You can’t run from love,
you can’t run from pain;
you can’t find yourself when you
run away .
The lyrics of the opening song encapsulate the basic premise of the haunting, poignant film Beautiful Something from writer-director Joseph Graham.
This theme is repeated as the various intertwining storylines are introduced.
The film follows the lives of four very different gay men on their interlocking searches for love, identity and human connection in the City of Brotherly Love. The action takes place in one dusk-to-dawn stretch.
After waiting for years for the film to be shot, completed and released, Graham says the whole experience has been deeply gratifying.
“The fact that, after 10 years of work, this picture is finally off to seek its fortune is beyond amazing for me,” he says.
Graham’s script has great depth, and he skillfully plays emotionally intimate scenes against the more raucously sexual ones. Yes, there are a few semi-explicit (soft-core with fleeting bits of full-frontal nudity) moments, but each informs and serves the larger plot.
Beautiful Something (2015) - Official Trailer youtu.be
Matthew Boyd’s brilliant and evocative cinematography gives the film a terrific moody, after-dark quality. You can practically feel the freezing Philadelphia night. Graham credits his cinematic role models — filmmakers David Lynch, David Cronenberg and David Byrne — as inspiration to create such a pervasively taciturn and moody atmosphere.
The film is divided primarily into four chapters, and each one follows the four main characters through (and beyond) when their various encounters intersect.
The first is devoted to Brian, a poet, played by Brian Sheppard.
“Joseph gave me [and all of us"> a lot of freedom to create our characters,” Sheppard said. “I was lucky enough to get in on the initial reading, so I got to see the script evolve quite a bit. Joe would call me weekly, and we would chat about it, and if I felt something was too long or short or clunky, I had the freedom to suggest changes. It was always, ‘how do you feel?’ and ‘what would you like to do here?’”
Finding the humor in the scene helped prevent his character from being perceived as too needy or neurotic a person for audiences to identify with.
“I’m not a heartthrob,” Sheppard says. “I have to bring something else to the screen, so I had to use my own rhythm and speed … humor and range.”
Early in the filming, Sheppard set a rule for himself: Do not allow his character to live in just one mood.
“Every little moment had a new meaning and different energy,” he said. “Brian was constantly changing and sensitive, so every moment had to affect him deeply enough to drive him to the next.”
One night, when Brian is bored, restless and suffering from writer’s block, he decides to blow the last of his publisher’s advance by escaping to the local gay dive bar. He preps himself for the evening ahead with push-ups and sit-ups and rehearses his best lines. Once at the bar, he quickly gets picked up by a cute trick named Chris, who is uncertain of his sexuality.
The emptiness of the experience reveals just how needy and insecure Brian is and how his lack of creative inspiration is merely a symptom of this. In time, we learn that his real problem involves his unrequited love for his “straight” ex-roommate Dan, and Brian pays him a surprise late-night visit.
The two had previously fooled around a little, but it turned out to be nothing more than a passing curiosity on Dan’s part.
“I was so happy,” Brian remembers. “It was killer sex all night long, and then we just talked – the light was just coming through the window pane. I told you that my favorite thing to do was to be kissed — and do you remember what you did? You kissed me. … It was amazing — soul to soul!”
Now he desperately wants to know why it had to stop. Dan tells Brian that being with him meant a lot, but that he likes girls.
Brian feels abandoned by this rejection.
The second storyline involves Jim, a boyish, hard-bodied model and aspiring actor who’s serving as a muse for his older, more successful artist-boyfriend Drew, whom he lives with. Jim has his share of emotional baggage and he isn’t afraid of having drama and histrionics in his life. He has grown to resent Drew’s unrelenting gravitational pull and the controlling nature of their relationship.
Jim decides that a move to New York City might be the best option to realize his acting ambitions and release him from Drew’s mercurial grip.
This leads him to attempt one-night stands with Brian, as well as Bob, an older, wealthier, alcoholic talent agent. Thus, Jim connects the four main characters, with unexpected consequences.
Bob is the most seasoned and cynical of the four. Despite his outward aimlessness, he usually gets whatever (and whomever) he targets when venturing into the city’s gay enclaves. Trouble is, it’s never the one he’s aching to find. Spending his lonely late nights cruising in a white stretch limousine, he simply pulls up beside the local hustlers and beckons them over by rolling down the window.
When one asks whether he has any “party supplies,” Bob responds tiredly: “I’m a drunk, son. I don’t do nothin’ else,” then tells the driver to move on. He is the most bittersweet and melancholy of the four, wearing a lifetime of disappointment like a designer overcoat. Vainly pursuing a fantasy of youthful, masculine (meaning heterosexual) perfection, on this night it leads him to Jim.
“We’ll drink like men and cruise in style — the envy of everyone around us,” Bob drawls in his attempt to tantalize the handsome lad. Back at his swanky apartment, we learn that Bob, too, is nursing a broken heart, and it’s decades old. Jim reminds him of his lost love.
“Your generation has got it made,” Bob dolefully tells him. “Holding hands in public … you take that for granted. It didn’t always used to be that way.”
Eventually Jim reveals the truth about himself — that he’s not the straight boy Bob wanted to see him as and that he already has someone despite their immediate relationship problems.
“You’ll know more the next time you fall in love,” Bob advises him.
“So it gets easier?” the younger man asks.
“No — not at all!” he’s told. “It just gets a lot more … complicated.”
Realizing that sometimes you have to wander in order to come home again, Jim says goodbye to Bob and goes back to Drew’s welcoming arms.
Director Graham explains: “I am utterly fascinated by age and by generations — and growing older as a gay man. How the generations view each other – and what age or youth does to us, how we experience it and how we respond to it.”
He himself has been involved in a serious long-term relationship with a man several decades older and counts every day as a growing experience.
“My husband – 20 years my senior – fascinates me (and we’re about to celebrate our 20th anniversary!). I hope we were able to communicate something about this fascination in the film. Colman Domingo, who plays Drew, called it a ‘conversation between the generations.’ I like that.”
The movie also perceptively speaks to gay individuals who haven’t yet felt the dividends of all the recent progress the LGBT community has made.
So exactly how many Brians, Jims, Drews and Bobs are out there? Graham understands that the answer is probably far more than the popular media might indicate. Most of us are sure to find some reflection of ourselves in these brilliantly drawn characters.
“My inspiration for each of these guys was myself,” the director says. “In my 20s, I was Jim – and I was Brian. Now I’m Drew. I’ve met many Bobs — even one in a white limo when I was sitting on a bench!”
Sheppard interjects: “I think social media and dating apps often keep real connections from happening. It keeps the personal aspect of love and the search for it out of arm’s reach. People become too replaceable. ... It’s like people-shopping.”
Which character does real-life Brian consider himself to be more comparable to?
“Oh, I’m Brian … 100 percent,” he says with a laugh. He found the poetry by Richard Siken was inspirational as he prepared to portray a poet on screen.
“It was like a good fuel for my fire” he says, “but I think I identified with the character and the need for love in so many ways that looking for outside inspiration beyond this wasn’t as necessary.”
He said he also identifies with the way Jim is drawn to Shakespeare. “I feel like Jim and Brian are two sides of the same person,” he said.
“Beautiful Something is about love and the search for love and artistic fire,” Sheppard concludes. “I don’t even like to label it an LGBT film as that actively removes it from the mainstream – and isn’t that separation what we are trying to end? We are all in it together. I think the character of Brian would fully agree.”
Graham was happy to report that the entire cast of Beautiful Something was honored with a collective Best Actor award from Reeling: the Chicago International LGBTQ+ Film Festival. “This was the first time in its history that the festival granted the award to an entire ensemble and not a single performer!” he said.
Watch the film on Vimeo here: