‘In From the Side’ Review: Meandering Gay Rugby Romance Goes Into Overtime

Writer-director Matt Carter throws in lots of sex and scrums to divert from his underwritten central couple

In From the Side
Strand Releasing

The awkwardly titled gay rugby romance “In from the Side” is so padded out at 134 minutes with both rugby games and sex scenes that the final effect is numbing, and writer-director Matt Carter doesn’t bother much with either plot or character to fill out his narrative.

Mark (Alexander Lincoln) is a member of the South London Stags, which is thought of as the B-team of a gay London Rugby Club. Before you can hum “Some Enchanted Evening,” he locks eyes from across a crowded room with Warren (Alexander King), a cocky guy who plays on what is considered the A-team.

While out at a nightclub with fellow team members, Mark makes eye contact with Warren again, and Warren buys them some tequila shots. Confident in his approach, Warren licks Mark’s hand in a suggestive manner, and they banter on the dance floor and share a kiss before Mark firmly disengages; he seems very turned off by Warren’s attitude.

And so when Warren follows Mark down to the restroom and pushes him into a stall, he seems to be forcing himself on prey, yet Mark kisses him back. What’s missing here is some moment or two in between the kiss-off from Mark and the kissing in the stall, something that would tell us that Mark is still interested. The scene as it plays on screen is both confusing and unconvincing, bordering on offensive.

Realism doesn’t have to be followed to the letter on screen; after all, if this was a real contemporary gay nightclub, most of the guys would be on their phones and checking Grindr rather than cruising each other. But if certain details are overlooked, a director can wind up with something that might not have been intended.

“In from the Side” looks to be quite the labor of love from Carter, who actually gets credited as director, co-writer, co-producer, cinematographer, editor and even costume designer and composer of the score. Carter also gets namechecked for sound design, visual effects and animation for the closing titles, so it is safe to say that he needed at least a few collaborators to offer some feedback. (In one of the rugby scenes, Carter’s efforts as a composer sound awfully close to Daft Punk’s “TRON: Legacy” score.)

Mark and Warren go to bed together, and we eventually find out that both of them have boyfriends. Mark is in an open relationship, and his partner is portrayed as condescending, financially controlling and often out of town. Warren’s boyfriend is on the B-team with Mark, which would seem to be a setup for some drama, yet we see and hear very little of him in this film.

“In from the Side” is somewhat brave in that neither Mark nor Warren are particularly sympathetic characters. Most of the movie is about their growing need for each other, yet what we see of their clandestine love affair makes it look like they are succumbing to fairly mechanical lust; in the longest sex scene, which happens about midway through the film, they look like they are having physically satisfying but emotionally disconnected sex, and so it is difficult to care whether or not they keep going and get together or decide to end what they are doing.

There is a very long section of “In from the Side” where Mark takes Warren to meet his parents for Christmas, and we are treated to a random slow-motion snowball fight that looks like the slow-motion Carter uses for some of the rugby scenes. Mark’s mother has a Significant Monologue about how she stole her husband from his high-school sweetheart, and then everybody says goodbye to each for what feels like a long time. Sequences like this cry out for an editor, but Carter has his hands full with so many other jobs on this picture that he lets scenes dawdle.

There are more rugby matches and more sex scenes after this, and a resolution of sorts to what little plot there is, but by the end of “In from the Side,” the main love affair has been made to feel trivial and pointless.

“In From the Side” opens in US theaters Jan. 20 via Strand Releasing.