This is a coming-of-age movie. Classified as a romcom, it seemed more like a journey through painful adolescent and misfortunes.
While funny at times, it has a way more serious tone that never really reaches a fever pitch, unfortunately. I liked this movie a lot, but it lacked a clear focus and a disciplined message. Technically, it checked all the boxes, but it missed a soul. There was not a good flow to this movie, perhaps due to the quick editing or changes of scenes. And it never got deep into the psyche of the characters, although I do think it needed to. This film should have been steep in angst but never quite gets to that level where we feel deep emotions for the characters; it just feels as if something is ‘missing’. It felt more like reading a book than watching a movie.
The story is about a young student named Caleb, played by the handsome and rather versatile Troye Sivan; living in Hollywood, Florida in the year 2011. Caleb is a bright, witty young man, but underlying the bitter, sarcastic exterior is an individual steeped in rejection – either real or perceived. He lives with his grandmother (Ellen Burstyn) and her companion boyfriend (Lois Gossett, Jr.). Caleb’s father died several years ago, with his mother subsequently remarrying a conservative Rabbi. Caleb is Jewish, but his unorthodox leanings (being gay) simply did not fit into her new family’s lifestyle. Subsequently, he was handed over to his father’s mother to foster. So already, this kid’s life has been hit with several strikes against him. Caleb’s best (and only) friend is a girl named Dara (Brianne Tju), who works in the same convenient story as him. These two are misfits for sure but both understand each other and accept the ideocracies of one another.
Recently, Caleb had sex with someone during which the condom broke. That individual proceeds to informed Caleb that he just found out he is positive for HIV. And this begins Caleb’s journey to ascertaining if he himself is now positive. To confirm if his status is negative, he must be tested every month for 3 months with negative results, since the HIV virus can take up to three months to show positive results. The doctor asks him to come to a support group for emotional kinship. There he meets another young man of Indian descent named Estha, played by the stunningly handsome Viveik Kalra. Like Caleb, he too is waiting to see if he is positive. Over the summer, the two develop a connection and a fondness for each other. It is obvious and inevitable that they become sexually attracted to one another. But when Estha finds out he is negative, he spurns Caleb and says it was fun for the summer, but he must now think of his future and family. This rejection is a particularly cruel blow to Caleb as he literally chose him over his best friend. For Estha, the cultural affinity to familial fidelity is much stronger than individual needs, wants, or desires. After being rejected by Estha, in a desperate gesture of trying to grasp onto some anchor of feeling like he belongs somewhere, Caleb goes to see his mother. Cruelly and harshly, she too, rejects him completely.
However, through all this, Caleb remains tenacious and tries to move forward with his life, learning to accept his reality, whether it is negative or positive. We never really find out what the results are, but that essentially is irrelevant. And here is where the movie breaks down. We honestly do not ‘see’ Caleb through his struggles or his pain. We see his shell. That is unfortunate because his struggles are what make him – him.
It was hard to grasp who Caleb was. It all seemed so superficial, and he never showed what was really going on with him. When he does break down with his grandmother, it is all filled with platitudes and euphemistic encouragements. Caleb was a deeply troubled young man with heavy feelings of overwhelming guilt and a complete sense of insecurities, as so many people rejected him or left him. He lashes out with caustic remarks which further alienates those around him, and he becomes even more unlikeable. I wish they would have concentrated more on what Caleb was going through rather than drowning him in episodic snippets. His brief relationship with Estha was a nice respite for him from rejection and provided him with a deeper connection to another human being going through a similar life-changing experience. Yet, he was again crushingly rejected. That had to hurt. The whole idea of Estha saying in one meeting that he thought that sometimes he senses that his parents can smell it on him – shame. And Caleb’s burden of tremendous guilt he carries around. These are only mentioned, and then life moves on. This story should have developed deeper emotional connections, so we could also sense and feel the crushing pain Caleb and Estha were experiencing. It just never quite got there, unfortunately.
The acting in this move was hit and miss. Not that it was necessarily bad; it really was not. It was unfocused. It simply lacked an emotional connection to the characters. And there is no real depth to the characters.I never really felt much from them and subsequently felt little for them. But I think the closest to making his character believable was Viveik Kalra as Estha. He could display the breath of his character well and we had a better grasp of who his character was. While low-keyed, he still remained consistent and focused. It was known from the beginning his responsibility was to please his family and remain obeisant. Viveik played the part of the terrified and obedient son, hiding his gayness with great pain in his face and mannerism. He never seemed happy, even when relaxed.
There are, however, some cute scenes in this move which showed some tenderness and a glimpse of who these characters were, but it never went beyond obligatory scenes showing different situations. For example, when Caleb and Estha finally kiss and are in bed, they realize they cannot have sex. So, Caleb throws popcorn on Estha and eats that off him and feeds him individual kernels. Cute, funny, and adorable, even if it seemed a bit too contrived. Earlier there is a wonderful reference to Estha loving popcorn which leads to that particular outcome. There are also some intensely personal scenes between Caleb and Dara.
Nevertheless, it is a worthy story of the abscessed reality of a gay kid growing up when HIV was still stigmatized and a terrifying reality. For that, it does kudos.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5