" What an enormous depravation...the ideal of having a long-term relationship didn't exist amongst many of our friends."
Released on DVD less than a month after the California Supreme Court overturned the state's gay marriage ban, this documentary is just as timely and poignant as it was two years ago. Directed by James Tuchschmidt, it premiered at the 2006 Portland Gay and Lesbian Film Festival and features interviews with five gay couples, all in the Portland area and each at a different stage in their relationship (from one year to 51 years together).
Tuchschmidt doesn't have any real agenda here other than to share their stories and start conversation: He just lets his subjects--including some family members of the couples--speak. There's no narration, and no real structure for each sequence. The couples talk about how they met, their coming-out experiences, their families and what it takes to be in a committed relationship. And most of the time, the issues raised are universal, equally pertinent to straight couples.
Up first are young couple Ben and Tyler: "Hopelessly in Love: One Year". When the piece opens, they live with an older gay couple, having met at a bar just over a year ago. Raised Mormon, Tyler had to reshape his values to create a new self, while Ben looks to get out of a career rut as he helps raise his son Simon. "We have such different backgrounds, it's amazing how compatible we are," says Tyler, who adds that his biggest challenge has been trying to improve his relationship with his mother.
It's sweet to watch the two look at each other as they share stories, and see how they interact. Ben gets frustrated that Tyler can't remember courtship details ("You expect me to remember something? You know my memory!"), and later talks about the innocence of their fights ("It's usually nothing big, just me being stupid half the time, and you being thoughtless...I need flowers sometimes!"). It's clear the two have a genuine affection for each other, and the segment gets increasingly touching as Tyler talks about his hopes for the future, and both share their thoughts on having Simon in their life--the kid is too cute for words, and one of the more memorable shots captures them all playing Frisbee.
"The biggest thing that upset me coming out was the fact that I (wouldn't) have my own child," Tyler shares. "I just dealt with that and accepted it. And then when I met him and we started dating, it was like, 'Wow, he has a child!' It was something I never thought of."
Up next are Frank and Lee, "Bound Together: Seven Years". The two met at a bar in New Orleans during their partying days (Frank stiffed bartender Lee on a drink) before moving in with Frank's mother in Michigan. But they later split up, and during a depressive state in San Francisco, Lee's reckless behavior led to him contracting HIV. He picked up the phone to share the news with Frank, who was at his side in a week as the two resumed their relationship.
The two have an intense connection: "Lee and I have something exceptional...we're inextricably bound together for something that is still almost frightening sometimes to us. We don't always have a full grasp on it, because it's just something that exists in and of itself, and we're just a part of it." The two talk about their goal to lead a healthy life as they try to create a home for each other, a recurring theme with each couple. This sequence is much shorter than all of the others, and doesn't feel quite as complete.
Next we meet Bill (60) and David (33): "Against the Odds: Ten Years". The two met at a bar, after Bill--a father of two--divorced his wife. This is one of the more intriguing segments as we hear from their families, who take center stage when talking about their sons. David's parents (Janet and David Sr., who is younger than Bill) were initially concerned over the age difference, not the sexuality issue. They always knew their son was gay: "In the beginning it kind of bothered me, but I (saw) what a wonderful child he was...[it] makes me cry to even think about it," says David Sr., fighting back tears of happiness. "I think their happiness is just as important as anybody else's."
On the other end of the spectrum is Bill's 80-year-old mother Loreen, who candidly (and bravely) shares her opinions of her son. "Everybody was a little bit disappointed, upset and plainly damn mad when we found out that he was a homosexual," she says, sharing that she thought gay people were "slimy". "I don't know that I can say I'm very proud of him, but I feel like he is an honorable man and he's good to his kids...and he's good to me."
The men share their views on gay marriage, which changed through the years--they finally tied the knot, but Bill's mother didn't come to the service. But as she tries to repair her son's damaged relationship with his sister, she makes a revelation that is the film's most tearjerking moment. You can see and feel the internal struggle she faces as she tries to balance religious reasoning with motherly love, and while her thoughts sound harsh, you get a sense of hope for her--although her choice of words hint at misplaced guilt.
Up next are Bill and Todd (and their very cute pets): "Following their Dreams: Fifteen Years". This segment revolves around a party the couple throws in celebration of their marriage. Like the last entry, this one gets hijacked by their friends and relatives, especially Bill's Aunt Eileen, a teacher. "I was sorry for both of them. I'm a Christian, I'm married, I have four kids. I love them both, but I wish their lives had been different. And I don't know if I believe they were born this way," she says with a mild degree of discomfort, later adding that she is strictly opposed to changing the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples. "[It] could be changed to more than two people. You never know where it's going to go. I don't support that."
Todd's parents (Lee and Dorsey) represent a stark contrast, showing unconditional love. They share a heartbreaking story about an encounter at a PFLAG meeting, while some of the couple's friends share interesting thoughts at the party (including Bill's niece). Bill and Todd get lost in the shuffle; we don't learn too much about them other than a brief talk about their 7-Year Itch, which forced them to re-evaluate their commitment. You get the sense they're being careful and guarded, and a lot of their scenes come across a tad boring (who said gay couples were any different from straight ones? But to be fair, their personalities come through in the disc's deleted scene).
The finale is the most interesting, and introduces us to Eric and Eugene: "The Journey of a Lifetime: Fifty-one Years". These two are worthy of an entire documentary, their relationship spanning the life of the gay rights movement. Eric talks about his decision to join a monastery at a young age (guess how that went!), and the two share the joy of meeting each other: "I died the life I had lived before," shares Eugene. "I was no longer that person...that was when I decided, 'This is where my life changes.'" The two dated in Chicago during an era when it was dangerous: "These were the days when for the slightest provocation, the police would raid any place they wanted to, get people in the paddy wagon and take bribes from them, then let them go," Eugene says.
The two trace their lives, including moving in together and their decision to end their occasional open-relationship status. Through it all, you get a real sense of their love through their words and eyes--and wonderful old photographs that pop up, hinting at a life of happiness and a wealth of other stories we can only imagine (I could watch a whole film of them talking over their photos). Their relationship survived the crazy 1970s, and their bond is just as strong now as it was 50 years ago--they're a true inspiration to everyone who yearns for true love.
Eric and Eugene share some powerful thoughts on gay marriage (and those that oppose it): "In retrospect, I realize what we didn't do, what we didn't say to one another in public, that we do do and we do say now," shares Eric. "All of those small but significant pieces of verbal intercourse between people who are in a relationship just did not happen."
As a whole, the film is a memorable window on the lives of five couples and their families. There's no heavy-handed message, no formal structure to tie every segment together, no narrow focus that limits the material--you get stories of coming out and family struggles, thoughts on gay marriage and musings on love and commitment that are applicable to anyone, straight or gay. If anything, the film will leave you wanting more--we just get a taste of these interesting lives. It would have been nice to see a couple that was two or three years into a relationship (the breaking point for many), and a couple (or two) that bridged the 15 and 51 year pairs. Still, this is a thought-provoking piece that will move (and anger) you, an uncomplicated slice of life.
Presented in a 1.78:1 transfer enhanced for widescreen TVs, this looks just about as good as you would expect a low-budget documentary to. Colors can be vibrant, although I sometimes felt the whole image was a tad dark. But there's nothing major that detracts in any way.
The 2.0 audio is all you need to hear everything perfectly, from the stories to the original songs. Everything is clear.
Sadly, you only get one extra, but at least it's a decent one: a deleted scene (15:19) that has Todd (now with a beard) and Bill being interviewed along with an exchange student they're hosting. It's kind of a catch-up piece, as they (in part) talk about the deteriorating relationship Bill has with his aunt, who increasingly makes Todd uncomfortable: "She to me is the poster child in my life for (the evangelical right)--and how rigid she is, despite being a fairly intelligent woman...she frightens me." The scene brings out their personalities more than the actual film did, which is nice to see. Sadly, there are no more catch-up pieces with any of the other couples; it would have been particularly interesting to see how Ben and Tyler, as well as Frank and Lee, have been since the film was made.
A documentary that shares the stories and thoughts of five gay couples at various stages in their relationship--along with the sometimes sad, sometime hopeful thoughts of their families--The Man You Had in Mind is a simple, straightforward slice of life with no big agenda. The film's subjects share their thoughts on coming out, commitment and love, and many of the messages prove that gay couples have a lot more in common with their straight counterparts than you may realize. The film leaves you wanting more, and that's always a good sign. Recommended.