Retake takes its audience on a journey of discovery, and whether it’s exhilarating, wonderful, or down-right painful depends on the person who’s viewing it. This intriguing new romance-drama, which is the full-length feature film debut of writer-director Nick Corporon, has just been released onto DVD and V.O.D. The story introduces us to two travelers, who are virtually strangers when they set out on a trip to the Grand Canyon.
Starring Kansas City native Tuc Watkins (Desperate Housewives) and Devon Graye (American Horror Story: Asylum, The Flash) the tale starts with a slightly foreboding, even sinister air and keeps you guessing throughout.
Jonathan, played by Watkins, is a handsome businessman in his 40s who spends his nights cruising San Francisco for something (and someone) very particular.
“You ever do role-play?” he asks one hustler as he describes what he’s looking for. “You’re a young guy, lost, a little rough around the edges, and very temperamental.”
During their encounter, it’s obvious that Jonathan wants more than just a sexual release. The next night he goes out on the prowl again, where he finds his second rent-boy, played by Graye.
“You’re a little different than the other guys I usually see out there,” Jonathan says of his new, more intense trick. “I feel like you require something more … intricate.”
The next morning Jonathan asks, “What are your plans for the next few days? I thought I might keep you around a while.”
What he has in mind is a road trip to the Grand Canyon. All expenses would be paid, but there’s one catch: The younger man must play a part — specifically, Jonathan’s lost love, Brandon — and never break character.
“Are we in love?” the hunk-for-hire asks about the role he’s taking on.
“Madly,” comes his answer.
The trip takes a lot of psychological twists and turns. Although Jonathan contends that the two are on this trip to “fix” Brandon, it becomes painfully apparent that it’s more of a journey back in time that the older man is fervently hoping for, as he tries for a “retake” of something that may never have existed.
“This is one of those opportunities where the right project hit me at the right time in my life,” Watkins said. “Retake is really an example how I would personally react to a given situation like this, and so it was an opportunity to not ‘create’ so much, as to simply ‘react’ as I naturally would.”
When he first read the script, he said, the intrigue caught his attention first.
“It keeps you wondering ‘what is going on here?’ There are ‘bread crumbs’ that you pick up along the way, and better still, just when you think you used one such crumb up, another comes along that’s even better and more tantalizing!”
“This movie has universal themes of love, loss and grief, but it’s told specifically through the lens of a gay person’s perspective,” Watkins said. “I think how that’s different is that gay people (at least of my generation—and certainly true for myself) maybe matured a little bit later than our straight counterparts — especially when it comes to our intimate relationships.”
Clarifying that most LGBT people can’t freely pursue such relationships until they’ve come out, he continues: “Until then, we don’t experience the triumphs and pitfalls of those relationships that, in the end, help us grow emotionally. We probably had them a little bit later, so we got delayed on our road to self-actualization, in contrast to the straight people around us, and Retake touches powerfully on this.”
Coincidentally, Watkins is also making his debut on March 3 with the Kansas City Repertory Theatre in another two-character drama, Constellations, which deals with a similar, although more heterosexual, take on continually attempting to reset a relationship.
In Retake, Corporon’s screenplay is constructed so that more tender or revelatory moments may disarm the viewer, allowing for greater surprises to soon follow.
The film is anchored solidly by strong performances from Watkins and Graye. Watkins’ portrayal of Jonathan is restrained, making him a tragic character. Likewise, Graye’s depiction is perceptively understated. He is never Jonathan’s victim or fool. Instead, he acts as a cool lens through which Jonathan and his actions — even the more eccentric ones — may be taken in.
“This is a very different character from those I’ve played before” Graye said. “I often play very duplicitous characters — people who wear ‘masks’ in their daily lives where you don’t always know who they really are. So the process of playing Brandon was deciding who he is at the beginning of the film and what ‘mask’ is he wearing, then slowly, gradually, over the course of the adventure he’s on with Jonathan, showing how that mask goes away and what other masks replace it.”
Graye pointed out that the cinematography by Collin Brazie (who also co-wrote the screenplay) is breathtaking, featuring sumptuous deserts, brilliant sunsets and looming shadows.
“When you’re acting, you don’t see any of what the camera is seeing, so I didn’t have any idea of what Collin was capturing,” Graye said, “but it’s absolutely brilliant!”
The landscape reflects the inner journey and isolation that the two main characters are experiencing.
“Nick’s whole vision was that for this experience these guys are going through … it’s sort of in a protected bubble,” Graye said. “And they get to go through this without interference of the outside world commenting or affecting what they’re undergoing.”
In a larger sense, though, the film could be about one man’s frenzied desire to regain his youth.
“Do you find the age difference to be a problem?” ask a couple of fellow travelers innocently, after joining the pair for a quick drink at a bar.
“It’s true, I’ve got scars — I’ve been hurt,” Jonathan admits, before once again surrendering himself deeper into his fantasy. Gazing at his new, temporary Brandon, he says softly: “But when he approached me romantically, I knew it wasn’t over yet.”
Watkins again suggests that Jonathan probably didn’t come out until relatively later in life, which brought an added sense of urgency to the relationship that he is single-mindedly — even obsessively — trying to re-create and a false perception of it being “all or nothing” for him.
“When he finally did meet someone that he loved, and who loved him back, he felt that this had to be the one — the only one!” he said. “And because he’s facing his own hangups about his age, for him there could never be another. So when it didn’t work out, he thinks, ‘that’s it — my time for happiness is through.’”
Watkins acknowledges that he, himself, is still developing his opinion about being comfortable with aging as an out and proud gay man.
“It’s not a comfortable process,” he concedes. “We as the gay community are still developing what our community is going to be in our 30s. 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s, because people who are my age now didn’t have a lot of mentors to look to or to emulate regarding how to walk down this road to getting older. This is frankly due to so many people in the generation ahead of us having fallen to the holocaust that was AIDS. So I think we’re still paving that path to hand down to the people younger than us – and learning for ourselves – how to do this with dignity and pride and happiness.”
Graye agrees. “Ageism absolutely does exist in many parts of our community,” he said. “It’s something that the media has really done a disservice to us in promoting youth and needing your skin to be a certain way and your body to be a certain way – and the idea that youth is beautiful but old is not. It’s the message that we’re sent from all corners. It’s also that idea of anyone can be with an older person, but if you can get some young, hot thing, that’s gonna make you feel good, and that too is something that’s sadly perpetuated.”
Such pervasive messages, Graye says, may be the reason so many people (like the character Jonathan) are fixated on trying to re-live their past and re-tap into the chances at love they had back in their earlier days.
“Regardless, though, I think it’s something that we have to keep talking about, because it’s obscene that in the gay world, 40 is tantamount to 70 or 80 or whatever,” he said. “It’s such a misguided pattern that we have to get rid of that kind of thinking!”
Watkins concludes: “I hope this film gains a groundswell. It’s a very intimate film, and I think it’s the kind of movie that you watch by yourself (because it’s also a very introspective one) or it’s a movie that you watch with the person you love, because it’s also a love story. My hope is that it gains a critical mass.”
“I hope it reaches a wide array of people,” he said. “I want it to affect people! I also want people outside the LGBT community to see it too and understand ‘this is beautiful — these are two people falling in love!’ It’s a very human story. I want that to be a message that’s put forward from the film, and now that it’s on V.O.D. and DVD, I think it’s really wonderful that we can be in people’s homes with that message.”
Constellations, starring Tuc Watkins is slated to run March 3-April 2 at the KC Rep’s Copaken Stage in Kansas City, Mo. For tickets and more information, go to kcrep.org/show/constellations or call 816-235-2700.