Title:  The Trip

Release Date:  2003

Nationality and Language: English, USA

Running time: 108 Min

MPAA Rating:  R

Distributor and Production Company:  TLA, Falcon Lair

Director; Writer: Mark Swain

Producer: Houston King

Cast:   Larry Sullivan, Steve Braun, Art Hindle, Jill St. John, Ray Baker, David Mixner (as himself)

Technical: DVCam

Relevance to DOASKDOTELL site:

Well, independent and big budget filmmakers alike are turning more attention to the idea of writing and publishing controversial books as plot generators. 


Here, a young writer and journalist Alan Oakley (Larry Sullivan), starting out as a young Nixon-era Republican, takes on the task of infiltrating the gay world to “expose” it, 1965-60 Minutes style (remember that horrible piece, “The Homosexuals”). Well, it’s predictable. Larry quickly finds he is gay himself and falls in love with an 18 year old radical, Tommy (Steve Braun). His book is put on hold but then published (now anonymously, at his insistence) in 1977 after the Anita Bryant flap. Well, pretty soon he gets fired from his job as a reporter and Tommy leaves him. All of this sets up the third act, where he visits Mexico to bring back Tommy, now with AIDS and though looking and acting strong enough still fighting off pneumocystis pneumonia.


All of this is a pretty intriguing premise for me. I have a personal story that bears some basic similarities. But here the issue is that Alan, as a “professional writer” or journalist (typing in the pre-computer era, like Barton Fink) gets paid to write other people’s agendas rather than coming up with his own, and that buy-out almost brings his own undoing.  In the scene where he gets fired, his boss admonishes, “A real journalist doesn’t write something that can’t be published, a real writer takes responsibility for his words.”


The story might seem contrived and predictable, except that much of it works for two basic reasons. First, it tracks well to the history of the period from 1973-1984 (Watergate, Anita Bryant, Harvey Milk, Reagan, the beginning of the AIDS epidemic). Secondly, both Sullivan and especially Braun pull off strong performances as likeable young adult male characters. This is particularly true of Braun (playing Tommy), who starts out as a kind of radical “fairy” but quickly blossoms into a charismatic, personally powerful and strong young man, whose strength shows through even in the “pink pistols” episodes towards the end in the Mexican desert (hence, “the trip”), where the fact that he is fighting pneumocystis hardly affects his dominating manner. Indeed, he adopts, in his own personality, the conservative values that he once abhorred. The last thirty minutes or so is hardly a movie about homosexuality anymore; it is more about male bonding and surviving, evoking very much the mood of Gus Van Sant’s film Gerry. In fact, you could almost transpose Matt Damon and Casey Affleck from that movie into these scenes. The desert scenery, even in DV, is breathtaking (I would have preferred a full wide-screen format and film stock to capture the lighting and textures better, but that takes more money).


Some of it seems contrived. The comic scenes with Alan’s mother remind one of the CB character from Gordon Merrick’s book The Lord Won’t Mind. Peter, as the closeted gay conservative publisher, is appropriately creepy and lecherous, even more so as the move progresses when he takes in Alan. The early scenes where Tommy and Alan fall in love could have been handled with more finesse and less forced irony. There were missed opportunities for ritual shirt unbuttoning. Even so, in eleven years of gay history, you can follow the characters through a transformation from camp to mainstream, even when dealing with the coming holocaust of AIDS.


Related reviews: Gerry  The Stone Reader


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