José: Gay, but boring

D+ Gay coming-of-age drama
Written by Li Cheng and George F. Roberson
Directed by Li Cheng

A gay coming-of-age story should not be boring – especially if the movie is sexually explicit. But in José, the main character is, himself, exceptionally boring.

José lives with his mother in a tiny apartment in Guatemala City. Mom works hard to barely get by. José barely works. He has a job in a restaurant, but he’s not a good employee. He doesn’t work hard and he seems to have no ambition. As played by Enrique Salanic, he’s a slacker…about as dull as he could get. Mom (Ana Cecilia Mota) tries to make him take his work seriously.

And yet, somehow, José has a boyfriend who could easily get a better catch (Manolo Herrera). He has a good job in construction. He’s ambitious and gorgeous. Eventually, he too will tell José what José’ mother has been telling him – that he needs to do something with his life.

The sex scenes are not pornographic, in the sense that no actual sex happened in front of the camera (or at least I don’t think so). There’s plenty of male full-frontal nudity, usually set in pay-by-the-hour hotels (clearly the boyfriend doesn’t have a place of his own). If you’ve ever wondered about the physics of male-on-male sex, you might learn something here.

And where sex comes, the church follows. As his mother finally figures at least part of what is going on, she’s horrified. In her mind, her beloved son is heading straight to Hell. It’s never entirely clear, but I believe that she’s gone from Catholic to something evangelical. That makes the issue of a gay son even more of a disaster.

Another annoyance: The folks in the sound department seem to believe they were making an action movie. Every car in every street scene was loud and annoying, constantly reminding the audience of the 5.1 mix. In one scene, as a co-worker spills out her problems to the apparently uninterested José, an airplane overhead takes your interest away from the discussion.

Curiously, this is the second Guatemalan film I’ve reviewed in six months about homophobia and its consequences. I didn’t care much for the previous one, Temblores, but it’s a very good film compared to José. And yet, even though the protagonists are of different ages and classes, the films are surprisingly similar. Both involve evangelical Christianity. Both protagonists have lovers who are much more comfortable in their sexuality than the main characters. And earthquakes play a role in each movie.

The film has one lovely, romantic scene, where the lovers ride together on a motorcycle through the countryside. It’s simply two people in love, enjoying each other and the world around them.

José will become available through the Roxie (and possibly other Bay Area theaters) on Friday, May 22.