And while the movie is aimed at a gay audience, a few of the script's decisions are bound to frustrate gay men with its take on defining sexuality. Williams describes this as "a gay love story between two straight characters", which is tricky territory to navigate--and from the start, it's hard to feel that the characters are actually straight, which may have something to do with our knowledge of the actors' previous work.
There are intriguing ideas here about love, and it seems like everyone involved has genuinely good intentions, but it just doesn't come together well. "I've always lived my life in these perfect little boxes: son, student, husband, widower, straight white male...it's so easy to put people in their own little categories based on who they are and what they've done. What if things change?" asks Logan. "What if you find yourself outside the box you worked so hard to be in? What then? What if you're not ready for that kind of change?" If only Back Soon dealt with this idea--and used its unique twist--in a more mature way, this would be worth exploring.
Presented in an anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer, Back Soon has some major issues with aliasing and some jagged edges around body lines, which frequently makes it look like the characters have been digitally placed in front of their backgrounds (which they haven't). It's noticeable enough to be distracting. The image is sometimes crisp and colorful, and sometimes very soft.
The 2.0 stereo track works fine, and the dialogue is always clear. It might have been nice if a 5.1 track was offered to take advantage of Austin Wintory's score.
Leading the way are two full-length audio commentaries. The first is led by filmmaker Rob Williams, who is joined by four cast members: Matthew Montgomery (Gil), Maggie Eilertson (Adrianne), Artie O'Daly (Spence) and Bret Wolfe (Jamie). It's a laid back "free for all" that probably could have used a tad more structure--it tends to ramble--but the gang has a fun time reminiscing about the shoot (although frequent group laughs can get tiresome). Most of them have worked together before, and their respect and admiration for each other shows. O'Daly notes that he felt Spence was "not justified" in his awful behavior, even considering his character's revelation (a scene he says he performed "all wrong...I feel like I over-play it"), while Montgomery laments over a line that he felt wasn't needed, the one that gets chuckles from festival crowds (it's his reply to Jamie's assertion that Gil doesn't have a gay bone in his body).
The second commentary has Williams joined by composer Austin Wintory, who shares his inspiration and motivation for his score choices--themes of loss prompt a haunting, ethereal and sometimes numb sound. "Austin did an outstanding job of taking the film as it was and really analyzing it and using music to take it to an entirely different level," Williams notes. It's a much more technical track; while not as fun of a listen, it provides some nice insight and is a good track for those interested in the filmmaking process.
There are also three short interviews with Windham Beacham (7:58), Montgomery (7:58) and Eilertson (7:03). They answer questions about their favorite moments from the film, and share memories from the shoot. There's nothing too intriguing, although Eilertson stand out for offering her take on the film's central theme. Beacham admits he has never seen the movie and doesn't like to watch himself, which may account for why he didn't participate in the audio commentary. Three trailers for other TLA releases and a still gallery round out the package.
A gay love story with straight characters, Back Soon navigates tricky waters. While the film's twist at the end provides a unique and intriguing idea about love and destiny, the central theme gets lost in a sea of poorly drawn--and poorly acted--characters. I appreciate the film's overall intent, and its heart seems to be in the right place. But it's handled poorly, and doesn't have enough focus to recommend. Skip it.