Drift
Starring: R.T. Lee, Greyson Dane, Jonathon Roessler, Desi Del Valle, T. Jerram Young, and Sebastien Guy
Director:

Quentin Lee

Writing credits: Quentin Lee
Distributor: Margin Films
Rated: Not Rated
Official Site: Click Here
IMDB Page: Click Here
  (USA 2000 - National Release 2002)

The human impulse to find a relationship – intimate, romantic, platonic, sexual, adversarial, take your pick – gets a thorough working-over in Quentin Lee’s sparse but moving new drama DRIFT. Exposing the tender emotional underbelly of a gay love triangle through a series of what-if scenarios, this young screenwriter/director eloquently expresses the pain, longing, and joy of searching for Mr. Right.

His success is a bittersweet one, because DRIFT could have been even more astonishing. Certainly, it deserves attention as one of the first national releases to explore gay romance through a lead character of Asian descent. But the film’s overwrought dialogue, weak subplotting and flat secondary characters end up making DRIFT an enjoyable, but wildly uneven, experience.

The triangle in question revolves around Ryan (R.T. Lee), a struggling L.A. screenwriter/waiter whose three-year relationship with Joel (Greyson Dane) has left him emotionally unfulfilled. Seeking a more aesthetic and emotional connection to his partner, Ryan ends the relationship to pursue a young novelist, Leo (Jonathon Roessler).

It is here, at the crossroads between the end of an old love and the (possible) beginning of a new one, that DRIFT takes a dramatic turn: director Lee decides to explore a number of endings to its tale. In each, a different person in the triad makes different realizations about their feelings and needs…which, in turn, have serious repercussions for all involved. As the three men intertwine in various possible outcomes, they encounter a fourth man, a successful author (T. Jerram Young) and Ryan’s two straight friends, down-to-earth Carrie (Desi Del Valle) and hunky Matt (Sebastien Guy).

What one is left with at the end of DRIFT is a convoluted message: that love is important, certainly, but so is connection, trust, and communication, and no one seems sure of the right mix. No doubt viewers will respond to the film in ways that connect to their own romantic entanglements…er, I mean, relationships. What ending you prefer will probably reflect your own opinion on the matter.

DRIFT’s artistic strength is found in Lee’s piercing observations about the state of gay intimacy in America. At one point, Ryan’s older boss tells him that, in his day, he would have taken the young novelist to bed right away. As Ryan tells him, “That was the 1970’s,” and he could have been referring to the gay community en toto…that for gay men today, sex is important, but on more or less equal footing with concerns of fidelity, commitment, polyamory, monogamy – all in play in today’s complex dating world. DRIFT is a sexy, erotic commentary on the difficulties of love that doesn’t sacrifice its intelligence or its complexity.

Would that the same could be said of the dialogue, which often falls into repetitive rhythms and rehashed ideas. (If Ryan mentioned the word “visceral” one more time to describe his perfect relationship, this critic was going to scream.) It’s as if Lee, having written an interesting, provocative drama about love and sex, didn’t trust himself…and hammered home ideas and phrases that would have been more effective with a lighter touch.

R.T. Lee, a veteran of over twenty television shows and the recent Charles Busch flick Psycho Beach Party, brings an easy rhythm to the part of Ryan. At first, Lee seems unable to engage fully in Ryan’s emotional turmoil. But breaking up with Joel, however, brings the actor dazzlingly into focus, as a quietly weeping bedside scene becomes the film’s most elegant and poignant moment. Greyson Dane (best known for his recurring role on the soap Port Charles) brings a wealth of energies to his portrayal of Joel, alternately confused and angry, sad and amused. It is a charming performance, and the two actors exhibit a surprising amount of chemistry together.

Unfortunately, as the young man thrust between them, Jonathon Roessler is simply not up to the task. Whiny instead of winsome, self-absorbed instead of charismatic, his Leo is hardly the temptation he needs to be. Yes, Ryan and Leo share a love for horror films and darker pop culture -- but few people have ended three-year relationships over movie tastes. DRIFT hangs precariously on this weak plot point, and audiences must make a leap of faith that there must be more to Leo than we get to see on screen.

Similarly, Del Valle and Guy are wasted as mere sounding boards for Ryan’s trails and tribulations. It’s truly marvelous to see gay/straight friendships told onscreen with such clarity and truth, but the scenes seem quite one-sided; Carrie and Matt end up being bystanders who never truly interact with the central story. When Ryan asks Matt for a night’s distraction near the end of the film, their motivations and reactions ring loudly, incoherently, and irritatingly false.

DRIFT is shot Dogme-style on digital video, which adds a crisp, austere flavor. And that’s a good thing, because a tale this emotionally purple needs some grounding. Quentin Lee is clearly a filmmaker to watch, a bright new talent on the independent gay cinema circuit. But watching DRIFT, one can almost see the better, more focused film he will undoubtedly make in the future. It’s a moving, smart film, but one that holds potential to be even smarter, a resonant slice-of-life that could have been even more. See DRIFT, and while you’re watching it, imagine the great things Lee may do next. We’ll say we knew him when.

- Gabriel Shanks

Review text copyright © 2002 Gabriel Shanks and Cozzi fan Tutti. All rights reserved. Reproduction of text in whole or in part in any form or in any medium without express written permission of Cozzi fan Tutti or the author is prohibited.

 

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