“So, is it good to be back?”
That’s the very self-aware opening line of HBO’s “Looking: The Movie,” addressed as much to the audience as it is to the show’s main character, Patrick (Jonathan Groff).
“Looking: The Movie” is the final installment of HBO’s troubled series about three gay men living in San Francisco. When it premiered in 2014, “Looking” received mixed reviews from critics and struggled to find an audience. It was canceled after just two seasons.
Despite the apparent lack of audience, HBO greenlighted an 85-minute movie to give proper closure to the series. The finale premiered at the San Francisco’s Frameline Film Festival in June before debuting on the network late last month.
It’s been over a year since viewers lost touch with Patty and the gang. When they last saw him, Patrick had broken up with his boyfriend and boss Kevin (Russell Tovey) — whom he had just moved in with — and found himself standing before his ex-boyfriend Richie (Raúl Castillo), supposedly to just get a haircut. In other words, he was a total mess.
The movie picks up almost a year later: Patrick has moved to back to his home state of Colorado, but finds himself in San Francisco for the weekend to revisit the life he left behind.
Within the first 20 minutes, it is clear that this is a more mature and confident Patty. In sharp contrast with his behavior in the pilot episode — in which he epically fails to hook up with an older man in a popular San Francisco cruising spot — Patty successfully picks up a young man at a bar with ease. This, followed by an intelligent, banter-filled conversation about the state of the gay community, shows the growth of Patty and the show as a whole.
Mature or not, one thing that has not changed for Patrick: he is still looking for his happiness. The rest of the finale is a bit more subdued, filled with director Andrew Haigh’s signature mix of scenes: breathtaking views of San Francisco, diverse bar/ club vignettes, and intimate conversations between the characters. While some would call these tête-à-têtes boring, this has always been the strength of “Looking,” and they tend to be where the answers to Patrick’s search lie.
Without spoiling the story, I can report that all major characters are accounted for. Through Patty, we catch up with buddies Dom (Murray Bartlett), still obsessing over peri-peri chicken, and Augustín (Frankie J. Alvarez), who is working to solidify his relationship with Eddie (Daniel Franzese). Doris (Lauren Weedman) returns with her usual one-liners (“I love it when gays argue with other gays about being gay”) and words of wisdom. Doris’s beau Malik (Bashir Salahuddin), and Augustín’s ex Frank (O.T. Fagbenle) also make brief appearances. Patty, benefiting from the vantage point of a visitor, sees their struggles and triumphs, but more importantly he sees them growing up and finding ways to be happy.
But what about Patty’s happiness? Of course, the answer to that always lay with Richie. The focus of the series never strayed far from the evolving relationship — ups and downs — between these two. Patrick met Richie in the pilot episode, and the two dated before breaking up in the season one finale. Perhaps more interesting than their initial courting, the two tried to be “just friends” in the second season, all the while flirting with the idea that there may be something more, a question that leads to the series finale.
“Looking: The Movie” is no different. The two pick up right where they left off, much to the dismay of Richie’s boyfriend. You know the story; you can imagine how it ends. This does not make it any less enjoyable to watch, especially with mesmerizing performances by Groff and Castillo.
So, was it good to be back?
The biggest complaint about “Looking” the series was that it was plodding, and for those who felt that way the movie presents the same problem. But to those who enjoyed the show, “Looking: The Movie” will be a fond way to bid good old friends farewell.