Keep the Lights On Movie Review
Director-cowriter Sachs takes an unusually intimate look at a 10-year relationship in this beautifully shot and performed New York drama. The film has been compared to 2011's British break-out hit Weekend, but only partly because it centres on a gay couple. What makes both films notable is the way they tackle serious issues in the context of a relationship, keeping the focus tightly on complex characters who behave like real people we can identify with.
The story starts in 1998 New York, as aspiring Danish documentary filmmaker Erik (Lindhardt) fails to overcome his loneliness by using chat-lines to meet random strangers for sex. Then he meets the lawyer Paul (Booth), and their encounter evolves into a relationship. Over the next decade, Paul is frustrated by Erik's casual approach to his slow-developing career, while Erik becomes increasingly worried about Paul's casual drug use. As this boils over into full-on addiction, Erik turns to his sister (Steen) and his close friend Claire (Nicholson) for help with an intervention. But are drugs the real problem? And even if Paul goes through rehab, can their relationship survive?
Intriguingly, Sachs never lets this turn into a drug-addiction drama, carefully exploring much deeper issues without ever being preachy about it. Everything is presented as matter-of-fact, just part of life, and even the addiction problem is only an obstacle for Erik and Paul to deal with in their life together. Both Lindhardt and Booth bring a stunning transparency to their roles, keeping the characters likeable even when they do awful things to each other. Since we see everything through Erik's eyes, Lindhardt's role is much beefier, and it's also infused with his European sense of humour.
Sachs admits that the film is autobiographical, which explains why there is such a telling level of detail in the way events are recounted. This makes the film feel relevant in ways films rarely are: these are raw human reactions that feel truthful beyond the limits of these situations. So even when the film seems to lose momentum and get a bit gloomy in the final act, we understand what it's like to go through a dark patch like this. And we root for these guys to survive, whether or not they make it through together.