Those People ***
Starring: Jonathan Gordon, Jason Ralph, Haaz Sleiman
Director: Joey Kuhn
Hands up if you’ve watched Gossip Girl? If so, then you’ll definitely be familiar with exposés of how the other half live (the eponymous ‘those people’ of the title), who despite their priveledge, experience the same trials and angst as the rest of us. Except in a prettier way. And in better clothes.
Charlie (Gordon) is a young artist who has been harbouring a not-so-secret crush on his best friend, Sebastian (Ralph), who knows this and does little to discourage him. When Sebastian’s father is sent to prison for fraud, Charlie is invited to move into their lofty Upper East Side home to look after his best friend, after which he is taken more and more for granted, with Sebastian exploiting the feelings Charlie has for him. But when Charlie meets Tim (Sleiman), a charming and charismatic musician, he is forced to choose between his childhood crush and the man of his dreams, with explosive results.
The parallels between Sebastian of Those People and Sebastian of Cruel Intentions (another Lower Manhattan exposé) is presumably of no coincidence. A rich exploitative playboy, he abuses his magnetism with everyone around him, who comprehend his manipulation but are taken in with it, regardless. Ralph plays this role with panache, revelling in the limelight with exquisite smarm. Gordon, meanwhile, is doe-eyed and devoted, following his hero with wet fervour. It’s easy to get frustrated with Charlie, but who hasn’t been on the wrong side of unrequited love before? Though he does, of course, take it far too far.
The problem with Those People is that, compelling as the love triangle is, it’s a story we’ve seen a hundred times before. Casting it among gay people in the Upper East Side is clearly intended to set itself apart from similar stories, but the situation isn’t explored enough to justify its otherwise clichéd story. Sebastian’s father’s imprisonment is briefly explored (hello, Nate Archibald), but looking at the corrupting effects of money isn’t the film’s primary concern… so what could have been its richest asset has become an overlooked footnote. Similarly, the glamour the female characters could have afforded has been seemingly overlooked, where there could have been plenty of space to give the ‘it girls’ a moment in the limelight. But, apparently, that’s not what we watched Gossip Girl for… except it really was. It doesn’t help, also, that Charlie looks remarkably like Eric van der Woodsen, Gossip Girl’s only gay character. Incidentally, Eric was just as doleful as Charlie is, too.
As a result, Those People has ended up a poor Brideshead Revisited… in which, also, SEBASTIAN does not return the love of CHARLES. Coincidence? Hardly. The references to the machinations of the glitterati of higher literature is clearly intended to enrich the film, but instead sets up comparisons against which it falls short. It’s hardly a “gay Great Gatsby”. And yes, I am referring to Gossip Girl as “higher literature” here. Those People is an engaging 90 minutes, but falls short of making anywhere near the same kind of impact as the aforementioned companion pieces.
Available on Netflix.