AWOL (Dir. Deb Shovall)
Review by Alicia Scott
Deb Shoval’s latest feature film AWOL is as much a story about class structures in the United States as it is a queer love story. Upcoming American actress Lola Kirke stars as 19-year-old Joey from rural Pennsylvania, the town derelict and poverty-stricken, with only a handful of blue-collar jobs and bars. Lacking direction in her life, Joey’s mother (played by Dale Soules, OITNB) encourages her to enlist in her army for three years of military service, after which she can afford to attend college if she so chooses.
Working at an ice-cream cart over summer, Joey meets Rayna, a confident, seductive woman in her early thirties whom Joey immediately feels a yearning lust for. The two hit it off, while Joey remains in the dark about Rayna’s existing marriage with a working class, blokey truck driver who spends months at a time on the road.
Even though Rayna is married with children, AWOL steers away from the typical tropes often seen in LGBTQIA+ films whereby queer relationships are framed as a temporary phase in relation to heterosexuality. It is notable that the two women, despite being frustratingly on-again off-again throughout the entire film, are drawn together (and eventually torn apart) not because they belong together, but due to the class constraints both women are faced with.
Lola Kirke and Breeda Wool are convincing in their roles, however, the directing and production often fell short. While the dialogue works to build a mutual sense of irresistibility between the two characters, Shoval struggles to translate their ongoing sexual tension into genuine intimacy, leaving sex scenes better off without. Similarly, the scene where Joey hangs out with a group of queer college students and hooks up with a random woman makes no chronological sense and adds nothing to the overall narrative.
While AWOL does a satisfactory job in bringing the experiences of working class queer Americans to light, the inconsistent storytelling unfortunately fails to satisfy.
Date: 26 February
Time: 7:45 PM
Venue: Event Cinemas George Street
Don’t Call Me Son (Dir. Anna Meyleut)
Review by Cameron Colwell
Assured and unself-conscious in a way that most queer cinema is not, Don’t Call Me Son is a Brazilian coming-of-age film centring on Pierre (Naomi Nero), an androgynous youth who discovers that he was kidnapped as an infant, and consequently, is sent to live with his conservative, upper-middle class biological family. His working class mother is arrested, he is separated from his little sister, and Pierre is too quickly shoved into the genteel, minimalistic home of his new parents, where he contends with the aggressive friendliness of a family who seems to wish to carry on as if he has never been missing.
This is a complicated set-up, and the film does take its time to arrange itself, with attention given to Pierre’s apparent and largely unspoken exploration of his gender. He wears women’s underwear, shaves his chest, and paints his nails. Also, he’s shown engaging nonchalantly in sexual encounters with both men and women.
Don’t Call Me Son seems less interested in its status as a queer film (If Pierre’s exploration ends in his transitioning, it’s not there by the end of the film) and more focused in depicting the fundamental fluidity of adolescence, magnified by its oddball plot. Its queerness is set in conflict with the shallow respectability of the biological family, and rather than conveying a principled discussion on gender and sexuality, is used to create visceral scenes of deep tension. Muylaert seems to delight in milking these half-funny, half-excruciating scenes, to the point where the coherency of the film as a whole suffers.
That said, Don’t Call Me Son does a lot of new things, and the messiness in its plot is made up for in the subtlety and poise in its performances. Don’t Call Me Son won’t please everyone, but it, in its own incendiary way, will reward patience and an open mind.
Date: 17 Feb
Time: 7:00 PM
Venue: Event Cinemas George Street
Suicide Kale (Dir. Carly Usdin)
Review by Georgia Drewe
Despite a fresh concept and a brilliant cast, dark comedy Suicide Kale falls short of its potential in a mess of tedious, self-absorbed dialogue and occasional stabs at comedy. The film takes place over lunch, as new couple Jasmine (Brittani Nichols) and Penn (Lindsay Hicks) visit the home of their friends, long-term couple Billie (Jaskia Nicole) and Jordan, (Brianna Baker) but the meal takes a turn for the bizarre after Jasmine finds an anonymous suicide note possibly belonging to one of their hosts. The plot is intriguing, and the diversity is extremely refreshing, which focuses on the stories of same-sex couples and has women of colour playing the majority of roles.
The film has all the makings of a searing commentary of the realities of married life, the dynamics of same-sex couples, and the stark reality of living in a world where mental illness is almost the norm, but never rises above the banal. While the film is in no way inherently bad- the cast brings a gorgeous groundedness to this slice-of-life film and female lead Jaskia Nicole sparkles as keep-it-together housewife Billie- the dialogue unsteadily treads the line between honestly capturing the mundane and presenting a drab, lifeless depiction of the character’s home life, an approach which fails to really capture the complexity hinted at in some of the scenes.
While some drawbacks of the film can be excused due to the fact that it was created on a low budget with an almost non-existent crew, it is still disappointing by the production side standards that come with a low-budget indie film.
As much as I wish the rest of the film could live up to its promise as a refreshing and diverse dark comedy, Suicide Kale was an unfortunately dull let-down for me.
Date: 2 April
Time: 7:00 PM
Venue: Riverside Theatres Parramatta – Raffertys theatre
All tickets available on the Mardi Gras Film Festival website.