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DVD Review: Testosterone

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I loved so many things about David Moreton’s Testosterone that it’s hard to know where to begin: I was thrilled to see a movie called Testosterone in which heterosexuality was marginalized and machismo was not claimed as the exclusive domain of male breeders; in which the hero — graphic novelist Dean Seagraves (David Sutcliffe) — was an angry, unapologetic, passionate, deranged queer boy going full steam ahead to get resolution (or at least answers) from his boyfriend, Pablo, who disappears one night after leaving to buy cigarettes.

I loved that Dean doesn’t (pardon the expression) pussyfoot around, that when he unexpectedly spots Pablo’s mother (Sonia Braga) at an art exhibition he doesn’t hesitate to confront her. I loved that all the gay men in the film were assertive, ravishing and indiscreet. How often have we all seen movies built around straight men who would stop at nothing to reclaim their lost female loves?

Don’t get me wrong on this next one, but Testosterone defends the right of queer men to be pricks as big as our straight brothers. It celebrates our raging male libido. In fact, it trivializes and lionizes it at the same time. Sofia (Celina Font), who helps Dean along the way in this film that is equal parts, mystery, melodrama and black satire, has the best line: “I try never to get between a man and his penis.” Or words to that effect.

Let’s see – what else? I loved the tone. Dean rages and rushes and stalks about on his quest while the retro-jazzy, musical score undercuts it, suggesting that poor Dean might be taking all this just a little too seriously. This of course is the epiphany that all of us, driven mad by love, must embrace, usually later than sooner. I loved the dialogue. Marcos, an exquisitely cute guy Dean meets along the way asks if he can share the bed with him. Dean replies: “No, see, I’ve got a full day of stalking ahead of me tomorrow…” The script is peppered with rough, wry, multi-layered exchanges that are intelligent and poignant.

I loved the imagery: Dean using a stray dog he’s befriended as a pillow when he sleeps in a graveyard, Dean defiantly eating wedding cake as Pablo’s new bride antagonizes him (never has a bride seemed more extraneous at her own wedding), Dean undressing Marcos while making out and talking suggestively about bad Catholic school boys, Pablo (Antonio Sabato, Jr.) baiting Dean in a way that call his motives into serious question.

I loved the women. None of the female characters — Pablo’s mother, Sofia, or Dean’s agent (played by Jennifer Coolidge) — are what you would call “nurturers.” They are tough, sardonic, articulate and direct; they neither romanticize nor weaken women. In fact, they’re often scary and vindictive. Sonia Braga is steely and merciless. Celina Font is kind but never naive. Jennifer Coolidge (most recently seen in A Cinderella Story, A Mighty Wind and television’s Joey) has lost all trace of her ditsy, hare-brained shtick. She’s still got that whiskey-voice, though, and when she bitches that she had to “lick that guy’s ass for two hours” to cover for Dean, she’s completely believable.

I loved the surprises too, many of which I hope I haven’t revealed. Suffice it to say that our expectations and assumptions are often confounded. Our feelings about previous events change as the plot evolves and we consider them in retrospect.

I loved the ironies: Dean Seagraves is a graphic novelist, an art form many are unable to distinguish from comic books. In a way Testosterone is an homage to comic book romance and heroism, but not in the visual sense; say like in Spiderman 2 or Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. It’s more about the bizarre (yet somehow valid) attempt on Dean’s part to salvage his spirit using comic book ideology. He sees his personal romantic struggle in grotesquely disproportionate terms, as do many of us.

Throughout the film, the other characters tell him to wake up, to go home, he’s wasting his time. And it’s not just because he won’t face the excruciating truth, but the added taboo that he’s a man chasing another man. In Mike Nichols’ recent film, Closer (adapted from the Patrick Marber play) he suggests that male/female sexuality is tactically motivated by men’s contempt for each other.

Dean’s queer obsession (unwise as it may be) is expressed as fulfillment of his manhood, rather than a subversion of it. And his insane, psychopathic behavior is ultimately vindicated. Testosterone shows us both sides of the coin, shows us the truth of leading with our dicks – the glory as well as the stupidity. It’s smart, erotic, wrenching, and funny. Maybe unforgettable.

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About Christopher Soden