In writer/director Tim Kirkman’s poignant, romantic drama Lazy Eye, recently released on DVD, Dean (Lucas Near-Verbrugghe) is a Los Angeles-based graphic designer with the titular ocular problem. One day, out of the blue, he gets an email from Alex (Aaron Costa Ganis), his ex from 15 years ago in New York City. After some email exchanges, the pair arrange to meet in Dean’s Joshua Tree home for sex, true confessions, and a possible second chance at their relationship.
The film, basically a two-hander, pivots on the dynamics between the attractive leads as they reveal secrets and lies, reflect on memories, and experience loneliness, honesty, and maturation. But what will catch the eyes, and hearts, of viewers is Near-Verbrugghe’s sensitive performance—he makes Dean’s despair palpable—and Costa Ganis’ seductive turn as Dean’s ex.
In a recent phone interview, writer/director Kirkman spoke with me for the San Francisco Bay Times about Lazy Eye.
Gary M. Kramer: Your film is about seeing things clearly, be they relationships or objects. What prompted you to write Lazy Eye?
Tim Kirkman: Around the time I turned forty, my eyes started to change. I have amblyopia, and out of the blue, an ex contacted me. It was at a disruptive moment in my life, so I thought about the choices I made in my life. It’s a luxury to look at your life and be self-reflective. But it’s so common that I wanted to write about it. Eyes changing had a metaphorical significance, but it’s also about the way you see the world shifting. You reflect on being a younger person and letting go of that and embracing who you are in middle age.
Gary M. Kramer: Yes, I love when Dean admits about his lazy eye, “If I’d done what I was supposed to, I’d see the whole differently now.” Can you talk about the theme of change?
Tim Kirkman: Yes, I thought that had I done my eye exercises, I could have corrected the whole problem. I wish I had. It’s about regret, and the choices you make in your life.
Gary M. Kramer: Lazy Eye uses the environments of the couple’s early days in New York to Dean’s life in LA, to their weekend in Joshua Tree to inform the characters. Can you discuss how you created each setting?
Tim Kirkman: The desert is isolated, but it’s also romantic. I thought it was a great place for a romantic tryst. I moved from New York to Los Angeles, and that’s an ongoing conversation I have with friends from both coasts. In Los Angeles, there is a comfort and ease of life I never found in New York. It takes a tough person to live in New York: you battle the elements, other people, and the sidewalks. The humanity of it is more intense, and there’s more of it in a more compact place. The flashbacks to New York give a sense of the romance of the city—a life that’s gritty and full of romance and hope when you’re young. I was capturing the memories I have of that. These guys are haunted by these memories; they can’t help but think about the other. They have to deal with it to move forward
Gary M. Kramer: What prompted you to tell the story with flashbacks and triggers?
Tim Kirkman: Looking back on your 20s, you try to rationalize and intellectualize things. I’m a grown up now. That’s why Dean is not accusatory when they reunite. But his emotions can be triggered by something like a smell. I like the idea of revisiting one day. This night in New York was sexually charged. I wanted to address the carnality of that moment, which is a magnet in the film: The longing for that kind of freedom when you approach middle age is really appealing. They are thinking back to the moment they first met. That would be foremost in their memories.
Gary M. Kramer: Can you talk about the visual approach you took to the film?
Tim Kirkman: The first thirty minutes is almost a silent film. You are watching Dean be by himself. It’s all about isolation and loneliness. The visuals are all still, but once Alex arrives, the camera is handheld. There’s more tension. There is an unsettled feeling even during the dinner scene. I tried to capture that tension.
Gary M. Kramer: Was there ever one that got away for you?
Tim Kirkman: Yes, and it’s fictionalized. We all have those people and they may not be lovers, but teachers, or family members. But you will be one of either of those people—the one who looks for someone or the one who is pursued—because we’re more connected than ever before. We have to figure out ways of dealing with it. The way I dealt with it is that I made a movie.
© 2016 Gary M. Kramer
Gary M. Kramer is the author of “Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews,” and the co-editor of “Directory of World Cinema: Argentina.” Follow him on Twitter @garymkramer