'Cloudburst' is a lively start for Reel Q festival

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Reel Q, formerly the Pittsburgh International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival, opens Friday at the Harris Theater, Downtown, and runs through Oct. 21. For complete schedule: reelq.org.

A sampling of reviews for first-week movies:


'CLOUDBURST'

3 1/2 stars = Very good
Ratings explained

With two terrific old actresses and a rising new superhunk in the lead roles, writer-director Thom Fitzgerald has created a must-see road film with a new twist at just about every turn.

Butch, feisty and foul-mouthed Stella (Olympia Dukakis) and sweet Dot (Brenda Fricker) -- Dot now blind and in early stages of dementia -- have lived together in a loving relationship for 31 years, when Dot's hard-hearted granddaughter forces her to move into a nursing home.

Not one to be deterred by legal technicalities, Stella breaks Dot out of the facility and embarks in their pickup truck on a zany adventure from Maine to Nova Scotia, where the couple can be legally married and never again separated until death do them part.

On the road, the women pick up handsome, sweet-and-sexy Prentice (Ryan Doucette), a male stripper and exotic dancer returning home to be with his dying mother. Prentice quickly becomes a surrogate son to the couple, and the fun is fast and furious from then on.

Mr. Fitzgerald's script is as brilliant and witty as it is raunchy and salacious, and Ms. Dukakis' delivery of her lines has to be seen (and heard) to be believed. The movie is a vehicle for the venerable Ms. Dukakis, but she's not the whole show.

A hilarious episode in which the blind Dot finds herself in bed with a naked man would itself be worth the price of admission. Mr. Doucette is nothing short of irresistible, and the antics ultimately jell into a conclusion that -- though a bit abrupt -- is touching and inevitable.


'NAKED AS WE CAME'

3 stars = Good
Ratings explained

This beautifully photographed film is a touching, intimate drama about a dysfunctional family that unwillingly unites when Lilly (Lue McWilliams), a wealthy woman with a scandal in her past, is dying of cancer and her two children are summoned to her bedside in her luxurious modern house in the country.

Lilly has, admittedly, been a neglectful mother, and when the offspring return, they find her living with a handsome gay "groundskeeper," Ted (Benjamin Weaver). He treats Lilly better than her children do, but he may have ulterior motives.

The dynamics among Lilly, her vituperous daughter, Laura (Karmine Alers), and discontented son, Elliott (Ryan Vigilant), toward each other and the outsider Ted, are turbulent from the outset, and things are only further complicated when Elliott and Ted go to bed together the first night.

Emotions are laid bare on all sides, and hostilities juggle with guilt and love: Lilly against her children, the siblings against each other and ambivalent vis-a-vis Ted, Laura vs. the husband who has left her, reconciliations that may or may not take place when Lilly dies.

The lead actors are all physically engaging; not only are hunks Mr. Vigilant and Mr. Weaver candy for the eye, but Ms. McWilliams, even made up as a terminal cancer patient, cannot disguise the fact that she is a striking woman with a memorable face.

The superb cinematography enhances the actors and maintains interest for the intervals that they are off screen. But the film's most cogent quality is the drama itself, riddled with twists and surprises, which draw the viewer inexorably into these troubled people's lives.


'GAYBY'

2 stars = Mediocre
Ratings explained

There's a whimsical charm in this latest permutation of a straight-gay quasi-romantic comedy. Writer-director Jonathan Lisecki (who also acts in a supporting role) gives us some lively repartee, along with sophomoric situations that might embarrass a Grade B sitcom.

Straight woman plus gay man plus babymaking is hardly an original recipe for a film script. (Remember "The Next Best Thing," "The Object of My Affection" -- or, for that matter, TV's "Will & Grace"?) In "Gayby," 30-somethings Matt (Matthew Wilkas) and Jenn (Jenn Harris) get tired of the New York dating scene and decide to have a baby together -- the old-fashioned way, that is, not with fertility clinics or a turkey baster.

They plan to do this without giving up their own dating habits, however, and therein lies a slew of complications. Matt meets an eligible divorced father in the comic book store he owns, while Jenn has a wild-and-crazy fling with a New Age house painter who happens to be the brother of her boss at the gym where she teaches yoga.

It's all mindless, mostly sanitized fun, with a comic book ending that reminds us how far we've come in the evolution of 21st-century morals and mores.

'MARY LOU'

2 stars = Mediocre
Ratings explained

"Mary Lou" is the most famous song by iconic Israeli pop singer-composer Svika Pick (born 1959), a rather catchy tune that sticks with you after the movie is over.

The 150-minute film is a flashy musical built around Mr. Pick's songs, originally aired as a four-part miniseries on Israeli television. It's a slim but often pretentious story about a young gay man named Meir, whose mother leaves him on his 10th birthday.

Meir obsesses about her through his teen years, building a fictitious story that she has become a backup singer in Pick's band, then goes to Tel Aviv to become a successful and renowned drag queen. His decisions affect the lives of his newfound colleagues as well as his loved ones from back home.

Pick's songs, most of them less memorable than the title number, dominate the film, which is eye-catching and compellingly directed by openly gay Eytan Fox. Maya Dagan's title character is of questionable vocal talent (perhaps intentionally), but Ido Rosenberg's performance of Meir is a tour de force, while handsome out-gay actor Alon Levi steals a lot of focus in the supporting role of Gavriel, the straight lover of Meir's longtime childhood (female) friend.

In Hebrew with English subtitles.

moviereviews

Robert Croan is a senior editor for the Post-Gazette.


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