Keep the Lights On is not a gay love story; it’s simply a love story. The film is full of sex, greed and happiness along with pain, heartache and drama that naturally comes hand in hand. Emotionally charged and draining, this love story is a bit of a bumpy ride.

Chronicling the dysfunctional relationship between documentary filmmaker Erik Rothman (Thure Lindhardt) and closeted lawyer Paul Lucy (Zachary Booth), Keep the Lights On is 102 minutes of sex, fighting, sex and more fighting. It takes a certain headspace to get through it all without feeling like you just want these two to break up and call it a day. Its realism is haunting; however, the movie wears its heart on its sleeve and is maybe a bit unbearable because of how open and honest it is.

And that’s also what’s great about it – Erik and Paul are absolutely honest and relatable characters. Erik yearns for companionship, and Paul’s self-destructing nature eventually dooms them both. Actors Lindhardt and Booth are magnificent, the cinematography is breathtaking, and the soundtrack pulls you in from the minute the opening credits appear. The sex is also great. New York is great. You almost forget you’re watching the story of two gay men as director Ira Sachs manages to somehow splay sexuality out subtly and blatantly all at once.

Although the sex seems to go a touch too far at times, it underscores the pain of the relationship, seeming to function as a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound. About half of the movie is composed of sex or shots of near-sex. Uncomfortable at first, you see the role it plays not only in Erik and Paul’s relationship, but in the gay community. Phone sex lines and gay clubs become a go-to during hard times, and while it sometimes serves as a fix-it to their relationship, it also reflects how strained and ailing it is.

All that being said, it’s a movie with more potential than substance. Time lapses forward in awkward chunks, with little transition or explanation. No detail is given on some major plot points: How exactly does Paul rid himself of a crack addiction so suddenly? There was an intervention, but aside from that, I couldn’t tell you. He also starts the film in the closet, but no attention is paid to his coming out. We’re to assume it happened, but I’m left wondering how and when.

There is little growth in both characters, no story arc, and its repetitious storyline – which is much like a terrible relationship based on sex alone – makes you want it to just end already. The secondary storylines seem interesting (like the one about Erik’s close friends, a biracial couple struggling with the idea of kids), but little time is spent developing them. 

Keep the Lights On has its moments, though, that make the film worth watching. For example, a beautiful scene shows Erik, with heart-wrenching pain, holding Paul’s hand as Paul has sex with another man. There is an understandable longing for it to all work out, and the pain of knowing it never will is what makes this film.  

Grade: B-