Friday, June 6, 2014

Jay Arnold's WHAT HAPPENS NEXT details -- and well -- the later-in-life "coming out" experience

In its quiet, easy-going and quite charming manner, writer/director/ producer Jay Arnold's film from 2011, WHAT HAPPENS NEXT, shows us a successful businessman, single and suddenly forced into retirement (don't worry: he's been bought out and so can live quite well) who now finds enough time on his hands to finally consider who he might be, sexually speaking, and discover in earnest his attraction to men. Now, this is a rom-com, gay version, so don't expect enormous depth and exploration. What makes What Happens Next more unusual than you'll first imagine is the relationship between the two men at the core of the movie. In it, the younger fellow -- who's long "out" and happy with his life -- must slowly lead his older paramour through the shoals of this new "learning experience" without moving too fast and frightening him off. This is something that gay movies almost never give us, and it turns out to be useful, funny, moving and quite, quite dear.

Mr. Arnold has cast his film with more of an eye toward quality and believability than the usual gay hunk quotient. This goes a long way in making his movie as much fun and moment-to-moment real that we sometimes get in gay-themed cinema. Jon Lindstrom (above, left) as Paul, the early-retirement businessman, and Chris Murrah (above, right, and at bottom, right) as Andy, the relatively young kid he meets dog-walking in the park, are both very fine actors with the kind of attentiveness to each other's performance that makes for scene after scene that rings truthful, funny and touching. As the relationship develops and we get to our first "bedroom" scene, instead of some would-be hot sex, we get a kiss that is so fraught and tender and amazing that it's all we need to make us melt in the hands of the filmmaking team and the actors.

As Paul's ever-controlling sister, Elise, Wendie Malick does her usual, and does it very well, and there are some nice supporting performances, too. But it is the relationship between Paul and Andy that is the heart of the movie: how it develops, why it is important for both men, and how Andy must lead Paul into a better understanding of himself -- all this is captured with a genuineness that is rare for the genre.

What Happens Next -- running 100 minutes -- is available now on Netflix streaming and elsewhere. It's worth a watch.

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