Dominic Haxton is no stranger to queer short films. Breaking into the limelight with “Teens Love Phil” but before he created “Tonight It’s You“, he gave us “Tonight It’s Me”. (They really aren’t connected, though they share a similar title.) This queer short film is a conundrum – a stunning, thought-evoking conundrum that draws you back for even more! I’ll be frank, I didn’t really enjoy “Tonight It’s Me” that much when I first saw it. However there is something about the story and the depth of it all that called to me enough that I watched it again. And then again. Before I knew it, I was simple awed by how it all weaves and interweaves together to tell a rather simple story about a chance encounter one night. But before I wax on further, let’s break down what is so special about “Tonight It’s Me”.
Synopsis of “Tonight It’s Me”
Lighting up a cigarette, CJ (Jake Robbins) answers questions from his last “John” of the night – an old man who voyeuristically watches gay sex in real life. As the man’s remarks continue, CJ performs fellatio on a young man at the edge of the pool overlooking Hollywood below. After spitting out this emotionless task, he tries to wipe the cum off his shirt. “Hazards of the job”, the old man (Neil Elliot) laughs. Back in his car on the street, CJ frantically tries to clean up the cum stain. As he flips his shirt inside out to hide it, he gets a text from a new potential client.
However when CJ arrives at house, he is greeted by the feminine & androgynous Ash (Caleb James). Rather than getting right to business, they share a toast first. “Seven years of bad sex”, Ash remarks since CJ did not look her in the eyes. Downing her drink, Ash gracefully begins to kiss CJ while they strip off their clothes. But Ash asks to take things to the bedroom. Entering wearing just boxer shorts, CJ caresses Ash’s legs. Ash has other plans though, CJ first. “You can take care of me later” Ash remarks as the light switches off.
Afterwards, CJ enjoys a cigarette outside while Ash curls up in his arms. Ash wants to play a drinking game: “two truths and one lie”. CJ goes first, but plays coy about which story of his is the lie. When Ash tells her three stories, CJ does not believe that Ash could kill a man like she claims. “You’re not strong enough. … You look like you couldn’t hurt a fly.” he mocks. Annoyed, Ash walks inside. Putting on red lipstick and perfume, Ash retreats into her bedroom. CJ slowly walks in and inquires if Ash likes dressing up as a girl. “I AM a girl”, she replies. “You have a dick”, CJ notes. “No, YOU’RE a dick – and you’re a boy.” Ash replies back as they linger in awkwardness. Ash holds out a roll of twenties to CJ, however CJ admits that he’s a bit drunk and shouldn’t drive home. “Guess you have to spend the night”, Ash remarks as she kiss him gently while walking into the bedroom. They have sex a second time, but it’s sensual and erotic.
They wake up the next morning laying in bed, Ash’s hand over CJ’s chest. While CJ puts on his clothes, Ash quietly asks him to help with another favour as she withdraws a syringe from her purse. “Drugs?” CJ asks. “Sorta, but not the type you’re thinking of,” Ash replies rolling over to expose her buttocks. After assisting her with her hormones, he turns to leave and gives Ash one final kiss. Right before CJ leaves, however, Ash confesses her lie from last night’s game; CJ reveals his lie in response. Neither are what the other expected. Back in his car, CJ notices red lipstick on his white shirt collar. Again he frantically tries to wipe it away. However as Ash stretches out on her bed, CJ takes one last look back at her home before driving away.
After my first viewing of “Tonight It’s Me”, I was ready to give it a much lower score. Initially, I felt that the script was lacking, the acting subpar, and just wasn’t that great. But there was something that kept nagging me (plus I had to rewatch it to ensure I got my synopsis correct). It was during that second viewing that so many of the smaller details “clicked” and quite simply, I was floored.
Overall and woven throughout nearly every aspect of this queer short film is the concept of contrasting juxtapositions. CJ is an escort, moving from John to John, trick to trick. Sex means nothing to him, he’ll perform any act for money – even with derogatory commentary from a rich old voyeur. Meanwhile, Ash is quite shy and reserved; unable or perhaps simply unwilling to seek out sexual attention via normal means. Ash feels the need to resort to hiring an escort, but then prefers to take care of the escort first. There’s also the extra level of contrast because Ash is trans, transitioning from male to female and a contrast itself. CJ initially misinterprets Ash as simply being more feminine, rather than realising she is in the process of transitioning. Heck, CJ makes some rather rude remarks to Ash such as her hands being too small to kill, not strong enough, feminine, et al. (I think I actually honed in on these remarks, which is part why my first impression of “Tonight It’s Me” was not favourable.)
Once things clicked, everything else lined up. What I took as harsh and even nasty dialogue, actually sets up for a really in depth discussion on why Ash is actually a woman trapped in a man’s body. CJ, despite making the initial wrong assumption, keeps an open mind when he realises that there is something developing between them – and that it’s with a trans woman. Yet even knowing this (and partially with the excuse of being too drunk to drive home), CJ stays and they have a more erotic & sensual second round of sex. It actually forces the viewer to consider how they would react in that situation: would they stay? would they go? Even the following morning, CJ seems hesitant to leave, almost as if he wants things to develop further. (Which is the exact opposite feeling an escort should have, tying back into that contrasting theme). The dialogue is very well written, providing a strong base to build upon.
And let’s not ignore the talents of both Jake Robbins as CJ and Caleb James as Ash! CJ has an almost “je ne sais quoi” attitude at the start of the short, however this hustler persona gradually softens and the real CJ shines through. Meanwhile, Caleb Jame’s portrayal of Ash is reserved at first. Ash is very shy, timid almost. Yet by the time they have a smoke out on the deck and play their guessing game, they both are quite relaxed; they both can express their true selves in that moment. But Ash’s insecurity immediately rears its head again after CJ remarks about her feminine features. But what is pleasing to note is that Ash returns not inside to cry, but to her closet where she puts on her makeup to fully embrace the woman she truly is. This soften her persona again, now that she is back in her comfort zone. But that fragile facade is always present, as it returns when Ash awkwardly has to ask CJ to help give her her hormone shot the following morning. They both portray their roles extremely well, which is a testimony to their talent.
Lastly, the cinematographic elements are deceiving themselves – yet upon closer look, they’re quite well thought out. I was initially put off by the yellow hued lighting in Ash’s home, putting it towards poor planning. However, when the light returns back to a cool daylight hue the following morning, the simplicity and stunning forethought shines through. Camera/shot-wise, I absolutely loved the scene in the bedroom while Ash puts on her makeup. Between the focus on the makeup itself, to focusing on Ash through the mirror as she puts on her makeup, and even so far as to CJ peer in from the door frame – it’s well planned and visually is quite stunning! Thankfully, the rest of the film matches the same level of expertise to pull it all together.
Despite an initial dislike of this queer short film, I eventually realised how much I love “Tonight It’s Me”. It’s all about the juxtaposition between CJ and Ash; they’re caught up unexpectedly in something potentially special while having to balance their own lives. There’s even another level because Ash is a trans woman still transitioning. Even with the simplicity of the story, there is a depth to the dialogue that digs down and makes the viewer think twice about what is happening. If you haven’t seen “Tonight It’s Me”, then I strongly encourage you to go watch it! And if you have seen it already, what did you think?