To Jared Frieder, “Three Months” is a testament to the art of patience ― both in terms of the film’s subject matter and the various challenges he faced in making it.
“This is a movie about someone who has to wait in uncertainty because of a virus,” the writer and director told HuffPost of his debut feature, which hit Paramount+ this week. “In making the movie, we literally had to wait in uncertainty because of a virus. The meta elements of that are not lost on me.”
Fortunately for Frieder and his talented cast, “Three Months” feels impeccably timed. Set in 2011, the movie follows Caleb (played by pop star Troye Sivan), a young gay man in suburban Florida whose post-high school plans are thrust into uncertainty after he learns he was exposed to HIV during a one-night stand. The film’s title refers to the length of time it takes for the human bloodstream to accumulate enough antibodies to test positive for HIV after transmission.
At the advice of his doctor (Javier Muñoz), Caleb joins an LGBTQ support group, where he bonds with Estha (Viveik Kalra), a queer teen whose Indian American family disapproves of same-sex relationships. The character also finds solace working alongside his best friend, Dara (Brianne Tju), at a local convenience store, and at home with his grandmother (Ellen Burstyn).
As a coming-of-age comedy-drama, “Three Months” is heartfelt and forward-thinking, probing the challenges young LGBTQ people face in a thoughtfully humorous way. Sivan gives the film a boost of star power but otherwise leaves all traces of his pop artist persona behind, capturing Caleb’s self-effacing wit and relatable insecurities with refreshing nuance.
Frieder said he based much of the movie’s screenplay on his own experiences growing up in Florida, which he calls “a really fucked up place to be gay and be a kid.” Coincidentally, the movie is being released as the controversial Parental Rights in Education ― or “Don’t Say Gay” ― bill is making its way through the Sunshine State’s legislature.
Sivan, who is gay, was Frieder’s only choice to play Caleb.
“I wrote the kid I wished I could’ve been in high school,” Frieder said. “There’s something about Troye’s spirit that felt so Caleb to me. He’s the kindest, most down-to-earth, hardworking person and his involvement in this project is one of the thrills of my entire life.”
No stranger to exploring LGBTQ themes in his work, Sivan said he appreciated the way “Three Months” presented an HIV diagnosis as something other than a death sentence, which many believed it to be during the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and ’90s.
“Anytime I get to do something that has the potential to become something bigger than just a piece of entertainment is really exciting to me,” the Australian musician, who played a “gay conversion” therapy survivor in 2018’s “Boy Erased,” told HuffPost. “Our goal is to shed some of the stigma and shame that is left over from when this disease looked very different from how it does today. We’ve come such a long way medically, and I think that our movie celebrates that.”
Sivan’s involvement ― as well as that of Burstyn and Judy Greer, who has a small but significant role ― helped get “Three Months” made after several false starts. Frieder completed the first draft of the screenplay nearly a decade ago, and eventually sold it to a streaming platform that wanted to reimagine it as a series.
But when those plans stalled, “Three Months” appeared doomed to languish in development hell before MTV Entertainment Studios scooped up the script and supported Frieder’s original vision to produce it as a feature film.
Once studio financing was secured, Frieder and his stars relocated to Florida to begin shooting the movie in March 2020 ― only to be shut down after just two weeks due to the pandemic. In the end, production had to be postponed by about seven months, an experience Frieder describes as “really triggering and sad” but that ultimately had a positive impact on the final product.
“With COVID and testing windows and waiting and different kinds of tests, this movie is now almost too relatable,” the filmmaker said. “It’s not what I would have wished for, but hopefully it can help people out.”
True to its genre, “Three Months” ends on an optimistic note. Still, those hoping for a grand, cinematic finale in the vein of other queer-centric films such as “Love, Simon” or “Happiest Season” may be surprised to learn that the film leaves a major plot point open-ended. According to Frieder, it was a “purposeful” decision made well before the script was even complete.
“I hope people will be like, ‘What just happened?’ and that it’ll spark a dialogue,” he said. “No matter what, Caleb is going to be OK. He will lead a long, happy, delicious life. I want [the film] to help kids realize that the very things that make them different, that they might fear, are also the things that make them invaluable, special and strong later in life.”
“Three Months” is now streaming on Paramount+. Catch the trailer below.