As the storm rages all around us, it helps to remember how far we have come.
Back in 1998, a young filmmaker named Tim Kirkman made a movie called Dear Jesse, a documentary in the style of an open letter to legendary Senator Jesse Helms. In it, Tim, an openly gay man, compares and contrasts himself to Jesse, who famously opposed gay rights. The film debuted on HBO, and Tim was nominated for an Emmy.
At the time, same-sex marriage was illegal in all 50 states. Two-thirds of Americans opposed legalizing it. LGBT discrimination was legal in the workplace in most states. Anti-LGBT violence did not qualify as a federal hate crime.
All of those things have changed, and so has Tim.
His new film, Lazy Eye, premieres today on video-on-demand after a long successful run on the festival circuit. Gone is the “sense of urgency” that compelled Tim to make his first movie. In its place is “a different sense,” he says, a sense of reflection, appreciation, one might even say humility.
Lazy Eye is the story of two former lovers, Dean and Alex, who reunite twenty years later in a spontaneous weekend getaway to reconsider the divergent paths that life has taken them down. Along the way, they reminisce, they philosophize, they argue, and they come to understand who they each have become and why. “Lazy Eye catches how the rhythms of love interact — sometimes awkwardly, sometimes impossibly — with the rhythms of growing up,” says Owen Gleiberman, the chief film critic at Variety. In their growth, we can see our own and, from the outside looking in, how it transformed us in unexpected and unnoticed ways. Lazy Eye is a consummate self-examination for our soul — and a mercifully forgiving one at that.
Tim didn’t plan for it to happen this way. “I backed into cinema,” he says, after trying acting and writing and politics and a host of other things, and finding, in the end, that cinema encompassed them all, and since he was good but not great at them all, why not find people who were great at each of them and get them together and make a movie?
That’s what a leader does, and it’s worth noting that Tim does it very well. I didn’t need to see the script to know that I wanted to be an associate producer of Lazy Eye. I made the decision the moment I heard Tim’s pitch. This was the successor to Dear Jesse that we’d all been waiting for, even if he didn’t think of it that way. The world had evolved so much in eighteen years, and Tim was marking the path for us. Here’s how far we’ve come, he was saying. Here’s how far I’ve come.
There are two things that strike you when you read the script for Lazy Eye. The first is how rich and passionate the love is. The romance is so honest, so human, that you never think to put the word gay in front of it. It’s universal and personal all at the same time. That’s something that never could have happened in Dear Jesse.
The second thing that happens is that Tim Kirkman’s words absorb you. They wrap you up in their safe, sassy, poetic thrum. “Lazy Eye makes you realize how rare it is to see a movie, even an indie movie, that gives you the privilege of listening to authentically smart conversation,” writes Gleiberman. “The understated flow of talk makes us feel like we’re eavesdropping.” If you want to get away from it all, at least for a couple hours, Dean and Alex are just the companions for you.
It’s ironic that Lazy Eye is a story about the passage of time because the conversation between Dean and Alex feels timeless. Whereas Dear Jesse confronted the contradictions of its time, Lazy Eye summons the persistent feelings that pervade all human experience.
“Film has a preservation that theater doesn’t have,” Tim told me. “People say it looks dated, but I don’t care because it’s a document. It won’t change. The only thing that will change is how we look at it.”
Future generations will surely look back on Dear Jesse as a different world, offensive to their sense of equity and decency. The triumph of Lazy Eye is that it speaks to this future audience in a language they will find more familiar — one where love is love and gay is beautiful.
We’re not there yet. The future is still an unrealized dream. The political storm that swirls above our heads today is a threat, but not an impasse. In the end, Lazy Eye teaches us the value of our dreams. They may not give us a resolution, but they do motivate us to act — and if the past is any indication, our actions move history.