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‘Three Months’ Review: Troye Sivan Shines in a Predictable, Yet Still Very Necessary Coming-of-Age Tale

Based on his own experiences, first-time filmmaker Jared Frieder's comedy is the kind of open-hearted offering legions of queer teens absolutely need access to.

Three Months

“Three Months”

Brian Douglas

Caleb is looking for answers. That isn’t surprising; after all, he’s a just-graduated queer teen desperate to get out of South Florida, an endless summer of nothing stretching before him, simply itching for his “real life” to start. But Caleb, already understandably restless and out of place, really has one big, major answer he needs: whether or not he has HIV. And while this might not sound like the stuff of coming-of-age comedy, first-time filmmaker Jared Frieder twists this decidedly downbeat plot line into a mostly charming, if wholly predictable entry into the always-fertile genre.

Frieder, who previously served as a staff writer on the cut-way-too-short series “Sweet/Vicious,” knows a thing or two about the dramatic plot he’s crafted: He lived his own version of it more than a decade ago. Over time, Frieder’s story has seemingly settled into the neat beats of the indie coming-of-age tale, complete with “wacky mode of transportation,” “unsettling subplot involving a BFF that’s treated way too tamely,” and even “Ellen Burstyn is the grandmother!” But while “Three Months” might seem cookie-cutter in a way familiar to anyone who has spent even a moment flipping through a Sundance program guide, that’s also part of its charm. There need to be more films like this, if only so the LGBTQ kids seeking them out will realize how normal their own experiences are.

Set in 2011, Caleb (a wonderful Troye Sivan, returning to acting after taking a break to focus on his music career), is just the kind of kid who could benefit from a film like “Three Months.” Shocked to discover that a one-night stand could impact the rest of his life — damn that broken condom — the sarcastic teen turns to the only outlets that can help him: the local clinic (where a kind doctor informs him that they need to keep testing his blood monthly for, ding ding ding, three months, to see if he has contracted HIV) and the internet, where he catches up on old episodes of “The Real World: San Francisco,” notable for its inclusion of housemate Pedro Zamora, one of the first openly gay men with HIV/AIDS to appear in mainstream media.

“Three Months”

Brian Douglas

Zamora is long dead by the time Caleb flips through his landmark episodes of the MTV reality series (the activist passed away in 1994, just hours after the final episode of his season aired), but he’s one of the few hits that pops up when he Googles “living with AIDS.” See? He’s looking for answers, and damn if they are in short supply.

Despite that heavy-sounding set-up, Frieder and Sivan manage to keep much of the film light, both for the better (it’s sweet enough to feel widely consumable) and the worse (some of its other darker subplots are bulldozed over in favor of cheap laughs). Sivan is an appealing leading man, able to play up both Caleb’s sarcastic humor and his simmering worries with ease, just as exciting to watch when he’s cracking big jokes or allowing his emotions to spill over. Without the ticking clock of his final blood test, “Three Months” would feel like any other one-last-summer-as-a-kid comedy, and Sivan would be just as delightful to watch even if the stakes were much lower.

As Caleb makes his way through this (final?) summer, other challenges stack up. His best friend Dara (Brianne Tju) has romantic troubles of her own; the candy-colored mini-mart they both work in is a highly depressing atmosphere; his grandmother (Burstyn) has to confront some financial changes; his fraught relationship with his mother (Amy Landecker in a small, unforgiving role) has never been worse; and there’s a cute new boy (“Blinded by the Light” breakout Viveik Kalra) going through his own waiting game. There’s the running joke of Caleb’s tandem bike (so often ridden alone), an inoffensive score from Roger Neill, a bleating old iPhone that seems to be attached to Caleb at all times, and a truly discomfiting number of scenes that see Caleb passed out in bed, surrounded by junk food crumbs.

Besides the imminent worry of a life-threatening virus, “Three Months” scans like any other coming-of-age tale, the sort of thing legions of queer teens might seek out as their own Pedro-like cinematic salve. “Living with AIDS,” they too might Google, and “Three Months” makes the case that living with the disease, or even the possibility of the disease, is just like living with anything else: sometimes thrilling, sometimes boring, but somehow always with the promise of one more day. If this all feels predictable, that’s only a win. “Predictable” implies we’ve seen it before, and will see it again.

Grade: C+

“Three Months” will start streaming on Paramount+ on Wednesday, February 23. 

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