Writer and Director: Doug Spearman
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
Just before his film was shown at BFI Flare, London’s LGBTQ+ film festival, Doug Spearman confessed that he was surprised that the programmers had labelled it as a comedy. He thought he’d made a love story. But, ultimately, From Zero to I Love You is a combination of both these genres. In short, Spearman has made a boy-meets-boy rom-com.
The tropes are clearly there. We have an art gallery. We have a psychotherapist who says ‘Follow your heart’ or words to that effect. We even have a montage of short scenes, much loved by Mark Kermode in his recent exploration of the rom-com as part of his The Secrets of Cinema series, set to music as our two leads become close over a period of a few weeks.
This may be a gay rom-com, but the set-up is very familiar. Jack is happily married to Karla and they have two daughters but after a fling with a waiter at a friend’s birthday party, he finds it increasingly difficult to control his same-sex urges, and begins to haunt the gay dives in Philadelphia, including a bar called Zero. It’s here where he meets Pete, a handsome magazine writer who has a thing for married guys.
Despite their best intentions the two men fall in love, and even proclaim their first ‘I love you’s in front of Pete’s father who has arrived unannounced to persuade the lovers to split up. Jack promises that he will, one day, leave his wife and kids, but others tell Pete that guys like that never do.
Of course, there’s another complication; Jack is white while Pete is black. For most of the film their interracial relationship is unremarked upon (and is, anyway, unremarkable), but sometimes issues are raised. Peter wonders why he hasn’t got any black friends, and later his father speaks out about the time when interracial relationships were truly shocking. It’s laudable that these conversations are flagged but they are so fleeting, it becomes frustrating that these ideas aren’t extended.
Still, the film retains its buoyancy from the two leads who are utterly believable. Scott Bailey gives Jack an endearing screwball quality, the humour of which comes from his very expressive eyes. He’s an excellent comedy actor. As Pete, Darryl Stephens is less expressive, but more sensitive. His exasperation with the affair is signalled through his body’s tautness, and his joy when things go right through the brightness of his smile. Together, Bailey and Stephens make a striking couple. There’s also good work from Keili Lefkovitz who plays Karla, Jack’s wife. It’s not the most nuanced part, but she has enough life about her for us to care about her ending.
It’s taken years for Spearman to make From Zero To I Love You, money being one of the biggest obstacles. Many of the clothes that the two men wear actually belong to Spearman himself. Filming took over three years and some scenes were started one year, and only completed a year later, but visually the continuity is seamless. There are problems with the sound, however, but hopefully, they can be fixed in a tighter edit. This London presentation was only its second public screening; it had premiered in Philadelphia just a few days before.
While From Zero To I Love You doesn’t break the mould for rom-com movies, gay ones included, it is still a pleasure to watch. Even in 2019, it’s rare to see two gay men leading a film, and even rarer – spoiler alert, but it is a rom-com after all – for two gay men to have a happy ending