You never know what exists between two people in love, though of course that doesn't stop you from wondering; the desire to know what goes on in the love life of a famous person is even stronger. Impressively, Chris & Don opens up the romance between the English novelist Christopher Isherwood and the painter Don Bachardy without sensationalizing the particulars. Bachardy was 18 when he met Isherwood, almost 50, on a beach in Santa Monica in 1952. Bachardy was a fan of movie stars, a product of Los Angeles, thoroughly uninterested in books; Isherwood was the writer about whom Somerset Maugham said to Virginia Woolf, "That young man holds the future of the English novel in his hands." Some details come from Isherwood's diary (which is read in voice-over): He felt a responsibility for Bachardy that was "almost fatherly"; he knew that Bachardy felt "left out, ignored, overlooked, slighted" by Isherwood's dinnertime conversations with the biggest names in art and music and film, adding, "It's true—that's how the world looks at young people and it hasn't changed since I was 20"; he didn't feel guilty about dating someone Bachardy's age. "I did feel awed by the emotional intensity of our relationship, right from the beginning—the strange sense of a fated mutual discovery," Isherwood wrote.
Among this film's many pleasures is all the home-video footage Isherwood and Bachardy took of each other during their relationship, which lasted 30 years—Isherwood standing by a pool in Los Angeles, Bachardy waving on a ship in New York's harbor, both of them covered in birds in a European square. The movie argues that this relationship would never have come to pass had Bachardy not been a more or less lower-class American; it would have been unthinkable for Isherwood to expose himself so wholly to a person of his own class and background. And Bachardy got as much out of the deal as Isherwood did. In addition to the informal education, Isherwood paid his way through art school. The first drawing Bachardy did from life was of Isherwood; he continued to draw and paint portraits of Isherwood every day in the last six months of his life.