September 22nd, 2022
MOVIE: IN FROM THE SIDE
STARRING: ALEXANDER LINCOLN, ALEXANDER KING, PETER MCPHERSON, CHRISTOPHER SHERWOOD
DIRECTED BY: MATT CARTER
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 STARS (Out of 4)
On a recent Sunday afternoon while the Chicago Bears were playing a highly anticipated football game, I had the great pleasure of looking at a different sport from an angle that reflects my own sensibilities and desires. The new film, In from the Side is a British drama, about the romance between two players in a gay rugby club. It’s the kind of story that many of us could have only imagined decades ago when the thought of a romance between two team players, much less part of a gay league, was only a fantasy that could never seemingly be realized. But alas, times change and gay sports leagues do exist. For those of us who have any interest in sports we can now feel a sense of representation and pleasure while watching certain, albeit fictional, sporting events on screen.
This marks the feature directing debut of Matt Carter who also wrote, scored, and shot the film. It is clear that he has been waiting to tell this story and gift it to gay men who want to see sports heroes as something more than a bunch of straight, tough guys. The two main characters face off in the opening scene which is a high-octane rugby match full of strong legs, grunts, and plenty of dirt. Warren is a player on an A-level team while Mark is at B-level. Like many heterosexual films that begin with an air of romance, it is the eye glances that first indicate the attraction between these two hunky, bearded guys. Such glances appear all over the film signaling everything from lust to suspicion. It’s those knowing eyes that reveal all that is needed to shift the plot.
Much of In from the Side features what we might expect from a gay sports romance: numerous locker room and shower scenes, competitions filled with players running in the mud and rain, and plenty of sex scenes. But where this film sets itself apart from other gay-themed stories is that it doesn’t emphasize sex and lust without regard for the emotional states of the characters. Both are already involved in other relationships, one open, the other not. Given the 134-minute running time of the film, which is in and of itself quite epic for this type of narrative, Carter gives plenty of time for the relationship between Mark and Warren to develop and breathe. The sex scenes, while not overly explicit, are physical, yet very tender. The chemistry between Alexander King as Warren and Alexander Lincoln as Mark is beautifully orchestrated and well-maintained.
There are a few moments though that feel a bit out of the Hallmark-movie rule book on romantic films. In particular, there are a few montages that feel like they are taken from the 1980s. One sequence, featuring Mark bringing Warren home to meet his parents at Christmas time, has all the trappings of a Lifetime holiday movie. There’s also that sense of doom that lingers in the air suggesting the story might not end happily even if we hope that it will. As such, the last act of the film is a bit clunky narratively and may feel a bit unearned and not completely logical. There are also some interesting supporting characters here who take on standard roles such as the alcoholic, the goofball, and the enemy (Think Apple+ TV’s Ted Lasso). Generally, they are well-developed though.
As conventional as this movie is there is definitely something here for most gay audiences. Aside from the hunks, bodies, and handsome faces, this is a very well-produced, shot, edited, and acted film. It’s very involved even if it does lose some steam towards the end. Ultimately, the film explores how even when we are out, there are still parts of our lives that remain in the closet and hidden from the people that might most need to see them. It also asks the question, can a relationship born out of deception work or only breed future deception?
In from the Side is the kind of gay love story that many of us have been looking for that doesn’t feature tragedies or serious illnesses. Rather it tells us that love between two men can be found and developed within the world of sports – something that may seem like a fantasy but may in fact be sadly hidden from the eyes of today’s mass audiences.
IN FROM THE SIDE IS PLAYING AT REELING 2022, CHICAGO’S LGBTQ+ FILM FESTIVAL ON FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 23RD.
Written by: Dan Pal