A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
Is "Interior. Leather Bar" shocking? Codirector James Franco says yes, "but only because every toilet paper commercial has a man and a woman living in a house together."
The actor-filmmaker-writer-film critic-Oscar host-open heart surgeon (that last one is a joke) makes this statement in one of many interviews showcased within this smart, odd, short, ultimately unsatisfying feature. "Interior. Leather Bar" is being sold as Franco and codirector Travis Mathews' imagining of the 40 minutes that the ratings board made director William Friedkin cut from his 1980 thriller "Cruising," an Al Pacino thriller about a straight cop navigating the "gay underworld", to avoid an X-rating. But the project isn't quite what it purports to be. The "re-imagining" of the Friedkin picture's deleted leathery grinding takes up less than 15 minutes of this movie's one-hour running time. The rest is a documentary that observes present-day actors (including Franco's friend Val Lauren in the Pacino role) as they rehearse and shoot the re-imagined scenes.
Although Franco identifies as straight, he's told many gay-themed stories as an actor, fiction writer and filmmaker. He's said he's drawn to this material out of personal fascination and a sense of social justice. As far as he's concerned, there isn't enough sex in popular culture—or enough flavors of the frank and real and artistically expressive kind of screen sex, as opposed to the sunlight-through-venetian-blinds-and-closeups-of-intertwined-hands kind of sex. And the overwhelming majority of screen sex is between men and women.
Franco busts out the word "normative" in one of the interview segments, and it doesn't feel forced, because that's ultimately what "Interior. Leather Bar" is about: the difficulty of trying to tell gay stories in a heteronormative world. Franco wants to know why screen sex can't just be a storytelling tool. Why is it possible to have many varieties of violence in a film and still have kids be able to see it, while even mildly explicit sex will earn an automatic "R" rating? As actor Jack Nicholson observed in the 1970s, cut a woman's breast off with a sword and movie is rated "PG"; touch it and it's an "R." He was exaggerating, but not by much.