THE STORY – Follows social media celebrity Jordan Firstman as he starts a search for filmmaker Sebastian Silva who went missing in Mexico City. He suspects that the cleaning lady in Sebastian’s building may be involved in his disappearance.
THE CAST – Jordan Firstman, Rob Keller & Vitter Leija
THE TEAM – Sebastián Silva (Director/Writer) & Pedro Peirano (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 109 Minutes
Neither Sebastián Silva nor Jordan Firstman are exactly household names, so it’s hard to imagine the person who would be clamoring for a film in which they both play versions of themselves. But here “Rotting in the Sun” is anyway, and it’s hard to find fault with it as far as that logline is concerned; both Silva and Firstman are compulsively watchable as, respectively, a depressed filmmaker desperately trying to find an outlet to express his darkest inner feelings and a social media influencer he runs into at a gay nude beach who wants to collaborate with him on a TV series. The meta-framework allows both to heighten different parts of their public personas to great comedic effect. Still, it’s unfortunately attached to a relatively simple story that, while amusing in spurts, ends up overstaying its welcome.
Sebastián Silva is having a tough time. No one wants to fund any of his cinematic projects, his paintings aren’t attracting any buyers, and there’s near-constant construction going on in the building he calls home, owned by his best friend who’s letting him stay in one unit rent-free. He spends his free time doing party drugs, walking his dog, and thinking of ways to kill himself. When one of the builders suggests he go to the beach in Zicatela to get away and relax, he reluctantly goes, only to find a nude gay cruising spot where he meets one Jordan Firstman, an influencer with an abundance of self-confidence, wild personal style, and a pushy personality. Jordan, a fan of Silva’s, insists that Sebastián come to a party he’s throwing and pitches him on a new project he wants to collaborate on: A docuseries of sorts about himself. Sebastián finds Jordan and his Instagay ways annoying but acquiesces when HBO is more interested in Jordan’s series than any of his own concepts. However, when Jordan shows up at Sebastián’s house to start working on the project, he’s not there, and no one knows where he could be. Jordan takes it upon himself to find Sebastián, but will he like what he finds?
The audience knows what happened to Sebastián, and Silva is able to wring a surprising amount of tension out of Jordan’s attempts to figure it out (for the sake of preserving one of the film’s best moments, we won’t spoil what happens). It turns out that everyone in Sebastián’s orbit – the builders, his best friend who owns the building, his maid (Catalina Saavedra) – has something to hide that could implicate themselves in Sebastián’s disappearance, and watching the culture clash between them and the very American Jordan is often entertaining. In fact, the film becomes even more comedic after Sebastián goes missing, even as doing so makes it even darker. Not that the film’s first half or so isn’t funny – Silva’s performance as the one depressed person at the party (or, at least, the one person at the party who acknowledges their own depression) is hilariously on point, and the editing adds an exclamation point to some very funny lines – but the film’s satire of internet fame and influencer culture is downright savage in its hilarity in a way that only other gay men can be to each other, and whenever Jordan takes center stage “Rotting in the Sun” reaches the peak of its comedic impulses.
However, the film is also very much about Silva imagining what would happen to the people around him if he were to disappear and what circumstances would lead to such a disappearance, and he hasn’t quite found a way to make the film flow naturally between those two modes. The pacing feels like being stuck in stop-and-go traffic, making it feel much longer than its 105 minutes, and it feels largely due to this inability to balance its main themes well. While each is strong enough on their own, thanks to Silva and Firstman’s fearless performances and that occasionally biting dialogue, the film works better as a series of great moments with poor connective tissue than as a whole piece. Even ending on as strong a final moment as “Rotting in the Sun” does (Silva and co-screenwriter Pedro Peirano do a great job ratcheting up the satire and save their most vicious gut punch for last), it never feels fully cohesive or satisfying. Its strongest moments may linger, but the whole, in this case, is sadly less than the sum of its (admittedly very well-endowed) parts.