Four Moons (Cuatro Lunas), the opening night selection of the 2014 Fort Lauderdale Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, plays like the LGBT crowdpleaser it was clearly intended to be: undemanding, tightly scripted, reassuringly tidy. It's all but guaranteed to send the cross-section of community bigwigs, trendy twinks and gray-haired retirees in the audience out of the auditorium with a smile on their face and an impetus to grab the nearest Audience Award ballot to give this Mexican ensemble piece a perfect score.
It's the movie this audience wants, but is it truly the movie it needs? I don't think so.
Like the title suggests, Four Moons tells four stories, all set in present-day Mexico City, that nevertheless hew closer to mid-1990s coming-out angst and relationship doldrums than a bonafide contemporary depiction of gay life in a major Latin American city. The movie's behind the times, from both storytelling and aesthetic perspectives.
Writer-director Sergio Tovar Valverde quickly and efficiently introduces us to his gallery of lovelorn characters. Fito (Cesar Ramos) and Leo (Gustavo Egelhaaf), childhood friends who lost touch with each other after Fito moved away, run into each other in college and reignite their friendship. Could the bond between the twentysomething men possibly run deeper? Meanwhile, sensitive schoolboy Mauricio (Gabriel Santoyo) invites his cousin over to play Street Fighter at home as he nurses an unrequited crush right under the nose of his compassionate mom and stern dad. On the opposite side of the age spectrum, married sixty-ish poet Joaquín Cobo (Alonso Echánove) frequents a local sauna to ogle the much younger rent boy (Alejandro Belmonte) who spurns his advances and sets an unreasonably high price for his services, presumably in order to deter the older man.
The only storyline that doesn't involve closeted people is the one that eventually emerges as the one with most potential. Thirtysomething couple Andrés (Alejandro de la Madrid) and Hugo (Antonio Velázquez) have been together for almost eight years, or so Hugo, a hunky Spaniard, tells their friends. “Ten years,” corrects Andrés, the kind of bourgeois gay guy whose DVR would be filled with Bravo reality shows if he lived in the States. Snippy, clingy and possessive, Andrés never misses an opportunity to bicker with his smoldering b/f, whether it's debating the merits of a movie they've just seen or defending the plethora of magnets on their fridge that, in Hugo's opinion, constitute an eyesore in their otherwise impeccably decorated apartment.
Andrés is unaware Hugo is banging a hot piece of ass called Sebastián (Hugo Catalán) – actually, it's the other way around – and the much younger boy toy is demanding Hugo dump Mr. High Maintenance, already. The scene where Andrés begs his longtime boyfriend not to leave him is emblematic of what Tovar Valverde deems as compelling drama: shrill and over the top. There's more of that where that came from.
Through a contrived set of circumstances, Fito and Leo wind up squeezed together in the latter's small bed. As sunlight streams in the bedroom, Fito carefully makes his move, and is delighted to discover in Leo a willing participant. The scene is tender and sensual, as the two former childhood buddies strike a spark of romance in each other's arms. The clichéd series of events that follow, however, send Four Moons in an increasingly issue-driven direction, whether it's Fito attempting to have “the talk” with her conservative, widowed mom or Leo denying he and Fito are a couple to a mutual friend.
Tovar Valverde fares slightly better in the remaining two storylines, though it's pretty evident these are comparably minor compared to the other narrative strands. Mauricio finally gets his cousin right where he wants him, but following a deftly handled scene of very tentative experimentation, the filmmaker takes the afterschool-special route, which settles everything too neatly between Mauricio and his parents.
Mr. Cobo and his object of desire also reach an improbably sweet, but nevertheless pleasurable, understanding of sorts that feels like the ultimate wish fulfillment fantasy for closeted daddies of a certain age. This resolution, however, isn't nearly as embarrassing as the way Andrés' refrigerator magnets come into play near the end of the film. Tovar Valverde aims for pathos, but winds up with unintentionally hilarious silliness instead.
Which is not to say Cuatro Lunas isn't an adequate gala title. The problem with this drippy drama is that it's too adequate. It plays out its outdated scenarios in straightfoward fashion without asking much of the audience. As such, it will have its desired effect and will proceed to vanish from memory once it's achieved its purpose. It won't even take four moons for that to happen.
Tovar Valverde earns points for not skimping on the nudity, which features some full-frontal shots. (With the abundance of round derrières on display, the generous flashes of skin suggest he has an acute butt fetish, always a plus in my book.) It's in the way he's devised his characters, their curious lack of an inner life, where the filmmaker stumbles. Four Moons is consistently watchable, but just as thoroughly disposable. And I think a gala ought to be a lot more than that. Don't you?
Cuatro Lunas screens Friday, Oct. 10 as part of the 2014 Fort Lauderdale Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, which runs Oct. 10-12 and 16-19 at various venues, including the Classic Gateway Theater. For tickets and information go to flglff.com.