This piece was published during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike. Without the labor of the actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.
Rightor Doyle’s Down Low is strange. On the one hand, it wants to be a heartwarming queer romantic comedy between two people who had never met each other prior but started to fall in love as one event after the other brings them closer together. On the other hand, it also wants to be as rude and as crass as humanly possible, with one elaborate sequence involving tons of gross-out humor after another. The uncomfortable situations never end, but is the movie any good? Perhaps…
However, it’s nowhere near as smartly written as Emma Seligman’s Bottoms, this year’s raunchiest [and funniest] queer rom-com. No question about that. It tries to go on the same level as Bottoms, but it never seems to understand what made that film so successful: it developed its colorful characters through excessive physical comedy. Yes, the comedy itself was funny, but the main protagonists had shared experiences together that the film became more invested as it progressed to its bloody finish.
The same can’t be said for Down Low, but its opening scene does set the tone for the rest of the film. The film opens with Gary (Zachary Quinto) having a massage from Cameron (Lukas Gage), who quickly moves from giving him a back massage to a blowjob in minutes. We don’t physically see it, but Doyle and cinematographer Nate Hurtsellers play with the house’s shades to give a shadow of this specific moment in Gary’s life as the title card appears. From there, it’s revealed that Gary has an inoperable brain tumor with only a month to live, and he finally wants to start living his life out of the closet.
His wife (Audra McDonald) filed for divorce after he came out, leaving him alone in his expansive house, with his children no longer talking to him. Because of this, Cameron wants to cheer him up and hook Gary with a hot dude on a gay dating app. The date (Sebastian Arroyo) arrives within minutes, but things go horribly wrong as the two start arguing and accidentally push him out of the window, killing him.
The two attempt to figure out what to do with the body and how to clean it up. Cameron magically has the idea of contacting a crime scene cleaner from the Dark Web and does so through Buck (Simon Rex). From there, massive hijinks ensue, and it’s relatively hit or miss. There are times in which the comedy works tremendously, such as when Buck asks Gary and Cameron if he can take a smoke break as the two clean up the blood on the floor. The duo believes he will light up a cigarette but gets out his crack stick and starts getting high. The look on their divided faces sells the entire scene, while Buck pays no mind.
Of course, this allows Doyle and editors Mike S. Smith and David Moritz to do the ol’ “I’m not gonna do X–CUT TO: character doing X” schtick, with Gary stating bluntly he will never smoke crack – CUT TO – Gary smokes crack. This recurring visual gag has sharply risen in comedies this year and always works. No wonder why every single mainstream comedy has them now.
The chemistry between Gary and Cameron is also excellent, with Quinto and Gage fast-talking through each scene as they devise a plan. It doesn’t always work, especially when it gets into the more clichéd “protagonist dying of cancer starts to have regrets about life” arc, but their sense of comedic timing during some of the film’s most shocking scenes always stays on par. Supporting performances from Rex and Judith Light as Gary’s neighbor are also terrific, with Light stealing the show as she arrives at Gary’s house drugged up on Ambien, not knowing what’s truly going on. It also helps that she has the film’s best line, delivered in the most epic way possible.
However, the narrative thread also loses itself near its midsection during the scene where Gary, Cameron, and Buck smoke crack. As an interlude, it’s okay and contains an excellent needle drop. But Down Low never recovers because Doyle and screenwriters Gage and Phoebe Fisher no longer know what movie they want to make: do they want to continue in the extreme screwball way or further develop its character-driven romance between Gary and Cameron? It tries to do both, but the screwball part tires itself out incredibly fast, and the romance is far too underdeveloped for the audience to ultimately care about them, even if Cameron knows Gary will be dead in about a month.
Down Low also never knows when it wants to end, especially when all loose ends are tied nicely after about seventy minutes. But the film gets stretched to near-exhaustion as Doyle proposes three different epilogues until its potent final shot appears and abruptly cuts to black. Perhaps this The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King-type ending would’ve been more effective if the main characters had more time to develop their love on screen, but it feels like Doyle, Gage, and Fisher spend too much time on the elements that don’t matter in the film instead of putting its two protagonists front and center before crazy stuff starts to happen.
As a result, Down Low doesn’t reach the same heights as Bottoms, even if it seemingly (and desperately) wants to. There’s some good in it, though it gets overshadowed by an unfocused screenplay and a pitifully underdeveloped core relationship that could’ve easily been more fleshed out if the film didn’t focus so much on the physical scenes and its extended ending. At least the VINCINT needle drop is pretty sick.
Director: Rightor Doyle
Stars: Zachary Quinto, Lukas Gage, Simon Rex, and Judith Light.
Runtime: 94 minutes
Country: United States