It's not every day that a gay indie romantic comedy achieves depth and dimension, which is a big reason why writer-director Terracino's debut film is something to celebrate. The muscle boys, flip sidebars and incidental disco in Elliot Loves belie a deeper exploration of the title character's struggle to transcend his hardscrabble upbringing and find love.
The film follows two Elliots. There is today's Elliot (Fabio Castaprado), a 21-year-old, Dominican-American club boy who throws his heart in the ring whenever he thinks he might have a shot at love, only to find himself knocked out before the second round. And there is Elliot when he was child (played by a prodigious youngster named Quentin Araujo), growing up in Queens, with a mother (Elena Goode) who'd had Elliot out of wedlock at 16 and has found herself emotionally dependent on deadbeat boyfriends ever since, ones who physically abuse both her and Elliot, though she always takes them back, forever pitying them and making excuses for their hard-luck stories.
On the surface, this might sound depressing but Elliot stays feisty from first to last, never giving in to the undertow that always takes his loving but hapless mother down. Heartbreak be damned, he never gives up on himself or on love. He also gets by with a little help from all the sassy male and female friends he has made along the way, the ones who look like they're sighing inside as they listen to him launch into yet another story about how he has fallen for yet another guy whom he swears is different from the one who dumped him a few days ago. This would be unnerving to viewers as well if Teraccino had not given such a sensitive presentation of Elliot's early home life and if the acting weren't so dynamic and impactful all-around.
There are the odd scenes where "Elliot Loves" traffics in banal, cruise-y dialogue and genre tropes, but those moments are few. At the same time, there is no justice if a highly original animated cruising sequence, mid-movie, doesn't win an award for something somewhere someday. And there is a reason the movie itself won the Audience Award at the 2012 Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. "Elliot Loves" is a nuanced indie with a tight script, a powerhouse cast and a pair of underdogs (young Elliot and older Elliot) who hang in there long after others would have taken a dive.