Hooked is a film about a serious issue that still manages to go under reported in the media – the welfare of LGBTQ youth, and the stigma surrounding their wellbeing that can leave them eight times more likely to become more homeless than heterosexual teens. The film aims to highlight the lifestyles many have been pressured in to in order to make money and survive, as well as touching on equally harrowing issues such as the high rate of LGBTQ homeless who have been sexually abused on the streets (roughly 58%).
Writer/director Max Emerson, a model and Instagram personality with a huge following, has crowdsourced the funds for his debut feature – with the aim of giving 50% of all proceeds to sponsored charities (The Albert Kennedy Trust, The Ali Forney Center, Los Angeles LGBT Centre and Lost n Found) that help homeless LGBTQ youth across America. With these noble intentions laid bare, Max easily raised above the $100,000 needed to make this passion project a reality. Inspired by the heartbreaking stories sent to him by fans after the publication of his debut novel, Hot Sissy, which addressed his own coming out stage, the intention with Hooked was to shine a light on those who have not been accepted for who they are – and as a result, become voiceless and left on the margins of society.
Despite the harrowing subject matter, what is most surprising about Hooked is that it is a frequently funny film, with a transgressive black comic attitude to its grim subject matter akin to the early films of director Greg Araki. Araki’s early films haven’t aged well due to how “of the time” they were upon initial release and here, Emerson has made a film that is also stylistically of the moment. His fame as an Instagram celebrity means that he knows how to grab your attention through visuals, working with cinematographer Olivier Lessard to create something that combines artistic shots you’d expect in a drama film, with the sort of shots you’d expect to see in Emerson’s own Instagram page – namely, plenty of excuses for guys to walk around wearing nothing but their underwear. You can’t say that he doesn’t know what his audience wants.
This isn’t to say that he deals with the subject matter lightly, as even the film’s comic moments from the outset have a nihilistic flavour that slowly reveals itself to be a cry for help from the damaged lead characters. In the lead role of Jack, Connor Donnally embraces the abrasive, as his character pulls out all the stops to alienate everybody who comes in to his world – with the exception of his loving boyfriend Tom (Sean Ormond), who acts as a quietly compassionate counterpoint to the darkness in his unflinching existence. The pair are opposites in terms of personality, yet they have great screen chemistry that makes them feel tangible as a couple – and even makes you root for them, even if their messed up living situation, sharing the bottom bunk of a youth hostel bed, adjacent to an aggressive homophobic roommate, seems like a point of no return.
Hooked works because it doesn’t feel like an issue movie- Max Emerson realises the power in the story is all the more impactful if he doesn’t lecture you about the seriousness of the subject matter. The dark side of Jack’s life is perfectly integrated in to the central storyline, making the bleak reality we are presented with feel perfectly tangible, long before the end credits inform us of how there are many stories like this one unfolding on city streets around the world right now. The fact the screenplay is peppered with a sardonic, irreverent humour (making jokes towards everything from adult babies to the Pretty Woman-style relationship Jack develops with a seemingly kindly older client) makes the depressing elements all the more unflinching and memorable, helping shine light on worthy causes without ever coming across as an Oscar-baiting issues movie. It may be far from perfect, but I was hooked from start to finish.
All pictures reproduced courtesy of Max Emerson