Quite an important work in the history of American gay filmmaking, A Very Natural Thing is considered the first feature film on the gay experience made by an out-of-the-closet gay man to receive commercial distribution. The simple but insightful story involves a 26-year-old gay man who leaves the priesthood and moves to New York City in the hopes of finding a meaningful gay relationship. Now a schoolteacher, he soon falls in love with a handsome young advertising executive.
Though the film is barely remembered today, detractors at the time of its release found it a bit too sappy, bordering on soap opera. Others saw it as a sensitively told and refreshingly romantic story. At the time, the film was also seen as a gay response to the massive commercial success of Love Story. That film’s famous quote “Love means never having to say your sorry” is almost directly parodied with the line “Love means never having to say you’re in love,” in A Very Natural Thing.
At the time of the film’s release in 1974, director Christopher Larkin was quoted as saying “The idea of a film about gay relationships and gay liberation themes come out of my own personal reaction to the mindless, sex-obsessed image of the homosexual prevalent in gay porno films.” In response to criticism that the film was not political or radical enough, Larkin said “I wanted to say that same-sex relationships are no more problematic but no easier than any other human relationships. They are in many ways the same and in several ways different from heterosexual relationships but in themselves are no less possible or worthwhile.”
Sadly, A Very Natural Thing was not a critical or commercial success. Larkin, who moved to California and became an author, never made another film. He ended his own life in 1988, but left behind a 2-hour act of cinematic bravery that documents a unique time period in gay history. While earlier gay-themed mainstream films were dominated by tales of gays and lesbians being outcasts of society, mentally disturbed or committing suicide and later films were dominated by the emergence of the AIDS epidemic, A Very Natural Thing represents a short period in time where gay liberation flourished and filmmakers could explore relationships in much the same way that films with heterosexual characters did.