Banned from Sydney’s Mardi Gras Film Festival due to its graphic real sex and ardently defended by friend-of-director James Franco, Travis Mathews’ I Want Your Love (2012) has traversed a treacherous path on its way into UK cinemas. A classic ‘point-in-time’ tale of middle-class frustration, Mathews’ debut is an intriguing – if incredibly flawed – examination of contemporary gay culture. After a decade of trying to make it as a performance artist in San Francisco, Jesse (Jesse Metzger) has decided to move back to his Ohio roots, due largely to a recent break up and the fact he can no longer afford to live in the city.
Jesse’s flatmate (who has numerous relationship issues of his own) is organising a mammoth party to celebrate his final night. However, with Jesse clearly hesitant about the big move, this debauched shindig seems to only exacerbate our protagonist’s apprehensive feelings about leaving his beloved San Fran. Thankfully, Jesse has the support of fellow artist and neighbour Keith (Keith McDonald) to talk him through the myriad of confusing emotions he’s currently experiencing. Similar in ways to Andrew Haigh’s groundbreaking British offering Weekend (2011), Mathews’ I Want Your Love uses a small, focused timespan and a relatively minuscule cast to explore aspects of modern gay identity.
Whilst Haigh’s genuinely touching romance was a love story that just so happened to be shared by two men, Mathews’ feature debut rarely touches upon anything other than promiscuity in an incredibly unromantic fashion. There is some heart and soul on offer, with Jesse’s tale an initially intriguing rendering of a tortured artist afraid. However, through its graphic, uncompromising exploration of love through sex, this admirable experiment in realism becomes far too detached to resonate in its intended manner. Funded by a porn studio and overindulgent, I Want Your Love’s dedication to realism ultimately feels like a disingenuous ‘up yours’ to censorship.
Despite its preference for using sex to express the relationships of these young men, there’s no debate as to whether Mathews’ film is actually porn masquerading as arthouse cinema, with the on-screen relations far too honest and unflattering to ever be considered titillating or erotic. In fact, after a while, this onslaught of sweaty fumbling overwhelms the narrative and quickly becomes just plain boring. Sadly, I Want Your Love’s obsession with sex and pushing cosmetic boundaries ends up undermining its once-emotional core.