TW: Suicide

Lonesome combines just about every possible LGTBQIA+ character trope into a tight, 90-minute erotic drama package. A gay cowboy named Casey (Josh Lavery) is exiled from his small town in rural Australia after causing a local scandal. Rather than commit suicide, Casey decides he needs to see the ocean just one time. So he travels to Sydney, where he’s quickly swept up in a gay culture he was never exposed to during his younger years. Casey arrives with few friends and even fewer prospects but quickly meets Tib (Daniel Gabriel), a promiscuous young man with whom he strikes up a complicated friendship. Life is hard, though, and Casey experiences ups and downs on his road to self-forgiveness and acceptance.

Casey’s self-pity is all-encompassing, and his only solution to fill the void is to fuck. And fuck he does. What sets Lonesome apart from other stories of its ilk isn’t the quality of its writing (which is lacking) or its technical technique (which is frankly pretty skillful). It’s the sheer amount of worship at play for its hero’s body and the bodies of the men with whom he’s paired. Of course, plenty of erotic films tread the line but oftentimes feel like they offer something beyond a thin emotional plot as an excuse for artistic depictions of sex. That’s not quite the case here. The sheer level of graphic sex and nudity is almost comical when taking the subject matter into account. A scene with Casey attempting suicide is bookended by sex scenes that feel more lovingly shot than the suicide attempt itself. It’s clear where the focus was. To account for all uses of the male anatomy, there’s also a graphic shot of Casey urinating in the morning.

I mention the writing because it’s frankly unimpressive on both a plot and dialogue level. The story is as standard as it gets, and the reveals feel like foregone conclusions for anyone who has seen a movie about tragic gay men making their way in a big city. Why was Casey fleeing his farming town? Hazard a guess. While hanging out with Tib and making stew, we get a pun about cumin. Frequently the dialogue becomes purely expository, and Lavery isn’t quite good enough as Casey to make it work. The most frustrating story beat, however, comes towards the end. For a film that is very sex-positive (and makes an admirable attempt at showing responsible use of PrEP), it takes a turn into depicting BDSM in a stereotypically foreboding and manipulative cultural context.

That being said: For all of his wide swings between lavishly shot sex and depressing melodrama, writer-director Craig Boreham has still produced a beautifully shot and elegantly simple erotic drama. Although Lavery’s dialog delivery is wooden, he’s pretty adept at the silent brooding side of the equation. Lonesome becomes shockingly sad towards the end as Casey hits rock bottom, and although Boreham leans on certain stereotypes to make it happen, a fantastic late-game appearance by former rugby player Ian Roberts as a manipulative dom is emotionally stomach-churning. For an audience tired of sexless depictions of sad gay men struggling through difficult relationships and self-hatred, well … Lonesome isn’t really a more positive version of the story, but it’s certainly not a sexless one and maybe that’s enough sometimes.