Mar 12, 2015

Review: Totally F***ed Up (1993)

I'm familiar with Gregg Araki's more modern work such as The Mysterious Skin and some other titles that I haven't seen yet like Kaboom and White Bird in a Blizzard. Totally Fucked Up, or Totally F***ed Up since swearing in a title isn't all that marketable, is my first foray into 90's Araki which is a big deal. The first movie in the Teen Apocalypse Trilogy, Totally Fucked Up is one of the early works that contributed to New Queer Cinema.

New Queer Cinema can be thought of as a queer-themed independent film movement that began in the early 1990's. A common theme throughout is the rejection of heteronormativity, or that men and women each have their own roles and that's just how things are. Totally Fucked Up and the rest of the Teen Apocalypse Trilogy are well known entries in this movement that has since culminated in mainstream hits like Brokeback Mountain, Milk and The Kids Are All Right.


Genre: comedy, drama, romance
Directed by: Gregg Araki
Produced by: Gregg Araki, Andrea Sperling, Alberto GarcĂ­a
Written by: Gregg Araki
Music by: N/A
Running time: 78 minutes
Production company: Blurco, Desperate Pictures, Muscle + Hate Studios
Distributed by: Strand Releasing, Dangerous To Know, CMV Laservision
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: N/A
Box office: $101,071 (North America)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: James Duval, Roko Belic, Susan Behshid, Jenee Gill, Gilbert Luna, Lance May, Alan Boyce, Craig Gilmore, Nicole Dillenberg, Johanna Went, Robert McHenry, Brad Minnich, Michael Costanza



Six teenagers living in Los Angeles band together to better deal with the challenges of being homosexuals. Lesbian couple Michele (Susan Behshid) and Patricia (Jenee Gill) appear to be the mothers of the bunch while also wanting a child of their own. Steven (Gilbert Luna) and Deric (Lance May) are also a couple, but things are a bit strained between them. Meanwhile, Tommy (Roko Belic) is content in having random sex with strangers while sensitive Andy (James Duval) is completely single. That's before he meets Ian (Alan Boyce), a college student who seems perfect.


Totally Fucked Up in a way is a type of mockumentary, but not quite. It's not a satire after all, so I suppose it's pseudo-documentary. Whatever you want to call it, Gregg Araki arranges TFU in a way that includes interview-like segments with all the individual characters as well as the film's linear narrative shot in a handheld camera style. The interviews aren't central to the plot though. They're more of an opportunity for the characters to express their opinions on different topics that were affecting homosexuals in the early 90's.

The topics are wide-ranging and what you'd expect. AIDS, sex, drugs, consumerism, religion, you name it. It's there and it is pretty interesting to listen to. The actors all do a good job at appearing to be genuine people facing all these issues too. However, these segments come at the expense of the story which seems to be a bit thin and lacks a bit of punch. It's divided up into fifteen different parts that will at times be fascinating and at times seem to drag. That's how it was for me at least.

Where things definitely do pick up however is by the climax which is undeniably shocking. It definitely took me by surprise. (Spoilers) I realized though that I should've seen it coming since the film literally opens with an article about homosexual teenagers committing suicide. Is that what they call foreshadowing? (End Spoilers) Besides the biting commentary, this was my favourite aspect of Totally Fucked Up.

What I also liked about Araki's film is the usage of the handheld camera style. I'll admit that I consider myself a handheld camera apologist, but even I can agree that it's a style that has spiraled completely out of control. It only does good in Totally Fucked Up though since it adds to the intimacy of the entire project. Besides framing his characters in this personal light, Araki always finds a way to always fit in additional commentary with the backgrounds he uses. He's clearly planned out every shot and I love that.

In terms of the acting, I think the whole gang do a pretty good job at seeming like regular teenagers rejecting the status quo. Well, as regular as you can be in that sense. James Duval who is more or less the main character of the film, does a particularly good job at seeming to not really care about anything. He just casually smokes his cigarettes and doesn't seem to have a lot to say about anything. We learn later that's not really the truth and it's interesting to see that change.

At the end of the day, Totally Fucked Up is a microbudget film about gay teenagers dealing with different issues. Its pseudo-documentary format is unique and it has a lot to say. Despite the powerful climax, I couldn't help but feel my interest wane at certain points in the story. Still, it's can important entry in New Queer Cinema and any Gregg Araki fan should definitely see it. I can't imagine Totally Fucked Up being the best choice for more conventional film watchers though.



Related Reviews:

The Doom Generation (1995) 
Nowhere (1997)

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