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Midday Cowboys: Steve Braun and Larry Sullivan survive a tempestuous friendship in 'The Trip.'

That '70s Show

Miles Swain's 'The Trip' skims the surface of a turbulent time in gay history

By Richard von Busack

THERE WAS A TIME when gay people had terrific taste in movies. So when watching the boutique gay date film of today, you have to ask: what happened? Did entering the mainstream mean sacrificing something essential in the soul? When, exactly, did the gay audience nationwide say, "We want a movie like The Mexican, only for us!" The Trip--not the most stimulating film title--is Miles Swain's story of a pair of unlikely lovers followed through their affair and afterward.

In 1973, Alan (Larry Sullivan), who still thinks he's straight, is a Republican newspaper writer working on a book about "the homosexual life throughout the ages." During a party, he meets two friends who'll stay with him for years: Michael (Alexis Arquette, being bitchy and promiscuous, the Paul Lynde thing), and the long-haired redhead who will be the one who hauls Alan out of the closet, Tommy (Steve Braun). The two fall in love, despite Alan's fears and Tommy's worries about romancing a latent homosexual. Tommy, a gay activist, is petitioning against the American Psychiatric Association's classification of homosexuality as a disease. Alan finishes his book, and it's rejected by the publisher.

The vaguest part of this vague film is the nature of Alan's book, and yet it's key to the story. The book is apparently reactionary, but since Alan signed a contract, it's finally published against his wishes, four years later. That's 1977, at the time that Anita Bryant is campaigning against gay rights; it's assumed the book's anti-gay stance will be popular. The book becomes an anonymous success, but the secret comes out eventually. The upshot is that Alan loses both his job and Tommy, and ends up as the lover (again, why?) of an older man, Peter (Ray Baker), a powerful, conservative lawyer.

Still, our two lovers are reunited years later, in 1984, in Mexico, where Tommy is suffering from AIDS. The two go on a road trip and have adventures with bandidos before the tear-jerking finale. Despite the news footage of the turbulent times, with the Moscone assassination and Bryant on the warpath, there isn't much that deepens this shallow study. The Trip shows us the past, but it doesn't tap into it. Speaking of relics of the past, Jill St. John plays Alan's wacky mother. St. John is holding up far better than a lot of people who used to watch her in her starlet days. God bless her, she still reads her lines like a Speak 'n' Spell. Sirena Irwin plays Beverly, Alan's girlfriend in his straight days. She's supposed to be so inane that she doesn't know Liberace's gay.

It should be noted that Peter, the big lawyer, lives in Falcon Lair, which was Valentino's house. The Trip is supposedly the first feature film shot in this historic house, which is also the place where Bugsy Siegel got whacked. The difference is that Bugsy's death was a hit, and The Trip won't be.

The Trip (R; 95 min.), directed and written by Miles Swain, photographed by Charles L. Barbee and Scott Kevan and starring Larry Sullivan, Steve Braun and Alexis Arquette, opens Friday at the Towne Theater in San Jose.

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From the May 22-28, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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