I'm a huge fan of Gregg Araki's work (The Living End, Mysterious Skin) but freely acknowledge that it is not for everyone. The brief Amazon synopsis has the potential to mislead, since it describes this film as 'the tale of six gay teenagers in LA'. This is not a 'Broken Hearts Club' or a gay 'Sex and the City'; it's not even a teen angst coming-out movie. Rather, it is a bleak portrayal of the disenfranchisement of an unwanted generation. 'Totally F***ed Up' is actually the third in a trilogy (The Doom Generation, Nowhere) in which Gregg Araki is highlighting the nihilism and decline of American youth. Each of the trilogy can be viewed as a stand-alone film, since there is no continuation of characters or storylines; the commonality comes from the exploration of the central themes: ostracism from society, HIV, homophobia, persecution, suicide and despair.
'Totally F***ed Up' is the most mainstream of this trilogy. There is the usual eye-catching assortment of characters roaming around in the background: crazy homeless women, BDSM couples, etc. but it is certainly less surreal than, say, Nowhere. The film takes the form of '15 random celluloid fragments' in the day-to-day lives of six gay teenagers, interspersed with occasional messages to the viewer ("Can this world really be as sad as it seems?"). It is filmed in part documentary-style - one character interviews the others about their feelings regarding society, love, sex etc, because he wants to "show the way things really are"). In between these interviews we observe aspects of their daily lives: taking drugs, anonymous sexual encounters, homophobic attacks, infidelity, fights with the family. Hence this is not a fictional story, but a caustic portrayal of reality.
Inevitably the film is low-budget, and can appear dark and grainy in places (art imitating life?). However, this film genuinely is a work of art (Araki wrote, shot and directed it himself) and it is bursting with social and political commentary ('AIDS is government-sponsored genocide') as well as moments of ironic, if double-edged, humour ("I believe in love. I mean...there's gotta be something for people to cling to besides TV, right?"). The dialogue and acting are top quality; particularly James Duval who plays the main character, Andy. Duval appears in all three films in the trilogy, and clearly is capable of giving the characters exactly those elements which Araki most wishes to illuminate.
Having read the above, you won't be expecting any happy endings. Indeed, what makes the film so poignant is that there is no sense of optimism about the future; when Andy says "All I really want is to be happy for just one second...to be able to look around and not see shit", you know that he is voicing the thoughts of a generation, and that this wish is, ultimately, an unattainable one. 'Totally F***ed Up' is certainly bleak, bitter and depressing; but it is also powerful, affecting and thought-provoking. So if you're ready to take a break from escapist Hollywood fantasies, don some dark glasses, light a Marlboro, and watch this film.