Co-directors/writers/producers David A. Schweiger and L.W. Smith have taken on a huge assignment in bringing their multi-layered tale of death, love and DNA to the screen.
The result is an occasionally frustrating affair as the plot either eschews credibility (after living together for a dozen years, one partner’s exhaustive, ongoing diaries remain entirely unknown to the other) or leaves subtle development and convincing characterization on the cutting-room floor (the “psycho lesbian’s split-second reversal from scornful bitch to “if there’s anything we can do” is faster than the moment of illicit conception).
The engaging cast give their all. As Frank Maclean, Jeff Baton evokes real empathy while wailing at the horrific discovery of his long-time partner dead on the floor (massive heart attack, “only 52”). As time begins to heal, Jen (Alesha K. Willis does her best with the clichés and inane lines that come her way) convinces her grieving next-door-neighbour to finally clean out the closet of his dearly departed’s clothes and personal effects. Amongst those are the “secret” journals whose earliest pages send Frank along to Cullman, Alabama in search of his perpetually absent in-laws.
Once there, the trail is oddly cold but his new friend is hot. Playing Trevor Thomas, Bryen C. Winstead is as convincing between the sheets as he is ignorant of his parents’ relationships. With Mom and Dad both gone, the good-looking young “boy” stifles/hides his desire for men and does his duty: devoting himself to the care and security of Grandma (Peggy Brown gives an intriguing monotone delivery that, nonetheless, leaves her high in the credible category).
Couples abound: Black-and-white Ben (the deliciously buff Bajo Sanubi delights the camera from every angle—don’t miss his angel outfit) and Will (Mathew Palmer, gaily spouting his stock “girl” jargon) confront the crisis of an HIV+ test result; Jen and Sandra (Brooke Creef, who arrives too late in the game to make much of an impression) represent the ideal dyke team; and an even less involved all-black hetero pair seem to be in permanent bliss yet we never learn why. One marvellous sequence shows a relationship-ending revelation/argument superimposed over the happiness and joy of those who have taken singer/songwriter Diane Durrett’s lyrics to heart (“Only the Broken Know” and especially “Love Has a Right to Be Wrong”).
Scenes like those are where Schweiger/Smith hit on all cylinders, saving the film from being dismissed as just an awkward outing that, even with a tripling of the budget, has little to say and perhaps not enough to show (several love-making scenes suffer from too much cloth—once again the music, er, rides, to the rescue).
Still, there’s enough going right that this project is worth a peek, even as The Books of John—from the creative point of view—could well be called The Book of Revelation. JWR