Filmmaker and star Philipp Karner deserves a lot of credit for crafting a raw and courageous feature film debut that deals with complex emotions and societal taboos, analyzing the life of a gay couple as if it was any other couple, regardless of sexual orientation. Like You Mean It is an honest portrait of love in crisis and rather than dwelling in those dramatic tropes especially typical of gay relationships on film, it uses them to dig deep into a man’s psyche and inner demons uncompromisingly.
Mark (Philipp Karner) is one of the countless actors who live in LA with big dreams but have a hard time catching a career break. Stuck doing commercials and silly voice work on videogames to pay the bills, he floats from one audition to another, waiting to hear back about the cool project that might finally get him out of this unbearable funk. Yet he only keeps getting rejections and begins to wonder whether he has what it takes to be successful.
Of course being an actor in Tinsel Town and a gay man nonetheless, leads him to start doubting himself and questioning his looks and masculinity rather than his craft. Mark lives with his boyfriend Jonah (Denver Milord) who’s a musician and although his line of work isn’t any easier than Mark’s, he is not as preoccupied with his career outcome. The story doesn’t delve into Jonah’s professional achievements or status at the time events unfold but we get a sense he’s a pretty chilled singer/songwriter who does his indie thing and is satisfied with it.
The story’s focus is Mark indeed and his progressive descent into a spiral of overwhelming dissatisfaction with life on all levels. Austrian native Karner has probably drawn inspiration from his own life experience as despite not providing details on his character’s provenance, Mark keeps ignoring the voicemails left by his sister speaking German. We get a sense that our protagonist is not comfortable with his past and even when we finally witness a confrontation with his sister and get hints of a troubled relationship with their father, things remain mostly vague.
Karner’s interest after all is with the now and we follow Mark’s self-doubts and insecurity eating him alive and progressively compromising his relationship with Jonah. By nature they’re two very different men with Mark being detached and retreated in himself versus the loving and nurturing Jonah. Mark blames himself for the cooling down of their mutual affection, calling himself an asshole but admitting that’s just his personality. Jonah suggests Mark should probably consider returning to use meds to help his emotional issues as the man was doing when they first met and albeit reluctantly, Mark gives it a shot and even drags Jonah to couple’s therapy.
There isn’t a lot going on in terms of plot and that’s fine because Like You Mean It is one of those characters’ studies that take their time to reflect on their protagonist’s inner turmoil and Karner does a great job at getting us into Mark’s psyche both in his writer/director duties and in his authentic performance. It’s an impressive feat for a first timer and his work definitely shows a lot of promise for the rest of his career. His casting choices are also on point with Denver Milord believably playing Mark’s loving counterpart to great effect and also showing off his musical talent.
The film is almost uncomfortable to watch at times for the realistic way it captures the challenges of making a romantic relationship work on a daily basis. Karner plays around with flashbacks of an early episode in Mark and Jonah’s life together when they’re on top of a hill overlooking the ocean, lying on the ground cuddling and expressing their mutual feelings to each other probably for the first time. Mark keeps going back to that moment in his mind, visibly trying to reconnect to those feelings and fall in love with Jonah all over again. But he has a hard time doing it because he has to realise he needs to love himself first and overcome his demons.
It’s rare for a film set in Hollywood and especially dealing with actors to be able to draw you in emotionally as we tend to feel rather alien to that world. Having lived in LA for 5 years and having been up close and personal with the reality of life in the entertainment industry I can attest to Karner’s genuine depiction of it. Most importantly though I commend him for showing great sensibility in the way he handles the complex layers of love life, mental health and all those other elements that make us human all the same no matter our gender, race or sexuality.