putting out the fire
by Douglas Messerli
by Douglas Messerli
Lane Janger and Jennifer Vandever (screenplay, based on a story by Lane Janger), Lane Janger (director) Just One Time / 1999
There’s something you immediately want to like about Lane Janger’s supposed romance, Just One Time, particularly if you’ve previously viewed the short I review above. Admittedly, as I’ve recalled in a footnote to the above review, Janger worked for me for a semester, and I liked him very much—although at the time I didn’t know he was gay or would soon be involved with actor David Burtka, a relationship that lasted from 1994 to 2004. Ten years is quite a long time for movie and theater couples.
Beyond my personal feelings, however, Janger, with his handsome physique and rather appealing smile is simply someone you want to like and trust. Even Victor (Guillermo Díaz), suggests to Anthony’s (Janger) fiancée Amy (Joelle Carter) that she stick out her relationship with him simply because he’s “hot.” And, apparently, they love one another.
Yet that’s the problem with this film. It’s truly difficult to perceive what the hard-working law clerk Amy really sees in the zealously religious, culturally unaware Italian-American fireman—or, for that matter, what he sees in her. Amy is certainly attractive in a kind a waspy, high-spirited way; luckily she has been raised—or, at least, left alone to her own devices—by her hippie-like, open-minded parents. Evidently both Amy and Anthony are highly romantic in the way that Sam Baldwin and Annie Reed (Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan) were in Sleepless in Seattle (1993). Only this couple has met on a bench by the local basketball playground instead on the top of the Empire State, which pretty much represents the height of their marital aspirations.
Amy instead tries to force him into perceiving just how demeaning his demand is, by insisting he stand for a moment in her shoes, and live out her “pretended” fantasy, for him to have sex with another man. Any reasonable heterosexual male bigot might have put on the breaks right then, folding his silly fantasy back into the whack-off books for when his wife is out of town.
A truly perceptive and curious man might have even gone through with her threat, knowing that a jack-off with a good-looking guy or, if necessary, even with closed eyes, might be worth checking out. But not this village idiot, who with his fireman friend Dom’s help, is convinced that if he “pretends” to go through with the deal it might satisfy her enough to permit him is last gasp of a teenage jack-off dream.
In an attempt to stall any actual sexual breach of his male normalcy, Anthony agrees, again upon his friend Dom’s (David Lee Russek) advice to go on a date with his newly-assigned sex mate to a gay bar. So terrified is Anthony of his trip to his local queer “funhouse” that he insists that his best friends accompany him.
What we realize in this outing—you’d think they were traveling down the Congo river instead stopping off into a local hangout—is that the seemingly affable Anthony is a true homophobe at heart, while his supposedly queer-baiting buddies have a great time dancing it up, ready return for a free visit on “wear a wig” night. When Victor, saying goodnight, says that the event was the most fun he’s ever had, we want to cry instead of snicker.
It seems even a bit more bizarre, accordingly, to imagine a gay man actually taking on the role of a homophobe, or at least a man who can’t even abide the notion of actually participating in gay sex? If nothing else, it perhaps explains the discomfort with which Janger plays this role, his frowning fearfulness literally sucking out any of the fun that the comedy might offer.
In her search into lesbian sexuality, Amy is a bit more successful, actually forming a kind of attachment to the woman, Michelle (Jennifer Esposito), with whom, if it becomes necessary, she has reluctantly chosen to have sex. Unlike Anthony, who leaves poor Victor to speak to his friend Dom, Amy actually gets to know her potential sexual partner, and even to like her, finally entering into the new friendship enough that one might describe her as actually exploring her own sexuality, and certainly wondering in the process whether she has chosen well in a life-time companion who is seemingly determined to carry out his infantile delusion.
At this point it simply becomes too difficult to care much about what the writer-director-actor might have to say to us. Suddenly Anthony’s hairy pecs and sharp jaw line no longer are enough.
By the end, without Anthony truly comprehending the significance of the facts, he discovers that he has slept the night with Victor in bed—an important event for a homophobe even if no sex was involved—and that his best friend from six years of age is not only gay, but when watching porno tapes with him as kids, really did have sex with him. He’s even, just once, dressed in drag.
Victor gets the handsome Dom as his real bedmate, and Amy inevitably forgives Anthony hoping to shut out any future fantasies with the reality of her love. But the fact that they make their reconciliation in the same small park where they first met, suggests that they haven’t gotten very far. And we have to wonder, given the new worlds she has explored will a man who seemingly has still not assimilated reality be enough for so far many times than just “once?”
Los Angeles, January 12, 2021
Reprinted from My Queer Cinema blog and World Cinema Review (January 2021).