By Mark James.
The Go Doc Project, a new collaboration between writer/director Cory Krueckeberg and lead Tanner Cohen (they worked together previously on the 2008 Were the World Mine), sets up its stakes quickly. Cohen plays Doc, a Columbia near-graduate with a vlog and a ticket to Iowa where he’ll be able to write (presumably at the Writers Workshop; why else would a writer leave New York for Iowa?). But before he goes, he takes a chance at meeting the object of his online fixation, a go-go boy (Matthew Camp) who the film can’t go out of its way to name anything more than “Go”. Knowing this level of investment, you can fill in the next 120 minutes of footage from the title alone: Doc pretends to be working on a documentary project (get it?) about go-go boys to get close to Go; his emotional attachment becomes sexual entanglement; something goes wrong and Doc heads off to Iowa as planned. The only question you might want to wait around to see answered is whether or not Go goes with.
This formulaic, indifferent rom-com was picked up for distribution after getting a lot of buzz on the festival circuit, which shows the real value go-go boys bring to their place of work. Camp, a go-go dancer and designer in real life, is charming, handsome, and nearly a good enough actor; but then again, that’s his job. He blends the confidence of someone who enjoys being looked at with a boyish innocence that neatly contrasts with the bland nebbishisms of Cohen, whose heavy-lidded eyes and attempts at understated naturalism play as listless, not repressed. The only times Cohen’s performance seems to match the scenarios he’s in are when he’s insomniacally masturbating to images of Go.
Clues to what Kreuckeberg thought he was doing and why it went so wrong also litter the opening sequences, along with the lines of the plot Kreuckeberg doesn’t think to color outside of. Doc is supposed to be writing his senior thesis, though all he has is his statement: “Assimilation must be the goal of the queer community if true equality is ever to be won.” This is supposed to be an incidental character detail to be passed over until it comes up again the third act; we can tell it’s supposed to slip by and stay important because Doc keeps toggling between his sparse Word document and Photoshop, where he’s touching up an appealingly hairy and mole-covered portrait of Go. The thesis is both on par with and substituted by the object of desire, whose image Doc keeps fetishistically cleaning up.
But something else is going on here, because that’s a statement no one who identifies with the queer community would ever say, especially not someone involved with the LGBTQ film festival scene. Besides encompassing more gender variation than gay, queer as a term implies resistance to assimilation in its definition. It’s obvious what Kreuckeberg is trying to pull here: we’re supposed to identify Doc as naïve, repressed, and confused and already know the answer to his confusion, so that when he embarks on the journey of personal exploration that constantly filming his fetish-object will necessarily provoke, we’ll know where he’s heading and feel vindicated that he arrives where we were all along.
And sure enough, when the titillation of pressing his camera to Go’s luscious flesh passes to the foregone sex our two leads were cast to have, Doc is also confronted by Go on his retrograde politics. “Every time we fuck it’s a revolutionary act,” Go says. This is an abstract proposition for Doc, a self-described virgin. Go is there to embody the liberated line, the gay political position opposed to Doc’s assimilationist stance. He’s also there to do the work of liberation for Doc, all while having his motivations and own desires reduced to accessories of his beauty. The Go Doc Project is the type of gay movie that gets described as a movie about people who just happen to be gay. If it had depicted a straight couple, portraying the love interest the way Kreuckeberg puts Go on the screen would be decried as two-dimensional or even sexist.
Because Kreuckeberg (or Doc, his transparent stand-in) doesn’t want to be liberated, he just wants to say the right thing. In the end, Doc hasn’t changed a bit—or if he has it’s literally in name only; his Tumblr’s header goes from “Small Town Boy in the City” to “Radicalized Homo in the Country.” He still heads out to Iowa, where he always wanted to be, and rhapsodizes about how he’ll “buy a shotgun, have a family and grow old sipping lemonade on the front porch. I think that’s how I’ll be a real radical homosexual.” It’s significant that those words were never uttered before but now appear as the culmination of the entire film, as if the answer to that question was what Doc had been searching for in Go the whole time.
But even if you buy the argument that shotguns, families and porches are somehow inimical to radical homosexuality (I don’t), something about the trajectory of the argument and the silences and substitutions it relies on seems awfully familiar. By investing Go’s body with the correct political line, but refusing the intimacy he rightfully demands in return, Doc and Kreuckeberg demonstrate that their grasp of homosexual liberation is superficial, imagistic, or fetishized. Acknowledging the male body as an object of desire but keeping it at arms distance out of a fear of being implicated in it isn’t radical homosexuality at all—it’s homophobia.
Go tries to get through to him, to tell him that past the threshold of fear, the real liberation being homosexual promises is not just sexual (though it is that, too, and Doc could certainly benefit from it) but emotional. The courage of loving other men and allowing them to love you pays dividends. It’s what gave us the strength to create a community that endured decades of oppression and a historic plague. But we don’t have a monopoly on the knowledge of love, and we don’t get it just by fucking other guys. It’s something that has to be taught and handed down, which is what Go tries to do and Doc refuses. It’s a shame that Doc passes on Go, but at least it gives you a hint about what to do with The Go Doc Project.
Mark James lives in San Francisco and has written about film for numerous publications, including The Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide and The Advocate.