Tag Archives: LGBTQIA movies

Sandusky Fabulous

Swan Song

by Hope Madden

Do you mean to say that Udo Kier and Jennifer Coolidge were in Sandusky, Ohio and nobody told me?

Yes! All thanks to the magic of Todd Stephens, a filmmaker born and raised in Sandusky who has neighborhood stories to tell that do not involve Cedar Point. Stephens wrote the film Swan Song as a fictional homage to his own hometown hero.

Kier plays that hero, retired hairdresser Pat Pitsenbarger. Though Pat never left Sandusky, he’s been closed up in a nursing home for so long that he doesn’t even recognize it. That changes when the dying wish of an old client—the richest and most glamorous woman in all of Sandusky (Linda Evans, no less!)—is for Pat to make her gorgeous.

Kier, a staple of independent film since 1970, effortlessly infuses any movie with a palpable sense of the weird and unseemly. Often pegged to play baddies (see his recent films The Painted Bird and Bacurau for proof), he is an absolute treasure here, full of joy, impishness and sass to burn.

If Pat is going to be able to pull off this miracle, he’ll have to confront nemesis Dee Dee Dale (Coolidge) — and thank God for it. While you might expect zany comedic antics, the truth is that both veterans display tenderness and heartbreak beneath their barbs. Their scenes together bring real depth to an ultimately bittersweet homecoming.

Not every ensemble player is quite as strong and Stephens’s deeply independent roots sometimes show. But whenever things begin to feel almost amateurish or scenes run on a little longer than necessary, Kier somehow salvages it with an eye roll, a sashay, or another affectionate murmuring of “Sandusky…I love you.”

Swan Song delivers a remarkable showcase for Kier’s particular and peculiar talent, but Stephens has more on his mind than a vanity project for a deserving actor. As Pat confronts a world he no longer recognizes, Swan Song laments the death of fabulousness. The film becomes a note about what you lose when you win.

And the glory of a darling pair of shoes.

Lady in Waiting

The World to Come

by Hope Madden

Valentine’s Day approaches. If you’re looking for a swoon-worthy way to spend it, and you’re willing to risk a public screening, The World to Come may be the date you want to make.

Abigail (Katherine Waterston) and Dyer (Casey Affleck) share a colorless if efficient bond. It may have been slightly more than that a year ago, before their toddler passed. Now Dyer keeps a ledger of expenses and of crop yields while, at his request, his wife writes down what other facts may be forgotten each season.

Facts. Nothing more.

When Abigail meets new neighbor Tallie (Vanessa Kirby, having one hell of a year), facts lose their appeal.

The World to Come is directed with lilting melancholy by Mona Fastvold. She works from a script by Ron Hansen (co-written with Ben Shepard from his short story). The writing boasts the same time stamp and peculiarly observational style as Hansen’s 2007 treasure, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

Fastvold’s measured approach and the understated delivery from both Waterson and Affleck suit the writing, but they also require patience from the viewer.

This restraint is punctuated by the barely stifled rage of Christopher Abbott (nice to see you) as Tallie’s husband Finney. His energy stands in fierce conflict with the reserve shown by his neighbors, with only Tallie’s unfettered nature to balance things.

Fastvold films Kirby as if she glows from within, a beautiful depiction of both the promise of love and the light she brings to Abigail’s life. Waterston allows Abigail to blossom in that light, and the warmth the two share is sincere and lovely.

Affleck impresses, again, with a performance of resigned grief that sneaks up on you, but it is Waterston who owns the film. At first unsure but willing to wonder, her Abigail embraces the full burst of emotion that she’d never known, and then must wrangle the sizes of the emotions that follow. It’s a fierce performance—maybe Waterson’s best.

Fastvold’s film calls to mind Céline Sciamma’s 2019 masterpiece Portrait of a Lady on Fire. (Indie horror buffs will also be reminded of 2018’s The Wind, for different reasons.) The World to Come measures suffering—particularly that done quietly and expectedly by women—against what pleasures can be stolen in this world.

Breaking the Pattern

Breaking Fast

by Rachel Willis

Most rom-coms, or rom-dramedies, follow a very specific pattern. You already know when each plot point will happen: the meet, the first date, the montage of falling in love, etc.

Writer/director Mike Mosallam’s first feature, Breaking Fast, follows this predictable model to the letter.

So, what makes Breaking Fast different? Mainly, the characters.

Mo (Haaz Sleiman) is a gay Muslim living in West Hollywood. His best friend, Sam (Amin El Gamal) is eager to see Mo get back into a relationship after his last ended when Mo’s closeted boyfriend broke up with him to marry a woman.

As the holy month of Ramadan begins, Mo meets Kal (Michael Cassidy). From here, you know the plot, but Mosallam weaves into the narrative elements with which you might not be familiar. Mo is adamant that his faith is not incompatible with his sexuality. And as he gets to know Kal, the two grow close as Kal breaks fast with Mo nearly every night during Ramadan.

Most of the gay men we meet in the film, including Sam, have turned their backs on any form of religion due to the harassment they have experienced in the name of faith. But Mo’s experience has been one of love and acceptance, and his devotion to his faith is a large part of the film.

Awkward dialogue makes for some tedious moments. Part of the problem is that Mosallam wants to paint us a new picture of Islam, one that is full of love and acceptance. Unfortunately, that lands on the screen feeling more like a lesson than an integrated narrative layer.

This isn’t the first movie to try to educate its audience, but the clumsiness of the execution weakens the film.

There are also some uncomfortable moments between Kal and Mo, and not the kind of uncomfortable that comes across as cute. These scenes are not awkward enough to leave you rooting for a couple, but embarrassing to the point of being hard to watch.

But then, there are the sweet moments between the two, and you do find yourself pulling for them as they weather the difficulties of a new relationship.

Too bad Breaking Fast never finds the right balance between what it is and what it wants to teach you.