Thomas Wirthensohn’s Homme Less is all about appearances, which mirrors the major concern of its subject. Mark Reay is a professional photographer, and occasional actor, who shoots high-profile fashion shows and models around New York, while socializing by night with the city’s elite. But Reay’s bon vivant lifestyle and impeccably tailored wardrobe never give the impression that he’s in fact homeless, sleeping every night on an East Village apartment building’s rooftop. Through the charismatic Reay, Wirthensohn presents a unique and often humorous portrait of the serious issue of homelessness, though instead of elaborating on the economic factors inherent to Reay’s situation, the director frequently sinks into dully positing the man as something close to the pinnacle of human integrity.
Since Reay essentially gives Wirthensohn unlimited access to his life, the documentary is most effective as a visceral detailing of the shutterbug’s habits and how he goes about his everyday routines: He does his ironing in a gym locker room, where most of his things, including camera equipment, are stored, and he works on a day’s pictures inside a coffee shop until it closes. Even his sex life, or lack thereof, is extensively discussed. Wirthensohn regularly captures Reay mingling with fashion models, creating a jarring juxtaposition by following scenes of the Montgomery Clift-like Reay charming beautiful women into having their picture taken with sequences of the photog crawling under a tarp on his cold and dingy rooftop to sleep.
Unfortunately, Wirthensohn pays little attention to the social or economic circumstances that forced Reay to become homeless, with nary a word spoken about what his financial situation is like in general; this is especially surprising given the ample time that’s afforded to Reay loquaciously philosophizing about life. The doc frequently equates Reay with other homeless people living on the streets of New York City by crosscutting between them, but the correlation feels specious given the gulf that would appear to separate the lives of men and women begging for money and bundled in piles on the street from a man who not only gets to attend lavish parties and eat at swanky restaurants, but enjoys health care through his SAG membership. Then again, once Homme Less falls into outright hero worship by concluding with interviews of Reay’s longtime friends singing his praises, it suddenly begins to feel less like a study of homelessness and more like an elaborate fundraising event for the man.