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But How Gay is ‘Searching’?

In “But How Gay Is It?”, we seek to answer the biggest questions you have about a new movie release in theaters now — including, most crucially, the titular question. Does the movie have any queer characters? Are there stories involving same-sex lovers? Which gay icons star in the film? We’re bringing you all that and more.

What is Searching? Coming from the same cinematic style as the Unfriended movies and that one episode of Modern Family, Searching is depicted entirely on computer screens. Unlike the previous entries in this mini-genre, which were horror and comedy, Searching is a mystery thriller that sees a father, David Kim, desperately trying to find his missing daughter, Margot. In the process of looking for her, David realizes he didn’t really know her at all, and has to face that tru—

Wait, hold on, didn’t this movie come out last week? …It’s out in wide release this week?

Fine, yes, you caught me. Searching came out in limited release Aug. 24, and typically, I’d have reviewed it last week. But a mix-up of theaters led me to see the puppet orgasm movie instead. And that wasn’t a pleasant experience for anyone. Combined with the remarkably weak slate of new releases this week, it just made sense to do Searching now instead. Will you forgive me, dear reader?

Okay, forgiven. Who’s in it? John Cho plays David, and it’s some excellent work from the veteran actor. “Scared Dad” can be a fairly stock role, but Cho gets at all kinds of insecurities and parental fears that make David feel well-rounded — despite the fact that we only see him on computer screens. His primary scene partner is Debra Messing as Detective Rosemary Vick, the officer assigned to Margot’s case. Because we really only see her when she and David are speaking on FaceTime, I will affectionately refer to her exclusively as FaceTime Cop Debra Messing.

Joseph Lee plays David’s generally unhelpful brother, Peter, while young actress Michelle La plays Margot, obviously only seen in archival footage. Sara Sohn plays David’s recently deceased wife, Pam.

Why should I see it? For the first 75 minutes of its runtime, Searching seems like an ably made thriller that makes good use of its computer screen gimmick. Director and co-writer Aneesh Chaganty, who wrote the film with Sev Ohanian, turns in some genuinely affecting scenes, including and especially an extended look at Margot’s life as seen solely through calendar notifications, home videos, and other online interactions. It’s a 10-minute starting sequence that recalls the quick dance-through-life that begins Pixar’s Up, and it gives Cho and Sohn some lovely small moments that establish their characters. The mystery is well-built, and comes to a natural conclusion.

Then, in the last 20 or so minutes, everything goes fully off the rails.

The final twist, and what inspires a character to figure out the final twist, is so positively bonkers that you can’t think about it too hard. You just have to try valiantly to keep up with everything as it happens. It’s a flume ride of a final act that I can’t quite argue is good, but is positively batshit, and is more thrilling than 95% of everything else I’ve seen in movies this year. It’s wild.

But how gay is it? Will and Grace and Smash star Messing’s mere presence as a FaceTime Cop is pretty gay, but there are no gay characters or anything particularly queer in content.

You mentioned a big twist. What is it? Okay, so, major spoilers for Searching here. I’m gonna talk about the whole thing of the film, because it’s hard to describe what the movie is without it. Avert your eyes now if you plan on seeing the movie and want to remain unspoiled! You’ve been warned!

Okay, so in the last 20 minutes, David realizes that a previously identified character was actually just a stock photo model, which makes him realize that FaceTime Cop Debra Messing was lying to him. This leads to an über-dramatic confrontation at a church that we only see via livestream, followed by video of FaceTime Cop Debra Messing in a police interrogation that unravels the whole film’s plot piece by piece.

I’m still being somewhat vague, because I really think Searching’s big twist needs to be seen to be believed. But holy hell, it defies every expectation you could possibly have.

Between this, Crazy Rich Asians, The Meg, and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, are we in a major moment for Asian-led and Asian-American-led films? A massive one. Of those four movies, The Meg is the only one with a white lead who takes story precedence over the Asian lead (Jason Statham), and Li Bingbing’s Suyin is still the film’s primary emotional entry point. Noah Centineo’s Peter Kavinsky exists to support Lana Condor’s Lara Jean Covey in To All the Boys, and Messing is very much second-fiddle to Cho in Searching. Crazy Rich Asians, of course, had not a single white lead character.

This is truly unprecedented in American film. It’s unheard of to see this many Asian leads in a year, much less a month, of major new releases. The fact that the genres are so diverse, too — teen dramedy, romcom, shark movie, mystery — is a major positive point. This kind of inclusion is what so many have been crying out for for years, and to what should be no one’s surprise, it’s working at the box office. Searching, which is the first Hollywood thriller to be led by an Asian actor, is part of a movement, and deserves the same level of support. No matter how batshit crazy it is.

Searching is in theaters now.


 

Kevin O'KeeffeKevin O'Keeffe

Kevin O'Keeffe is a writer and 'RuPaul's Drag Race' herstorian. He covers film and TV for INTO, and writes the movie review column "But How Gay Is It?" every Friday.

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