Saturday, March 18, 2023

Jerell Rosales | Please Hold

hang up

by Douglas Messerli


Jerell Rosales (screenwriter and director) Please Hold / 2016 [15 minutes]


A young Asian-American man, Danny (Mike Ball), not terribly handsome and perhaps just a little overweight, hasn’t a very good image of himself and has sex primarily with older adults who meet him at out-of-the-way parking lots to fuck him in the back of his car. In the sexual meeting we observe, the stranger gets up immediately after he comes and will not even give his name. Needless to say, Danny’s sexual life is not very fulfilling.

     He discovers that the condom the man has used has broken in him. And, after not feeling well for a couple of days, he’s fearful that he might have contracted AIDS and visits a doctor for a test. All of this is all too believable, and sad, the plight of so many men of all ages who for one reason or another don’t dare visit bars or hang-out at sites such as Grindr or other photo-based services, who instead make dates for quickies through other services on the internet and in gay newsletters. 

     This time for Danny it feels different, as if he really has contracted AIDS, and he is angry at the world and mostly at himself for the way things are in his lonely life. What isn’t quite believable follows, and makes for good drama, perhaps, simply because it allows the character to speak at far more length that in most short films. Yet, in that process it allows the film to become a not terribly scintillating monologue that leaves realism behind without managing to become a fascinating fantasy.


     In Jerell Rosales’ work Danny calls up a condom manufacturer, spending hours attempting to speak to a real human being, and winds up talking, so it seems, mostly to himself while he waits to be connected with a man who can better handle his problems than the original spokesman, Logan (Ben Warner, whom we never see) who tells him the obvious: “We clearly state that our condoms don’t prevent sexually transmitted diseases or….” Danny interrupts him to say that he feels, in waiting for the test results, that he is observing his life roll out before just as we are told that happens just before a car crash.

    Accordingly, we are forced to listen to Danny’s confession, becoming his witness, which puts us in the position, unknowingly, of the company clerk who without Danny realizing it also listens in to his personal history. In short, we are asked by the director to serve as a surrogate company spokesman without even the ability to truly communicate to the fictional customer. The service we provide depends solely on how each of us feels about the script and empathizes with the lost gay boy who tells us his life-story—certainly a chancy manipulation of his audience particularly since what Rosales’ script provides is far from original.

     Like so many young boys in his situation, he rather idealizes his mother, who was a nurse and might have even suspected him of being gay. Her motto, which she repeated day after day was, “You need to live a clean and healthy life style,” certainly not evidently an effective lesson given the life her son eventually falls into, at highest possible risk of sexually transmitted diseases by men he doesn’t even know and who may also be heterosexual and on drugs. But he now recognizes that despite all her prayers and warnings if she might simply have openly embraced who he was he might indeed have been able to live the life she wanted him to or, at least, help to protect him. 

     When he discovers that Logan has in fact heard all he’s said, he startled, as Logan quickly responds that his shift is about to end and thanks him for calling Trojex before hanging up.

    Our fictional Danny has found a kind of imaginary listener just as the director has forced us to become, presuming that since Danny obviously has far more to tell that we will want to hear it as well. And the very day we observe Danny desperately trying to get through to Logan again without success and with a great deal of frustration. But finally, Logan does return, suggesting that there are other representatives that may be able to better help him. Even Danny knows he can’t put his new-found friend in the position of listening to him again and asks for someone higher up, as Logan checks to see if he can connect with him.


      In the interim, of course, Danny will surely tell more of his story, a lead-in to our subservient sympathies. This time we discover that the young man has never been told by someone that they love him. He has, as he puts it, been “fought, smashed, plowed, and hammered,” but he’s never been made love to. And he’s scared, he admits, that if he gets sick that he’ll never be loved. “Or worse, that the right guy will come along, and he won’t love him anymore.” (Rosales' camera briefly entertains us with a beautiful naked man, Jonathan Chironna, clearly Danny’s dream figure, whom magically does appear to top him and provide him with a fully-clothed kiss.) 

     He recognizes that he seeks out older men because perhaps he has “Daddy issues,” but jokes that since he never had a dad how might he be described as having “issues?” He tells us what so many like him must hear, those of his own age “pointing out his flaws,” while older men tell him he’s beautiful and sexy—men who having lost their own beauty cannot hope to get others of his age to join them in sex. “So I let them in. I let them use me and do what they want to me.” And for a brief moment in time, he can lie to himself, imagining that he is truly “being loved.”

     Of course, Logan is listening in again; of course, the director presumes his audience is still watching his film and hearing Danny’s confession. The boy’s tears are inevitably moving, Logan dutifully reporting “Unfortunately our supervising reparations manager is unavailable today.” He thanks his customer once again for his call and hangs up. For Danny there is now no possible consolation.

     At the doctor’s office he waits to be called, humming a song. But now we hear what quite miraculously and totally unbelievably happened yet again before his scene, another call to Logan who insists there are so many other people who can help him. “All my life, I have struggled with this question,” Danny proceeds as if Logan’s statement was an invitation. “Why would God make me the way that I am?” He feels he’s being punished for being gay, that he doesn’t deserve love. He calls Logan only because he would like someone, somewhere to give him some answers.

    Logan’s response is not what I might have suggested: “I want you to look at your toes and slowly bring your eyes up your body. All of that is worthy of love, especially the parts that you can’t see.” No matter what happens with the test results, he tells Danny, he wants him to remember that he is worthy of love.

     It sounds a far too much like a self-help program to me, a series of cliches, even if what he says might be helpful and true of any individual who dreams and aspires for love and purpose in his or her life.

     One would have to be without any emotional sympathy to not feel that Rosales’ character, as he describes him in a later interview, is someone who in his loneliness, his fear of death, and feelings of being unloved is a lot like all of us. And certainly it would be hard not to be somewhat moved with empathy. But I guess I resent this film’s sentimental hijacking of my emotions to fill out a story the author/director himself didn’t feel he had the time to truly explore. My own self-doubts are not very entertaining, and are certainly now worth creating a film around them. And given my age, Danny is certainly more attractive than me, I probably being closer to the older men who would lie to him about his youthful beauty while quickly stealing a moment of pleasure from his body. 

     Alas, we don’t even discover if this young man ultimately is AIDS free or not. But then given the generalities the writer has thrown upon him I guess it doesn’t truly matter. Now if he I had actually had the opportunity to get to know this character other than through a few vague confessions, I might really care. But just as Danny says, even his creator doesn’t seem to care enough to give him the full reality of his love. The character himself deplores precisely what the director has done: “I let them use me and do what they want to me.” If I were Danny, I’d demand a new script with if nothing else another ending that tells me where I might be headed and lets the audience in on the facts.


Los Angeles, March 18, 2023

Reprinted from World Cinema Review (March 2023).

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