South America has emerged as a bit of a powerhouse when it comes to LGBT cinema in the past couple of years, and that continues with the Argentinian Jess & James.
James is a young man fed up with living with his demanding mother. He meets the extremely hot Jess and they immediately have a sexual encounter. The next day James impulsively decides to go and find James and invite him on a roadtrip. Despite Jess being in bed with a woman, he agrees to go, and the duo head off into the countryside.
Along the way they meet Tomas, who seems interested in both of them. They also unexpectedly find work and a roof over their head from a woman who asks them surprisingly few questions. Neither of the men seems entirely sure what they’re doing, with James seemingly in need of love and affection, and Jess confused about his life and whether he can live up to what his family want from him. James is also continually asking Jess whether he likes him, but is it really Jess he needs the answer from, or is he really asking himself?
Jess & James is a movie that’s undoubtedly sexy, but also a little oblique so it’s not always easy to understand what it’s trying to get at. For about the first half hour in particular it seems pretty random, as if it’s trying to say something but being far too mysterious for anyone to fathom what that might be. As it goes on it starts to reveal itself a bit more, as you begin to understand the pressures and needs of the two men. Even so, there’s a sense of it being something that sketches out an impression of reality, rather than feeling like reality itself. It is deliberate though, as the characters hint towards the whole thing being a mix between reality and a dream, as the two men wander through their journey, looking for something to cling onto.
However, where it really succeeds is with its air of sexual tension. Right from the start, with an extended sex scene between the two men, the film ratchets up the sexual atmosphere. Indeed, one of the more distinctive things about the movie is how it films the men, lingering on their groins and torsos in a rather voyeuristic fashion, so that the erotic is only just under the surface of whatever is going on.
There’s also a rather odd but very hot scene where Jess and James dance with Tomas while they’re wearing only tiny swimming trunks. It is exceedingly sexy, largely due to the way it’s filmed and choreographed.
The result is a movie where there’s a good chance it’ll leave you feeling horny (that said, it’s not particularly explicit, if that’s what you’re looking for), while being a tiny bit confused about what you’re meant to make of the rest of it. Jess & James has a lot of ideas that probably made complete sense to the makers but which aren’t quite so clear to the average viewer.
There are plenty of interesting things though, such as ideas about whether there’s a tendency for gay men to look for other guys who are similar to themselves as a way to get a sort of mirroring self-affirmation. It’s also interested in the attraction between the two men and why they stay together – is there genuine attraction, or do they recognise in one another someone leading a directionless life who’s in need of escape? However, there are times when it’s a little too oblique for its own good, leaving things deliberately unexplained, which will work for some but will frustrate others.
Overall Verdict: A very sexy movie that’s intriguing to watch, even if it is a little confusing as times. However, Jess & James is worth sticking with as once it begins to open up it shows that it does have more to offer.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac