Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Queer romance-dramas are always welcomed with open arms in my household, so the second In From the Side shot onto my radar, I was anxious to see how it would play out. A concept involving forbidden romance between rugby players could have been trite and predictable in lesser hands. One instantly imagines a heterosexual rugby team wherein rampant homophobia breaks out between players before a set of them fall in love—In From the Side is most definitely not that kind of movie. Premiering last year at the BFI Flare London LGBTQ+ Film Festival, filmmaker/writer/producer Matt Carter makes his feature-length directorial debut with this lustful, romantically-charged queer gem. 

In what must be a first for cinema, Carter peels back the curtain on a fictional gay men’s rugby team, driven by his own experiences as player, coach, and referee of rugby. During an energetic party celebrating minor milestones, an unlikely match begins to take shape. Sweet and reserved Mark (Alexander Lincoln), an inexperienced but promising player on the B-team, locks eyes with Warren (Alexander King), an A-team player recovering from a semi-serious leg injury. Fueled by an immediate sexual chemistry and a flirtatious vibe, Mark and Warren end up sleeping together, both rather inebriated. The morning after though is another story; Warren rushes out, worried what his boyfriend John (Peter Mcpherson) will think.

Warren is not the only one with a prior romantic entanglement. Mark also has a longtime boyfriend by the name of Richard (Alex Hammond), but there is a cold distance between the two of them as Richard is always absent from Mark’s rugby games. Richard goes away for long stretches of time, and to compensate, they have something of an open relationship with several hard rules. On the other hand, Warren’s union with John is more traditional in nature. Time and time again, Warren and Mark become entangled, stealing kisses or bathroom-stall blowjobs whenever possible. Sex scenes are not explicit or overdone, instead focusing on the intimacy between men.

Either way, both men are aware that what they are doing will hurt their significant others beyond repair, and yet they continue anyway. Unable to resist one another, their secret becomes harder to keep by the minute as they are forced to hide it from their teammates. The situation only grows more complex as Warren joins the A-team for a game. How one can root for these characters, as what they are doing is so obviously wrong, is complicated indeed. Thanks to the chemistry between the two Alexanders, Warren and Mark become flawed humans in impossibly difficult situations. Team tensions and propulsive rugby games aside, here we have a film depicting the impossible nuances of love. Love is love, no matter the cost, but the messages In From the Side is sending are not quite so simple.

Ultimately, In From the Side becomes a story of self-discovery and determining one’s own worth. Mark, the de-facto lead of the picture, becomes a lovable character thanks to Alexander Lincoln’s tender, doe-eyed performance. Opposite Lincoln, Alexander King’s Warren is criminally flirtatious and achingly sincere at the same time. A wide array of montages stretch the story out, just nearly hitting its breaking point, which is maybe the only complaint that could be thrown at this production. At nearly two-and-a-half hours, it is maybe a bit on the long side. Emotional but grounded, sad but hopeful, In From the Side is an early LGBT+ favorite that will easily find an audience thanks to its gorgeous cinematography and array of hunky, muddy rugby men. Come for the eye candy, and stay for the delectable drama.

Prepare to go In From the Side when it kick-starts a run in limited release theaters on Friday, January 20th.

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