Set in mid-’60s San Diego, wobbly melodrama Josie’s Castle likely reflects a clash of intentions. On some levels, the picture represents a serious exploration of gender politics circa the Sexual Revolution, seeing as how the protagonist is a newly divorced young woman who drifts into a hip living situation by sharing quarters with two recently divorced dudes. Yet the picture is also an exercise in camp—one prominent supporting character is a flamboyantly gay man completing an MFA thesis film on masturbation. Furthermore, the movie aspires to be erotica, as demonstrated by the very first image: a silhouetted closeup of a man suckling a woman’s nipple. So even though Josie’s Castle is basically watchable and presents a few small insights into the risks of upsetting interpersonal norms, the movie is a mess in terms of narrative and tone. Many films were made in the ’60s and ’70s about similar subject matter, and while Josie’s Castle is far from the most exploitive of these pictures, it’s so vapid as to seem disposable compared to, say, any sexually themed offering from Paul Mazursky.
After leaving their respective spouses, Josie (Holly Mascott) shacks up with Ken (George Takei) and Leonard (Tom Holland) in a ramshackle Victorian mansion. First the three enjoy a carefree life, savoring art and music while tooling around town on a bicycle built for two. Then things get heavy, because Josie and Leonard become a couple even as Leonard starts dealing drugs. Meanwhile odd man out Ken struggles to find meaning in his lonely existence. Colorful things happen, including a drugged-out orgy, a hostage situation, and trips to the zoo during which the gay filmmaker collects footage of a monkey pleasuring himself. All of this stuff occasions hip talk about emotional truth and throwing off the expectations of society. Weirdly, the dialogue gets bitchier and sharper as the story moves along, giving the sense that a more urbane writer finished what someone else had started.
Be that as it may, the style of Josie’s Castle is all over the place. Sometimes the picture is sensitive, and sometimes it’s sensationalistic. Mostly, however, it’s just superficial, going for easy dramatic climaxes and cheap sardonic punch lines. In the end, the themes are so muddled that figuring out what the filmmakers meant to say is pointless. Yet somehow, Josie’s Castle feels worthy of a moment’s consideration, if only because it includes so many important signifiers. If nothing else, it’s odd to see a long-haired Takei, better known as Star Trrek’s Mr. Sulu, strutting around in tighty-whities while spewing with-it lines about personal and sexual fulfillment.
Josie’s Castle: FUNKY