The Return Of Looking

HBO’s short-lived series is back in movie form, as affectionate and thoughtful as its previous incarnation

Three months after the March 2015 season finale of Looking, HBO’s lovely portrait of three gay friends searching for love and friendship in San Francisco, gay marriage became the law of the land. But legal approbation only adds to the anxieties that groom Agustin (Frankie J. Alvarez) and his “maid of dishonor” Patrick (Jonathan Groff) feel about the art-school shop manager’s looming nuptials. “Marriage is for the gays,” tuts their friend, Doris (the thrumming, vibrant Lauren Weedman), inadvertently acknowledging Agustin’s fears of hewing to heteronormativity. “Poor fucking bastards, you can have it.”

Agustin’s reluctance toward embracing matrimony for himself and for the LGBTQ community — and Patrick’s wonder that his 22-year-old hook-up lives in a world where gay marriage is no big deal — make Looking: The Movie a moving snapshot of a particular queer generation taking stock of this specific moment of progress and transition. That political self-awareness — along with the characters’ much-earned romantic courage — vitalizes creator Michael Lannan and director Andrew Haigh’s familiar themes of the bravery of vulnerability and the importance of opening oneself up to new experiences.

Arriving on Saturday, July 23, Looking: The Movie feels exactly as it should: Like a wistful, funny, hopeful weekend with old friends that makes you wish you could stay a few days longer. Having moved to Denver after his abrupt breakup with his boss, Kevin (Russell Tovey), video-game designer Patrick returns to San Francisco for Agustin’s once-improbable wedding with Eddie (Daniel Franzese), the HIV-positive activist who would’ve been too ursine for a younger and shallower iteration of his husband-to-be. Agustin reminisces to Patrick, his college friend, about the youthful days he’d spent imagining himself as a Keith Haring or a Robert Mapplethorpe, those LGBTQ icons of the ’80s when gay marriage was but a twinkle in Human Rights Watch’s eye. Agustin and the now happily settled Doris, who experiences a small existential crisis of her own for not living up to the convention-flouting ideals of her youth, offer Patrick — and cowriters Lannan and Haigh speaking through him — magnificently sweet occasions to give themselves permission for not making everything about the personal political.

Taking place mostly over three nights — in clubs, restaurants, and charmingly shabby apartments that might be capturing the last remnants of San Francisco’s homeyness — Patrick, Agustin, and restaurant-owner Dom (Murray Bartlett) congratulate themselves for “finally finding something close to adulthood.” With delicate parallels to the series pilot, it’s a journey fully trod despite Looking’s cancellation after just two seasons: Dom’s suddenly shaky friendship with Doris discovers a new terra firma, Agustin finds a path to maturation while staying true to himself, and Patrick learns that his fresh start in Denver was anything but, in a revelatory scene that reinterprets the last hours of his relationship with Kevin in the stunning Season 2 finale.

Critics who’ve accused Looking of being “boring” and insufficiently radical or inclusive won’t find anything in this warmly affectionate, quietly thoughtful farewell to change their minds. But Lannan and Haigh make clear that they’re done apologizing for the relatively narrow scope of their show. Looking is about its individual searchers: Patrick, his friends, and his old flame, Richie (Raúl Castillo), the show’s North Star whom we’d always wanted Patrick to return to, even as we wondered if Richie was too good for him. When they met for the first time, Patrick couldn’t let his guard down enough to let his barber boyfriend cut his hair. But as they walk and talk down dove-gray, neon-lit streets, each of them relaxed as they’ve never been around the other, neither can deny any longer that it’s a new night.