Just One Time (1999)


By Stephen Tropiano

Not Far Enough

Before New York City fireman Anthony walks down the aisle with his fiancee Amy, he wants to fulfill his ultimate fantasy. Just one time — and one time only — he wants to have a menage a trois with his future wife and another woman. Amy reluctantly agrees, but under one condition: he must fulfill her fantasy and have a three-way with her and another guy.

Fulfilling one’s fantasy is a complicated business in Just One Time, a romantic comedy directed, co-written, produced, and starring Lane Janger. The film is based on Janger’s short of the same title, which was screened at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival and others around the country. (Strand Releasing included the film in their most recent collection of gay shorts, Boy Shorts III, which was released this past summer.) The 8-minute short ends with a shot of a speechless Anthony’s (Janger) surprised reaction when he discovers Amy’s (Joelle Carter) fantasy requires him to sleep — just one time — with their gay Latino neighbor, Victor (Guillermo Diaz). Carter and Diaz both reprise their roles in the feature length version, as does Jennifer Esposito, who plays Michelle, the lesbian neighbor Amy chooses on Victor’s suggestion as the third partner in her fiance’s fantasy.

Langer’s story continues with Anthony and Amy both questioning whether they are willing to reciprocate the other’s request. Anthony has no sexual interest in guys. Amy is uncomfortable with the idea of sleeping with another woman, though she becomes more open to the experience once she gets to know Michelle. What neither of them is aware of when the deal is struck is how the ensuing jealousy, sexual confusion, and miscommunication might jeopardize their own relationship. Although Anthony and Amy both consider experiencing the love that dare not speak its name (at least in the context of a menage), Just One Time has more to say on the surface about monogamy than homosexuality. The comedy reaffirms the necessity of finding a balance between lust and love, between sexual desire and mutual respect, particularly when one asks his/her partner to help turn a sexual fantasy into a reality. Just One Time demonstrates how the cost can indeed be too high, especially when one partner feels compromised. But in a comedy that reinforces the sanctity of heterosexual monogamy, homosexuality is — unsurprisingly — positioned as the forbidden, unknown, exotic sexual other. And while the film tries to be provocative by exploring the fluidity of sexual desire, it ultimately reduces female and male homosexuality to a potentially destabilizing, threatening force to heterosexuality. In fact, there is no clear explanation as to why a gay man and a lesbian (Victor and Michelle) are specifically chosen as third partners, except perhaps that they conveniently live in the neighborhood and are sexually available.

Unlike the short version, the feature speculates why heterosexual men want to see two women together. Michelle suggests it’s because “when a woman is really having a good time, he freaks out… the guy is sitting there thinking my thing is so big, I need two chicks.” Michelle’s analysis is apparently right on target. Anthony is severely threatened when his wife becomes fast friends with Michelle. In one of the film’s funniest scenes, the two women get drunk and have a heart-to-heart talk about love, sex, and men. When Anthony sees the two women locking lips, he assumes they are having a hot and heavy affair (which they are not; it was just a one-time kiss). Even Anthony’s friend and coworker Dom (David Lee Russek) can’t convince him there’s no reason to be jealous, that Amy is just “testing the waters.” Anthony decides the only way to prepare himself for his rendezvous with Amy and Victor is to test the waters himself, so he takes Victor on a “date” to a gay bar. For support, he brings along Dom and his two macho, heterosexual pals from work, who, after a few drinks, start having more fun than Anthony.

Unfortunately, the film takes no chances to suggest the same type of bond that develops between Amy and Michelle could develop between Anthony and Victor. So in order not to alienate its gay male audience, Just One Time pulls out another less threatening gay male character, Dom. Though they’ve been best friends since childhood, we are supposed to believe Anthony has no inkling Dom is gay. Because they once jerked off together while watching a porno video, Anthony asks Dom if he would be the other guy in the threesome. Dom, who still hasn’t come out to Anthony, refuses because he is — no doubt — harboring some feelings for his friend. In a short and underwritten scene at the end of the film, Dom explains that he didn’t come out to Anthony because he was afraid he’d lose the friendship. Anthony says that would never have happened. It’s difficult to believe that Dom would have kept this secret for so long, particularly because Janger never plays Anthony like some homophobic, macho idiot. But that’s the very point that Dom’s revelation gratuitously serves — to reassure the gay male spectator that just because Anthony is so indifferent (and not particularly friendly) to sweet, naive, inexperienced Victor, it doesn’t mean he’s homophobic (because, after all, his best friend is gay!).

And as for Victor, we are supposed to believe he is willing to sleep with Anthony and Amy because he’s a closeted virgin who relies on porno for sexual gratification. But this only reinforces the myth perpetuated by straight narcisistic males that every gay male’s ultimate fantasy is to fool around with a straight guy. Even more problematic is the final pairing of its two gay male characters, Dom and Victor, who first strike up a friendship when they all go to the gay bar. We never actually see the moment when these two characters hook up, which leaves us believing Victor is so desperate for love and attention, he can simply transfer his feelings for Anthony over to Dom.

Janger and co-writer Jennifer Vandever’s screenplay ultimately compromises its sexual politics in order to make the film both gay- and straight-friendly. And yet, Just One Time still has an underlying appeal due to its terrific ensemble cast and Janger’s talent as a director, able to handle the film’s occasional shifts in tone, between the more serious moments shared by Amy and Anthony, and the lighter touches of comedy, such as the guys’ excursion to the gay bar. Just One Time is definitely onto something, but unfortunately, like Amy and Michelle, or Anthony and Victor, it never goes far enough.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/just-one-time/