There's a good kernel of an idea lying somewhere in Love Is All You Need?, the new feature film from director and writer K. Rocco Shields. The premise is an intriguing one: What if homosexuality were the norm, and heterosexuals were shamed by society? As a thought experiment, it's fascinating; what would that world look like? How would gender roles change? What would religious figures preach about?
As a film, it's a five-minute idea painstakingly stretched to a full two hours. Love Is All You Need? is a disappointing failure, one with a lot of ideas that never cohere and a deeply perplexing point of view.
Jude Klein (Briana Evigan) is her religious university's star quarterback. She's dating sorority queen Kelly Williams (Emily Osment) and has a strong relationship with her reverend, Rachel (Elisabeth Röhm). But all that gets turned on its head when Jude falls for a boy, Ryan Morris (Tyler Blackburn). Her life begins teetering on the edge of disaster, about to fall apart at any moment.
Meanwhile, Emily Curtis (Kyla Kenedy) is a young girl whose teacher, Mr. Thompson (Jeremy Sisto), is shaking up the school. He's rewritten the famous Shakespeare play Romeo and Julio as Romeo and Juliet — get it? — and Emily wants to play Juliet. She's bullied by her classmates and called a "ro," this universe's slur version of "hetero."
The two stories exist in the same town, but slightly time-shifted away from each other. It's later suggested that Emily's story is taking place slightly after Jude's, though the timeline is never clarified. It's one of many incomplete thoughts in Shields' film.
Love Is All You Need? fails to set up its world effectively. Jude is the star quarterback, but there's also a boys' football team — and yet later it's mentioned that real NFL teams like the Packers and Steelers are looking to recruit Jude. Are those teams co-ed in this universe? Or just women? Shields and co-writer David Tillman's script never bothers to explain.
In fact, Love Is All You Need? treats men and women entirely differently. We see a good number of scenes of young women kissing or otherwise being intimate, but the only scenes of gay male couples are in established pairs. There's one kiss between Mr. Thompson and his partner; otherwise, male homosexuality (which, remember, is supposed to be the norm in this society) is otherwise treated as something to be embarrassed about. Ryan is trying to pledge a fraternity in which brothers make prospective members make out in a closet. That's what gay male sexuality is in this world: hazing.
This inequality is frustrating, because it makes the Love Is All You Need? world impossible to decipher. No matter what kind of movie you're making — sci-fi, romantic comedy, LGBTQ thought experiment — the rules of the universe have to be consistent. Sadly, Shields and Tillman concocted a nonsensical world.
If the story were stellar, it could perhaps overcome its flawed world-building. But as the script clumsily explores youth suicide and hate crimes, it's hard not to wonder what Love Is All You Need? is trying — and failing — to say.
Originally, Love Is All You Need? was a short film, one that actually did very well upon initial release (one press release put the figure at around 50 million views across platforms). In this form, the story doesn't get much better — the ending is relentlessly dark — but the world at least makes sense. An even briefer version of the short could be truly compelling.
Love Is All You Need? is a frustrating venture. This is a bold idea that, executed well, could have been a really compelling piece of art to dissect in a time where being queer in the United States is increasingly a perilous position. A film like this could, in theory, inspire empathy. For heterosexuals who don't understand what it is to live as an LGBTQ person, this movie could have served as a wake-up call to those experiences.
Unfortunately, the final product just feels incomplete and, at times, insulting. This is not what we need, nor is it an artistically impressive project. Love Is All You Need? is a failure, and sadly, not one worth your time.
Love Is All You Need? hits iTunes Thanksgiving Day.