To hear directors James Franco and Travis Matthews tell it - and oh, how much you get to hear Franco tell it, over and over, across the movie's achingly long 60 minutes - the purpose of Interior. Leather Bar. is to interrogate the comfort level of the viewer and performer alike surrounding explicit gay sex in cinema, in art, and in real life. But around the five minute mark, the film shares its actual purpose, in the foggy phrasing of actor Val Lauren, the anchor of Franco's experiment:
"I don't personally like this project, personally. It doesn't, I don't, nothing artistic in it, right now. Maybe it's 'cause of my lack of understanding of what it is, doesn't respond to it. What I do respond to, and always have is his mission [points to Franco]. I like James's mission, I don't always understand it, but I like it. I like it. I like what he's doing, even when I don't understand it, and I'm into supporting it and being a part of it."
Let's summarise, to clean up the talky, inarticulate stumbling over language, which is itself a key part of Interior. Leather Bar.'s aesthetic: "this idea is dumb, confusing, and underthought, but if James Franco wants to do it, then let's go ahead and do it".

Interior. Leather Bar. is a categorically difficult little beastie, taking the form of a documentary but obviously scripted, and yet the thing it purports to document is actually being documented, though not depicted. Let me start over again. Interior. Leather Bar. finds Franco and Matthews deciding to re-imagine 40 minutes of gay sex supposedly cut from William Friedkin's 1980 thriller Cruising (about five seconds of practical thought makes it pretty obvious that no such footage could imaginably have been shot, if for no other reason than the implausibility of Cruising having been conceived as a film that was two-fifths gay sex; it's not clear if Franco and Matthews, at any level of fictional or nonfictional remove, indulged in that five seconds). In the role of the character originally played by Al Pacino, they cast one of Franco's current favorite meat puppets in his weird art projects, Val Lauren. The film consists of Franco enthusiastically talking about how boldly his project is confronting reflexive heternormative values and representations, while Lauren wonders if it's a violation of ethics, taste, or his personal sexual comfort levels for him to watch as other people have sex in front of a camera.

The film doesn't try very hard to keep up the pretense that it has anything to do with Cruising, a dull potboiler whose latter-day recovery by a certain strain of queer theorists hasn't managed to address the fact that even if it has some interesting representations, it's still pretty crummy at basic thriller mechanics. From the evidence of how they frame (and frame, and frame) their arguments, their images, and their performances, it's entirely possible that neither Franco nor Matthews hasn't even seen Cruising. Instead, it is a platform to allow Franco, playing a modulated, scripted version of himself (Matthews is the film's credited writer), to launch into a series of painful exploratory discussions about what this whole experiment means in the grander scheme of society, and how daring he is for asking these intensely bold questions about what we are and are not comfortable with, and why. Questions that are mind-numbingly juvenile, and cannot possibly come across as new or probing to any of the very self-selecting audience for an experimental psuedo-documentary full of explicit man-on-man blowjobs.

Mostly, Interior. Leather Bar. is massively fascinated with and impressed by James Franco, self-challenging heterosexual visionary whose desire to break down the limitations of labeling and normalising things results in this film about filming the making of a film based on another film. It is possible, and indeed pleasurable, to imagine a version of this film as filtered through the mind of Christopher Guest, where the mingling of documentary and mockumentary would serve to poke fun at the rambling pretension of the actor/scholar/director/author who surrounds himself with people too cowed by his power over all of them (just several weeks after this film's debut at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, Franco appeared as the lead in Disney's ungainly Oz the Great and Powerful, a fact observed here multiple times) to call him on his aimless verbal splattering, too directionless to work even as provocation. Even Lauren's film-long reiterations of his feeling that the film is a bad idea that makes no sense and makes him feel uncomfortable as an actor is constantly framed in terms of his admiration for Franco, and his conviction that it must be in the service of some greater social purpose, or it wouldn't be happening.

At times, almost exclusively in the second half (when the action moves to the film set, and away from Franco's head), there are flashes of the film that Interior. Leather Bar. could have been in the hands of someone with a stronger head for filmmaking, queer theory, or both, than this film evinces (Matthews is an award-winning director of documentary films about the gay male experience, so I am compelled to assume and hope that he's capable of more thoughtful filmmaking than the mish-mash on display here). The best sequence, by far, starts with the recreated footage of two men engaged in oral sex, with pulsing lights and music, cutting suddenly and harshly to the filmmakers shooting their act from multiple cameras, a stark and dare I say it, witty depiction of the distinctly anti-sexy ways in which onscreen sex is filmed, a matter of angles and lighting and choreography. It's a moment that feels like it actually has something to say, and keen insights into its subject matter; other moments like this are peppered in the last half-hour, though it is a chore to find them.

Having something to say, though, is not typically high on the film's agenda. Having something to ask is, but the film so joylessly over-enunciates all of its questions in bluntly literal ways that it leaves the viewer with nothing to engage with, no work to do ourselves. The film could just as easily function as a series of tweets, and even then, it would tend to reveal more about the author's lack of experience with social issues that have been debated well into the past, and on more interesting, sophisticated battlegrounds than Interior. Leather Bar.. Franco, or "Franco", at several points confesses that he's making this project mostly to see whatever happens: that approach can yield surprising, unmediated insights, but as this film proves, it's far likelier for it to end in frivolous tedium.