youthful and mid-life angst
by Douglas Messerli
Garth Maxwell, Rex Pilgrim, and Peter Wells (screenplay), Garth Maxwell (director) When Love Comes / 1998
New Zealand director Garth Maxwell, working with the noted Kiwi director Stewart Main as his assistant, creates in When Loves Comes (1998) a film about three pairs of lost lovers, younger and older, gay, lesbian, and heterosexual who all seem displaced in their lives and, particularly for the figures of a slightly older generation, in danger of losing the somewhat enchanted lives they had thought they had created for themselves.
That is particularly true for the most sane and symbolic magnet, Stephen (Simon Prast) of these somewhat lost souls—it is in his apartment and later seaside home that they all gather to regain their sanity after facing the chaos of the mostly music-and-bar scenes in which they daily participate—a man who, despite his own aging and increasing despair for losing what he has thought to be a rather magical life, now sardonically and sometimes rather campily copes with a failing relationship with a young hunky, curly blond-haired lover, Mark (Dean O'Gorman) who evidently began as Stephen’s paid prostitute, now plagued with heaving drinking, doping, lack of purpose, and a violent streak due to self-hate.
Stephen might almost be seen as coping
rather well despite all those problems were it not that his very best friend
and a might-have-been-lover—if “only he hadn’t been gay and she of the wrong
gender”— Katie Keen (Rena Owen), who facing the dead-end of her singing career
and the failure of her own relationship with her US manager Eddie (Simon
Westaway) has decided to leave California to return home to Auckland. If
Stephen has seemingly lived a gifted life, Katie, as he attempts to explain to
his generational illiterate friend Mark, reached the heights as a noted, top-of-the-chart
pop singer both in New Zealand and temporarily in the US, but is now playing
the kind of longue bars where, as she puts it, she performs as a figure who has
lost her voice to a body that makes her appear to be a kind of drag queen. She’s
not only sad and disappointed with life,
Indeed, if the movie had provided what Katie and Stephen were seeking, a good quiet weekend at the beach, they might have brought things a bit more quickly under control; but then Maxwell’s whole point is that the only way to really solve your problem is get everyone, young and old, together for a kind of old fashioned beach bonfire around which everyone, including Katie’s ex-lover Eddie who flies in from California to tell Katie how much he loves her, gets a chance to play out their own melodramatic fears before taking a chance on love.
If we feel somewhat cheated by all the tears and fireworks we had to suffer through for what was apparently only a little of youthful and mid-life angst, we forgive the film’s creators simply because of the beautiful views of the New Zealand seashore and sunset and the actors’ fairly good performances. But we still wish, given so much potentiality, that the film had provided us the more of what it seemingly argued for: a truly adult film, with both younger and older viewpoints, which might have awarded us with deeper insights and far less simplistic solutions if it had only gone with its instincts of taking the wrong direction more often, bringing us into the finer mess it promised.
Los Angeles, October 13, 2021
Reprinted from World Cinema Review (October 2021).