The last gasps of a romantic relationship between two very different men are intimately and delicately charted in the beautifully immersive, if decidedly somber, "Like You Mean It."
Writer, director and star Philipp Karner has crafted a deeply felt semi-autobiographical chamber piece whose tempo, sensibility and visual style evoke classic European art house dramas as well as such fine gay-themed character studies as Ira Sachs' "Keep the Lights On" and Andrew Haigh's "Weekend."
Karner plays Mark Miller, a struggling Los Angeles actor with a history of anxiety and depression, who's fallen out of love with his idyllic musician boyfriend, Jonah (Denver Milord). Over time, Mark has turned moody and remote, while Jonah has remained kind and upbeat. The attractive couple still hopes to recapture the magic of their early days together — embodied by flashbacks to a lovely seaside afternoon — but it's become an elusive goal.
This wisely circumspect film traffics in many small, telling moments: the touch of a hand, a strained response, the averted gaze. They all signal what we suspect will be Mark and Jonah's inevitable fate. Still, if Mark can get his meds right, if Jonah's warmth can trump Mark's chilliness, and if the advice of their gentle therapist (Hilary Ward) can kick in, maybe all's not lost.
Spot-on scenes of Mark's frustrating acting career, bits with a sexy ex-boyfriend (Andrew Dits) and an indicative subplot involving Mark's sister (Claudia Graf) and estranged father are effectively peppered in.
In its own economical, low-key way, this is a courageous film, fueled in particular by Karner's unapologetic portrayal of the prickly Mark. If his character is hardly a likable sort, there's such credible, recognizable pain and sadness to Karner's self-possessed turn, he keeps us invested. Milord's sweet, less-complicated Jonah proves an equally convincing counterpoint.
"Like You Mean It"
MPAA rating: None.
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.