Movie review: 'Keep Lights On' a gritty look at love

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Like most fairy tales, Hollywood romances tend to end when the guy gets the girl. But what if the story were to continue? What would happen the next day, the next week, month or year?

What if there is no happily ever after?

That's the question indie filmmaker Ira Sachs poses in his films, from his early, Memphis-set "Forty Shades of Blue" to the wicked dark comedy "Married Life."

He returns to it in "Keep the Lights On," a gritty, devastating melodrama that chronicles an intense, complex, and heartrending relationship over the course of a decade.


'Keep the Lights On'

3.5 stars = Very Good
Ratings explained
  • Starring: Zachary Booth, Thure Lindhardt.
  • Rating: Unrated, contains mature content.

Set in New York, the story opens in 1997 with a casual hookup between Erik Rothman (Thure Lindhardt), a Danish would-be documentary filmmaker and perpetual adolescent, and the closeted Paul Lucy (Zachary Booth), a successful attorney in the publishing world.

Erik and Paul aren't looking for anything more -- Erik has a wandering eye and Paul has a girlfriend, an image to keep up, and a demanding love affair with drugs.

Before they know it, the couple are in love and living together. Mr. Sachs drops in on their story at random points over 10 years, each time dissecting their bond as it grows, falters, matures.

The sex scenes throughout are honest, unpoeticized and graphic, though never gratuitous. Mr. Sachs brilliantly shows how intimacy develops, matures -- and sometimes dies -- in a sexual relationship.

A man-child at the start of the story, Erik is forced to grow up when Paul develops a crack cocaine addiction. There's an intervention, rehab and the inevitable relapse.

"Keep the Lights On" is a confessional of sorts. It's based on Mr. Sachs' ill-fated relationship with literary agent Bill Clegg and it forms a bookend of sorts to Mr. Clegg's memoir, "Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man."

Yet the film is anything but an Oprah moment. An honest, stark look at the connection between sex, intimacy, friendship and love, it will madden viewers looking for a concluding resolution or grand catharsis. This is no fairy tale.

Opens today at the Harris Theater, Downtown.

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