Coming back after quite some time away to a place and people with whom you were once intimately connected is always a fraught undertaking.
No matter how well you’ve tended to those connections, there is always a sense of dislocation, a realisation that you still belong but no longer really do, all at once.
It’s a theme that runs deeply throughout Looking: The Movie, directed as was the series that preceded it by Andrew Haigh (he co-wrote the script with Michael Lannan) which examines how the familiar and the no-longer familiar intertwine when Patrick (Jonathon Groff) returns to San Francisco from Denver where he fled when he ran from his crumbling relationship with Kevin (Russell Tovey).
He comes back, as you might expect, in a pensive mood, responding to his taxi driver’s enquiry about it feels being back in a city he once called home with “Ask me in a few days.”
Though he’s excited to be back for the wedding of his best friend Agustín (Frankie J. Alvarez) to Eddie (Daniel Franseze), and eager to catch up with other friends like Dom (Murray Bartlett), his bff Doris (Lauren Weedman) and his will-he-won’t-he-get-him ex Richie (Raúl Castillo) whose boyfriend Brady (Chris Perfetti) shines an uncomfortable light, in his won nasty way, on Patrick’s continuing identity struggles. he’s all too aware that there’s a great deal of baggage that awaits him.
So with all the hellos, the rapt embraces and the return to old haunts, Patrick is also faced with settling accounts and working out just where he belongs – in Denver, which Kevin, whom he catches up with a little ill-advisedly, describes as his place of escape, or San Francisco where he came into his own as he grappled with and then embraced his sexuality.
Patrick has always been the everyman of Looking, a show that for the first time gave a reasonably realistic look at what it’s like it to be a modern gay man, the one through whom we saw all the other characters and the lives they were trying to make for themselves.
And so it is with Looking‘s final movie-length episode, a rarity in a world where closure episodes are a rare thing, where Patrick, much like the series in which he is the pivotal character, has to deal with the settling of emotional accounts that is never easy and rare when it actually does happen.
Even so, despite the all-too-authentic melancholy that pervades his return, driven in large part by a sense that he is still in limbo while people like Agustín and Dom, whose window restaurant is a roaring success, there is a sense of loose ends being tied up and the kind of completing of things that viewers crave in a series finale taking place.
That’s not to say it’s all happily ever after, since life is never quite that forgiving and Looking has never shied away from being unflinchingly honest about it’s highs and lows, but there is enough of a suggestion of happiness to come, particularly in Patrick’s case, to make you feel as everyone concerned will get something of a part-fairytale finish to things.
That’s not to say getting there will be easy.
If it’s not Agustín and then Eddie freaking out about getting married – Agustín, nearing 30, isn’t sure his life is playing out the way he wanted until Patrick assures him, with wisdom that underscores how far his character has come over the two seasons the show ran, that he has grown into his life and now has what he needs not what he wanted – it’s Doris fretting that she’s becoming a domestic cliche, the former wild child now happily living in sin and contemplating motherhood with Malik (Bashir Salahuddin) and Dom refusing to consider anything that might taken him away from his thriving restaurant dream come to life (although Eddie’s Maid of Dishonour, Jake played by Derek Phillips, may change his mind).
The biggest struggles as always though belong to Patrick who, after some intense welcome home sex with a guy he meets at a bar on his first night back in town, talks through why he went to Denver and whether it’s worked out quite the way he wanted.
Confronted by his one night stand lover Jimmy’s (Michael Rosen) longevity as a gay man at just the age of 22, he ponders whether he has really come as far as he expected to, and whether a recurring criticism that he runs just when things get too confronting, sexually or emotionally, may have truth to it.
The good news is that all this existential grappling weaves neatly into a narrative that gives every character an expansive and well-rounded goodbye, giving us in the process a chance to witness both closure and the sense that their lives will continue on after the final credits have rolled.
Looking: The Movie is that rare breed in TV finales in that it allows us to say goodbye to characters we have come to know and love while advancing their storylines even as their lives, as we know them anyway, slip from view.
It balances ticking all the boxes – Patrick’s eternal tiptoeing on the edge of confidence and insecurity, his rich, sustaining friendships with Agustín and Dom, the city of San Francisco itself which comes alive under Haigh’s sympathetic touch, and most importantly where Patrick and Richie will get their romantic happily-ever-after – with giving us a rewarding sense that there is both closure and the opening up of new possibilities at play.
Life is rarely cut and dried, and Looking: The Movie doesn’t attempt to convince us otherwise; what it does do beautifully however is emphasise, as it always did, that though we may royally fuck things up from time to time, that the key determining factor of our success in life is whether we bother to pick ourselves up and keep going after mistakes have been made.
It’s not a dynamic unique to gay men of course but in a society that even now still treats us as oddities and in worst cases, perverts and aberrations, there is more angst that most in sorting our way through the messy business of living.
Looking the series always recognised this, and so too does Looking: The Movie which farewells a group of people who have come to mean the world to viewers of the show while offering the tantalising possibility that messiness and fucked-up moments aside, that everyone is going to be all right.
And at the end of a show but particularly one like Looking, that’s all we want to know.