Candid Love is a surprisingly fascinating and unusual documentary. It throws you right into the middle of a relationship between two men that’s in crisis. Daniel’s father has died and he’s travelled to his home state of Wisconsin to organise the funeral. However we don’t actually meet him properly until he returns, instead being introduced to Jon, who’s still in Texas, and doing his best to provide support.
However we very quickly come to realise that ‘doing their best’ for these men isn’t necessarily the same thing as succeeding. They are both damaged; balancing mental health issues, drug use and addiction, as well as pasts that neither have completely left behind. Even their sexuality isn’t simple, as while Daniel identifies as gay, his greatest love was a woman and it’s clear he still hasn’t completely gotten over the end of that relationship. There is an uneasy air sometimes with Candid Love where it’s difficult not to think about how much their sexuality plays into the cause and effect of the issues they face and how much it stands to one side.
They have broken up on several occasions but have ended up back together – they seem to love one another, but they also argue terribly (including nasty physical altercations that we hear about) while taking out their frustrations on one another, and it’s sometimes difficult to know whether they are clinging to one another in a desperate search for stability that those who don’t share their problems probably wouldn’t have the fortitude to deal with.
There’s something incredibly uneasy about Candid Love. Jon and Daniel are an unusual subject for a documentary, and it’s initially somewhat difficult to understand why we’re watching their lives – that’s not to say it isn’t interesting, it’s just that we’re viewing something incredibly personal and private. In fact there’s a genuinely fascinating moment when after being behind the camera for the vast majority of the film, director Kurtz Frausun suddenly pops up on-screen to say he’s having similar qualms, and is worried that he’s essentially exploiting these people and that their humanity will get lost amongst what could uncharitably be seen as the car wreck of their lives.
Before that moment I had been considering the role of the filmmaker, simply because it’s difficult not to wonder if, like so many other things in their lives, Jon and Daniel agreeing to be in the film is a somewhat misguided cry for help. Fraunsun also seems to wonder that and whether by remaining an impartial observer he is complicit in their pain.
However there is definite value in what he’s doing, which is reminding us that these are real people and not just a series of problems and issues. It’s easy for us to sit outside their lives and judge. For example, you can look at Jon and Daniel’s relationship and without context it seems utterly toxic. Indeed they themselves are the sort of people many of us probably wouldn’t have much time for, judging them on the surface rather than looking underneath.
Candid Love does a great job of putting these men’s lives in perspective, expressing their humanity and that their issues are complex, and that what may seem toxic on the surface also offers connection and succour (at times) for two people who often seem adrift in life, desperately hoping for an anchor. As with many of the other people in their lives, they seem to offer as many problems for one another as solutions. However the sad thing is that the more context there is, the more difficult it is to see their way forward.
If they do split up, it’s certainly not the end to their problems. Indeed, they would be fortunate to find new partners who have the patience, resources and understanding to really help them. However if they stay together it’s difficult to imagine them finding sustained happiness, unless there’s some sort of massive outside intervention that helps both of them on a physical and mental level.
As a viewer you’re left in a quandary as there are no easy answers and these are immensely complex problems these men are dealing with. They’re doing it largely with only one another for help, while neither is really equipped to handle the other’s problems. But who would? What I think sums it up is that no matter how noxious their relationship might seem to those of us who don’t share their issues, there’s a distinct possibility that without it, Daniel may have killed himself.
There’s a sense by the end pf the documentary of feeling powerless in the face of issues and problems that don’t have easy answers. Some may feel Candid Love is pointless and that we are essentially prying into these people’s lives for no good reason – but that almost is the reason, that this is the type of story that goes on behind closed doors and which no one wants to face or understand, because it’s difficult and painful and there are no easy answers. It’s about people it’s easy to dismiss or view as if they were a soap opera instead of human beings. It is uneasy though, and even at the end it’s difficult to say whether Jon and Daniel are better off together or not.
Overall Verdict: An unusual and surprisingly challenging documentary which thrusts you into a situation that’s not uncommon but which is easy to dismiss or judge, but shows that underneath the complex issues of things such as mental health and addiction are real people looking for love and happiness.
You can watch the entire documentary below
Reviewer: Tim Isaac