Keep the Lights On
Release date: September 7, 2012
Director: Ira Sachs
Screenplay by: Ira Sachs & Mauricio Zacharias
Cast: Thure Lindhardt, Zachary Booth
With the impression that last year’s gay romance Weekend left on me, I was looking forward to seeing what this year would bring with gay films. The praise at Sundance for Keep the Lights On left me enthusiastic, but it turns out that the film isn’t much better than any other plain old gay love story.
Erik Rothman (Lindhart) meets a closeted straight lawyer, Paul Lucy (Booth), after talking on the phone one night. Their first night together is intense and passionate, and quickly leads to a serious, codependent relationship. The more their relationship progresses, the more they struggle with each other and with their addictions, be it drugs or sex.
The first moments of the film are instantly fascinating — with Erik talking on the phone in a low, raspy voice while touching himself, trying to find a man to have sex with. When Keep the Lights On wants to deliver sexual appeal, it does so realistically and well, so much so that it makes one wish they would have explored that more. Instead, the focus lingers on Paul’s drug use, which quickly gets repetitive and boring.
Writer-director Ira Sachs does a fine job at creating a realistic look at the gay world, which no matter how clean cut some try to make it, really is just as sex-fueled as the straight world. Too many people are quick to say that all this open sex is a negative image to the gay world, but it’s simply honest, because most people enjoy it. What isn’t quite as realistic, and feels shoehorned into the film, is Erik’s filmmaking career that adds nothing to their relationship. It’s only brought up when it’s convenient and serves to only separate the characters temporarily to stir up issues again and again.
Thure Lindhardt does a great job in his role as Erik. He’s an attractive man who can handle the raw sexual moments with tact, and then reveal a sincere and sentimental man who wants nothing more than intimacy in his life. Zachary Booth isn’t half bad either, but Lindhardt outshines him, especially when he sometimes looks as tired of his role as everyone else is.
One would hope that the development of Erik and Paul’s relationship would be interesting over the years and numerous struggles, but at the end of it all, it’s a very traditional tale with some drug addiction thrown in for drama. Most gay films follow a similar “closeted male meets openly gay male only to have a relationship blossom wonderfully before the problems start,” and Keep the Lights On doesn’t bring anything original or new to this format.