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The Trip

That '70s movie

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Could two good-looking people ever meet cuter than the destined-to-fall-in-love-and-break-each-other's-hearts lovers of The Trip, Miles Swain's retro-romantic-tragi-comedy-cum-gay-semi-road-movie set in California during the optimistic post-Stonewall '70s? (Hyphenates, by the way, are the sine qua non of post-modern culture.)

Alan (Larry Sullivan) is a freshly minted and ultra-stuffy (but in a cute way) UCLA Republican "heterosexual," interning at the Los Angeles Times and writing an "objective" (i.e. homophobic) book about "the homosexual lifestyle in the modern age." Tommy (Steve Braun) is an accent-less Texan and out-loud (but masculine) homo, with long silky blond hair, a copious sense of humor (defense mechanism?), and a mission to teach the world that homosexuality is not a mental illness.

"The homosexual lifestyle," Tommy, who thinks he's flirting, tells Alan when they meet, "only has two ages: young and 29." He quickly adds that he's working full time as an activist to change that attitude. A few days later, at dinner with Alan and his flaky flower-child girlfriend, Tommy persuades the straight-laced (and not-for-long straight) Alan to join him in a joint. "If you're worried about a political career," he quips, "just don't inhale."

Like I said: retro, or anachro, or something. ("Liberace is a homosexual???" the girlfriend exclaims after Tommy's revelation. "Sadly, yes," Tommy replies, long before we all "knew.") Swain's charming, cheesy, jokey and ultimately sad little movie (it ends in 1984) is really more sit-com and tragi-com than romantic-com. But because it's gay-themed, and because its two lead actors are so affable in their goofily sincere roles, it's slightly fresher than, say, the 18th-best episode of, oh, Dharma & Greg.

Long before Alan and Tommy set out on their climactic titular sojourn, Tommy is roommates with the wispy, biting, self-absorbed Michael (Alexis Arquette), the first friend he made when he came to L.A. to come out, and therefore the prototype for Jack and Will on TV's Will & Grace. (Oh, wait: Will & Grace actually came first.) Alan has a gruff military dad and an ex-swinger mom (Jill St. John) who does the old wink-wink when she catches her boy with a boy. Tommy's parents (never seen) are diehard Baptists who (Tommy tells us) know his gay activism is important to him, so he has their full support.

Did I mention that this is only a movie? A hokey plot is one thing, but I don't think Swain had to go quite so far in making his story quite so clumsy and preposterous. His grander purpose seems to be to entertain a niche audience (nothing wrong with that), and to wander through a critical time in gay rights with documentary snippets (it's so good to see Anita Bryant dressed again in banana cream pie) and with bad male wigs (and I mean really bad). It's so benign that it feels like something left over from two decades ago. Or maybe, post-modernly, that's what Swain had-in-mind-all-along.


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