Although it’s hard to catalogue Julián Hernández’s I Am Happiness on Earth, the film could easily be placed somewhere between the amateur pretentiousness of an experimental student film and the porny ethos that makes for enticing movie posters and long lines at gay film festivals. One could also call it a “dansical,” as characters often snap out of conventional narrative mode (boy meets boy, boy doesn’t text boy back) straight into modern dance movements that may or may not lead to pansexual group sex. But if the film defies conventional form, it does so without the gravitas that conceptual cohesion brings, quickly rendering its experimentation into gratuitous aesthetic masturbation.
In this world, gay men are always some variation of a Ken doll. Ken with high cheekbones, Ken with not-so-high cheekbones, Ken with a shaved head and a tank top, Ken with a preppy haircut and a button-up shirt. These Kens’ Mexicanness perhaps makes their lack of edges less apparent to American audiences, but their baby-smooth chests, bubble butts, and Fred Perry-like garb flatten them into one-dimensional clichés that could be easily posing on the corner of Santa Monica and San Vicente on any given weekend. Hernández’s over-choreographed camera (it sometimes circles around a character 360 degrees several times, and slowly) seems to dare the viewer not to be seduced by these eunuchs and cherubim, making the experimental dance interludes feel like desperate attempts to cover up an adolescent drive to conflate sexuality and sexual practice with arty ambiguity.
The idea of horny bodies simply slithering through space, making sexual contact here and there, is interesting, but Hernández never finds a way to stitch these bodies to mean something beyond their mere display. This suggests a filmmaker still struck, and stuck, by the idea that the boyish male body can be sufficiently enticing as an object of contemplation just by its being stripped and exposed. But it’s 2014, and having hairless torsos press against each other inside funky apartments brings us closer to triteness than to ecstasy. If I Am Happiness on Earth were less in love with the physicality of its actors and more seduced by the complexity of its characters it would perhaps resemble Come Undone, Sébastien Lifshitz’s wonderful meditation on wandering and fucking without speaking. In Lifshitz’s film, boyish men, too, move through space in a sort of muted mating dance fueled by long-repressed desire. Hernández never achieves such organic seamlessness, as if his bodies had come first, their stories later—if at all. In his world, the enigmatic motion of limbs feels like a put-on to a more prosaic, and literal, need to have pretty boys take off their aussieBums and disappear into each other’s bodies, like indistinguishable wax figures.