film note: God’s Own Country

A beautiful look and a keenly felt sense of time and place plus one moving lead performance can't cover up the contrivance of the central romance.

God’s Own Country
Directed by Francis Lee
104 min, UK, 2017

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I seem to be alone in thinking this gay romance is nothing special and not primarily because the story dynamics of the couple’s relationship was derivative and weak. I didn’t find the relationship convincing, first of all, and thought that the central issue of Johnny’s alcoholism and the origins of his drinking got short shrift because of a sexy Romanian, who was used like a tool to make Johnny “a better person.”

That’s not how it works in life, and I was not convinced that’s how it should work in this movie, either, given its realist pretensions. Usually, it’s the lover of the alcoholic that gets the most abuse, so this doesn’t really seem like serious writing to me, but rather the manipulations and pressures of a gay-happy-ending agenda forcing a director’s hand. So everything that happened after Gheorghe leaves struck me as wish fulfillment.

There are similar problems with André Téchiné’s Quand on a 17 ans in which the masculinist gender strictures of society force a potential male couple into logical conflict and then that convincing conflict is resolved somewhat magically, because of sex, I guess. The healing qualities of a dubious sexual attraction are even more magical here in God’s Own Country.

The film does have some things going for it. A beautiful look, a sincerely constructed and detailed sense of place and time, and a wonderful, vulnerable performance from Josh O’Connor as Johnny.

God’s Own Country is certainly worth a look, but I didn’t get much out of it.

For some interesting links related to God’s Own Country, including some cute interviews with O’Connor, click here to check out the latest version of The Cinesexuals Newsletter.

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