Sep 14, 2014

[Movies] Clapham Junction (2007)

One of the bigger challenges of LGBT movies is finding the balance between realism and being downright depressing. Then again, I suppose the same could be said about a lot of movies that try to go for greater "realism" by presenting the negative side of a particular story or event - just look at the local indie movie scene for any number of "poverty porn" examples. It's a difficult balance to achieve.

Clapham Junction is one of those queer movies that kinda of struggled with striking this balance, at least in my opinion. It was pretty ambitious in terms of the themes it wanted to tackle, especially given it was first broadcast as a TV movie on Channel 4.

This is not to say the movie is without merit, of course. It's just that the jarring images and disturbing situations sort of leave you a little confused as to how you should feel about things. It's hard to support the individual characters in the movie since each has their share of good and bad decisions made over the course of the film. At the very least, it certainly makes you think.

Synopsis: Clapham Junction is a 2007 television LGBT drama movie originally broadcast on Channel 4. It was directed by Adrian Shergold with a screenplay by Kevin Elyot.

The movie follows a series of characters all living their lives in the Clapham area of London. Will (Richard Lintern) and Gavin (Stuart Bunce) are having their civil partnership ceremony, however Will wastes no time in hitting on Alfie (David Leon), the waiter, during the reception after the ceremony. 14 year old Theo (Luke Treadaway) is pretty much stalking the 29 year old Tim (Joseph Mawle) at the library - Tim is also Theo's next door neighbor. Young Danny (Jared Thomas) is doing better with the violin, but is often teased by the other boys for being gay. Robin (Rupert Graves) is trying to sell a script to Channel 4, but his pitch is rejected since "...the whole gay thing...has been done."

In time we see these different characters cross each others paths - sometimes significantly but oftentimes just in passing. And we have other characters like Terry (Paul Nicholls), who have much darker secrets as seen in his need to beat up other gay men for some reason. Julian (James Wilby) bumps into Robin at a public toilet and the two cruise one another. But after other people arrive, Julian lingers in a cubicle, still determined to hook up or something. And these stories just circle one another until we get to the end of things as various narrative threads are resolved.

As I go over the different narratives in this movie, one can't help but feel that none of them are truly "happy" stories - or at least they aren't stories with happy endings. And I think that ads to how heavy this movie ends up feeling since the movie ends with everyone being pretty much worse that how they started. Theo's forbidden young love ends pretty lousily. The civil partnership of Will and Gavin seems doomed to fail from the get-go. And then you have Terry terrorizing people left and right - and we don't fully understand why.

And this is why I brought up the whole burden of trying to present something realistic but ending up seeming to be preachy. When there's no positive side to things (and I don't even need a fairy tale ending) one can't help but feel that the conclusion that they (the producers) wanted was something pretty negative as well. Should we not try to get married anymore because cheating is bound to happen? Should we be afraid of other members of the community who are just as likely to commit acts of violence against their own? Should gay children be kept safe from the predatory pedophiles out there even when the boy makes the first move?

Beyond tragic endings, the characters themselves aren't necessarily all that appealing or aren't necessarily guys one can relate to. Then again, with so many people in the mix, it's not like we really know anything about any of them beyond one-sentence descriptions. Alfie is a waiter. Danny is a student who plays the violin. Terry is violent. Beyond this, we don't really know who they are, and that's a shame. I would like to better understand why each of them do what they do - a question that the movie ends up not addressing.

Thus the vagueness of the respective character motivations, the generally  negative tone to things and the convoluted storytelling leaves one feeling confused and unsatisfied by the end of things. Even without a sort of "happy ending" I think this movie could have done a lot better in terms of keeping the narrative focus where it needed to be despite the many plots at work. I probably would have cut out a few characters for good measure - not even everyone in my synopsis above really merited the screen time.

Clapham Junction had a purpose in mind - some sort of warning about abuse and the need for people to speak up about it. But wrapping it around an LGBT context may have sent the wrong message in the long run, thus diminishing the movie in turn. I can only really rate the movie as 2 unnecessary moments of characters passing by one another out of a possible 5.

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