The film's focus is a group of queer friends: Andy (James Duval), a bisexual, filmmaker Steven (Gilbert Luna) and his boyfriend Deric (Lance May), Tommy (Roko Belic) who has an endless string of one night stands, and lesbian couple Michele (Susan Behshid) and Patricia (Jenee Gill). Totally F***ed Up employs the use of a home video footage to record interviews with the main characters. This gives the film an an initially fragmented feel as we are shown snippets of each character, without ever getting in-depth monologues or lengthy exposition. Despite the fragmented nature of the film's beginnings, the filming technique serves to generate a sense of intimacy which makes the one-sided dialogue between the protagonists and the viewer almost conversational. The viewer is placed behind the camera and there is a heightened sense of realism as the viewer becomes the filmmaker and part of the film's narrative.
Araki describes the film as "a rag-tag story of the fag-and-dyke teen underground....a kinda cross between avant-garde experimental cinema and a queer John Hughes flick" and as with so many of his films, he hits the audience of a disaffected youth with a film which is utterly on point. The film doesn't shy away from the sexual experiences of the characters, but nor does the story dwell on the kind of angst over sex which is often seen in films with a young target audience in mind. Instead, Araki offers queer youth a more gritty, realistic and representative portrayal of life, as opposed to pandering to the carefully sanitised romantic offerings from mainstream Hollywood. The protagonists of Araki’s story are alienated by society but they have each other – the wide shots of empty car parks and dark, empty streets enforce the ‘us against the world’ group dynamic and contrast with the isolated interviews and moments of character-centric storytelling which sees the protagonists trying to forge their own paths as they deal with their own separate and distinct issues.
The film doesn’t tell a story in the way every film tells a story. It is punctuated with choppy excerpts of unrelated material, and it veers off course in places. There are conversations which allude to plot points that are never fully developed, and as the story loses focus certain scenes quite literally lose their focus with the budget filming techniques. Yet those techniques all add to the authenticity of the film, and it seems there is nothing ‘accidental’ about those elements - the snippets all fit together as the story develops and meld into a cohesive whole.
There’s a sense of futility and hopelessness at the film’s conclusion, yet the film is all the more powerful for it. It doesn’t deliver a happy ever after, but it also doesn’t make any false promises and nor does it treat its subject matter with condescension. It contains moments of irreverent humour and the relationships between the protagonists are – for the most part – warm and essential.
In making this film, Araki said his primary driver was "...to portray a way of life, a sub-culture which is totally ignored by both the mainstream and the conventional gay media – to represent the unrepresented. I would venture to say that queer teenagers – with all their loveable confusions and complexities – have never before been depicted as they are in this movie."
With Totally F***ked Up, Araki has succeeded in desire to represent the unrepresented, and to give a voice to the queer youth of the time.