While it does take place over a weekend spent touring Northern California's wine country, writer-director Russell Brown's feature debut isn't exactly a bicurious SIDEWAYS. The characters are less interesting and even less likable, and the only pleasure we can take is in their emotional pain.
Nathan (Cole Williams, who bears an unsettling resemblance to his father, the soft-pop singer/songwriter Paul Williams) is a successful, L.A.-based writer for "Travel Times" who uses his openly gay life with his live-in boyfriend Nicholas (Jeremy Lelliott) as a convenient blind to hide the fact that he's also been sleeping with his best friend Maggie (Amber Benson) for the past six months. Maggie has no real career to speak of and her out-of-work writer boyfriend (Justin Zachary) thinks she is too sexually aggressive. Needless to say, Maggie's self-esteem isn't what it should be for an attractive, intelligent woman like herself, and sad to say she's been looking forward to the weekend of infidelity she'll be spending with Nathan on one of his all-expenses-paid work trips, this time touring the wineries and mud-bath spas of Napa Valley. On their way north, Maggie and Nathan pay a lunch-time visit to Maggie's friend Carla (Danielle Harris), which Nathan uses as an opportunity to seduce Carla's husband, Joe (Smallville's Justin Hartley), after which Nathan and Maggie pop some Ecstasy and hit San Francisco for the night. They have sex and talk about their feelings for each other, but as the trip wears on, Maggie begins to tire of what she sees as the self-loathing and latent homophobia that lie at the root of Nathan's serial sexual conquests. She reaches her absolute limit when he asks her to procure a hunky winery waiter for his own delectation. She responds by declaring her love for Nathan, which only unleashes an ugly mean streak in her indifferent lover. Doubting that they really have a meaningful future together and that his "profound affection" for her will be enough to sustain her emotionally, Maggie rethinks their whole depressing relationship.
Not many movies feature a bisexual man as a main protagonist, and unfortunately the character of Nathan probably won't leave audiences wanting many more: Nathan is an unappealing, arrogant type who treats his friends and lovers as "biological imperatives" and has no qualms about hitting on anyone, no matter how straight, gay or attached he or she may be. It's hard to grasp exactly what Maggie sees in him, and the scene in which she allows herself to sit and listen to Nathan's sexual fantasies — erotic escapades involving sexually confused surfers and rockers, but never her — are painful. In between fits of drama, Maggie does have a rare moment of insight — she's right about the self-loathing, but it's probably what drives her to sleep with Nathan — but Brown is never clear enough on how he feels about his own characters. Interestingly, the film ends on an ambivalent note, as if the film wants to acknowledge the fact that Nathan and Maggie are simply a pair of selfish, unlikable cheaters to whom another person's trust means nothing, and who don't deserve anything better than loneliness, or worse, each other. leave a comment --Ken Fox