(director/writer: Danielle Lessovitz; cinematographer: Jomo Fray; editor: Matthew C. Hart/Clemence Samson; music: Matthew Herbert; cast: Louisa Krause (Sara), William Dufault (Nix), Fionn Whitehead (Paul),Leyna Bloom (Wye McQueen), McCaul Lombardi (Lee), Stephen Cavalieri (Fats), Eddie Plaza (Eddie McQueen), Devon Carpener (Tekay), Christopher “Afrika: Quarles (Mother McQueen), Azza Melton (Azza McQueen), Max Kpoyour (Max McQueen), Taliek Jeqon (Taliek McQueen), Pecious Ebony (Precious), Lawrence “Snookie” Taylor (Snookie), Jari Jones (Naima), Courtney Marie McCotter (Cindy), Brett Smith (Samson), Christopher Bizub (Jackson), Sasha Morales (Mrs. Hernandez), Rao Rampilla (Cashier), Jon Trosky (Davey), Drew Leary (Franklin); Runtime: 101; MPAA Rating: R; producers; Rodrigo Teixeira, Virginie Lacombe, Zachary Luke Kislevitz, Paris Kassidokostas-Latsis, Terry Dougas: Madeleine Films/Momentum Pictures/Mubi release/MK2 films; 2019)
“The boy and girl leads are terrific, and so is the film even if it doesn’t seem so at first blush.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The feature film debut of Danielle Lessovitz, a queer woman, raised in San Francisco but now living in NYC, is a queer pic. It has a naturalistic script that makes it seem very real, even if the filmmaker seems to be observing the gay ballroom scene of dancers as an outsider, just like her likable white protagonist.
The timid twenty-year-old white boy Paul (Fionn Whitehead) is unwanted by his Midwestern family and bravely splits as he takes the bus to NYC, where he arrives at the busy Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan to start a new life, expecting to meet his older half sister Sara (Louisa Krause). But she’s a no show, and he doesn’t have her address or phone number since his relatives back home tricked him into believing she would be there to shelter him just to get him to leave home.
After a subway altercation where Paul’s beaten, he’s rescued and befriended by the gruff Lee (McCaul Lombardi), who checks him into a youth hostel. Paul soon hooks up with Lee’s vile homophobic crew that blackmail undocumented immigrants and late rent payers to either bribe them or remove their possessions in their apartments. The gang looking for vics in Harlem, has Paul wander into a ballroom where he lights up when he meets the star performer, a trans woman of color, Wye (Leyna Bloom). But he doesn’t realize she’s trans, as he’s blown away by her openness and falls in love (even after finding out the truth), and spends the rest of the film trying to see if he can fit into her queer space and world of color. While she ignores advice from her family of color, the House of McQueen, to stay away from the straight white boy–someone she feels something for and ignores their advice.
The second-half of the film squanders the intimate relationship built up between the odd couple, even their sensitive sex scene, and has the confused white boy searching for a place to fit in–which is not with the homophobic gang of bullies and doesn’t seem to be with her strange world of tight-knit LGBTQ+ outsiders. In this star-crossed romance, we explore more the white boy world instead of the Black gay and tran gender world, a world straights still have much to learn about.
The boy and girl leads are terrific, and so is the film even if it doesn’t seem so at first blush. It has the difficult task of attempting to bridge such different cultures and offers some touching moments which at least leaves us some vague hope it might be possible one day for healthy opposing groups to form alliances and make this a better world.
It winds down in a showdown between the opposing groups, as the filmmaker tries to give us the same Shakespearean prospective that held the view it was the stubbornness, lack of acceptance and prejudices of the Montagues and Capulets, in his Romeo and Juliet, that doomed young love.
REVIEWED ON 7/3/2021 GRADE: B+