Released by Peccadillo Pictures
Pop-culture nostalgia for the recent past insists we remember 1985 for ‘Live Aid’, ‘Back to the Future’ and when Madonna was ‘Crazy for You’. Yen Tan’s intimate film, however, reminds us that the truth of that time was often far from jubilant.
Shot in Super 16mm Black & White film, the picture is given a kind of timeless feel that, occasionally, made it feel very contemporary. This is so fitting when considering the film’s themes, which are all things that have not gone away. The hardships of living with HIV and AIDS, coming out to friends and family, and feeling like you don’t have a place to belong, no matter how hard you try.
1985 was one of the darkest times in our queer story, with so many lives lost to AIDS, that generation still bears the emotional and physical scars. Knowing that made watching this film a particularly sensitive experience; survivors of that time will watch this with more of a sense of horrid familiarity and knowingness than me, highlighting that queer generation gap: those who remember the AIDS crisis of the 80s, and those that don’t. The ‘contemporary feel’ therefore, really packed a punch.
The vaguely kaleidoscopic opening beckons us back in time to meet Adrian, making his way back to his familial home for Christmas. Even now, this is a moment faced by many people (especially queer folks) as a moment filled with difficulty and even dread. Adrian (Cory Michael Smith) faces his own bizarre time-travel as he revisits the place of his youth, where time hasn’t moved very fast, and old, familiar faces lurk around every corner. Meeting Marc (Ryan Piers Williams) from high school at the local store, made for an acutely awkward and note-perfect performance from both actors involved.
When we meet Adrian’s younger brother Andrew (Aidan Langford) we see a boy yearning to enjoy what his oppressive local Pastor calls ‘secular music’, and when we learn of how his posters and cassettes were destroyed by his Father, we get an idea of what Adrian was desperate to leave behind. Meeting with his vibrant childhood friend Carly (Jamie Chung) we have the fullest picture we can of the youth Adrian had, and often struggled with.
Adrian himself is something of an enigma, difficult to read at times, we see the many walls and defences he has constructed out of a necessity to survive, but that are now suffocating him. All of them standing in his way as he tries desperately to connect, or reconnect with his roots before it is too late. He connects easily with his dog, a constant companion who soothes his sobs and rootless soul, knowing well that even this member of his family may well outlive him.
His Mother and Father (Virginia Madsen and Michael Chiklis respectively) give touching performances, wanting so much to connect with their queer son, but never having been taught how to love him in a world that insisted they loathe and shun him. They put up a good fight, but is it enough?
The film ends with Adrian being the person he needed when he was younger, to his brother. In a heartbreakingly touching scene we are pained to leave Adrian there, in that time, but we must. Even though we want so much to go back and help him and his family.
In a way, we still could…
This film is for anyone who wants to understand our forebears better, for anyone who wants to understand their own family dynamic more clearly, for anyone who wants the future to be brighter.
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© Jezza Donovan 2018