Tuesday, October 16, 2012

You Are Here: "Strapped" (2010)

A young hustler wanders around a seedy apartment building looking for the exit, and meets his share of different tenants in the gayest building on the gayest street in town. Joseph Graham crafts a first-rate character study from this simple pitch of an idea.

The unnamed hustler (Ben Bonenfant) has just bedded John (Artem Mishin). We never see the hustler arrive at the building, or how he met John, since the entire film takes place within the apartment building's walls. John is not very experienced, and the hustler (who calls himself 'Alex,' just like the first man John fell in love with) is tender with the nervous man. The hustler leaves, but cannot seem to find the way out of the building. He is then recognized as 'Eddy' by Leon (Carlo D'Amore), a loud homosexual who has a small cocaine party going in his apartment. There, the hustler plays up his role as a go-go boy, dancing for the group of men, which includes a shy Gary (Nick Frangione).

The hustler continues his search for the exit, later meeting a self-loathing young father (Michael Klinger), and an older lonely gay man named Sam (Paul Gerrior, in an outstanding supporting turn). Of course, the hustler's search for the exit to the building is metaphorical, as is his ability to become whatever his clients want him to be, as long as he gets paid when all is said and done.

What Joseph Graham has done here is astonishing in its complexity concerning its central character. Gay hustlers have been portrayed before, but I really came to care for this one. Graham's script doesn't play off your sympathies, but more the viewers' curiosity about this handsome young man who must resort to this kind of life for cash. The hustler is able to change his name and the way he carries himself based solely on what he thinks his johns want. He tells Sam he does not have any "regulars," preferring the adventure of anonymous sex with different people. Don't look for a "Twilight Zone"-type payoff as the young man finally sees his way out, the film isn't really about that. We watch a person who controls every situation he is in by changing the way others see him suddenly get the tables turned on him (but not in a malicious way).

Ben Bonenfant is fantastic. He comes from a theater background, and his experience shows. While he is able to adapt to each different circumstance, Bonenfant does not overplay each role. He finds the perfect balance, staying part hustler and part tender lover/go-go boy/etc. The rest of the male cast is great (there are just a couple of silent female roles). D'Amore's Leon is flamboyant and obnoxious on the surface, but becomes sadder the more we watch him. Paul Gerrior's scene with Bonenfant is wonderful and expertly done. The rest of the cast never hit a false mark or line.

Graham's apartment set is dingy and wonderful. His choice of songs and music heighten the emotion without calling attention to itself. The editing is superb, and his direction is great. His script is rich with small details about both the hustler and the building's tenants, a second viewing might be in order to take even more of it in.

"Strapped" is an emotional journey through both an apartment complex and a young man's self-realization. It is mentally demanding, occasionally sad, and really something to treasure. This is one of my favorite films of the year. (* * * * *) out of five stars.