“I want to be somebody else, but they’re all taken,” might well sum up the personas of the main characters in director/writer/actor Rob Moretti’s cinematic confessional as to what it was like growing up in a dysfunctional family, realizing a predilection for same-sex relationships, falling in lust/love with a hot-looking teacher, tasting the joy of temporary escape when acting and then sinking into the haze of drugs, booze and despair after a growing number of rejections from the company of others.
Moretti casts himself as Kenny Griffith, the prowling stage-and-screen mentor whose very success ensured the end of a career when the only lines that mattered were made of cocaine. It must have been a fascinating experience playing alongside the camera-friendly Eben Gordon, starring as the “pretty boy,” “Momma’s boy” David Graham who falls head over scenes for his showbiz coach, both risking scandal, censure and job loss if their tryst becomes public. The duo work well together generating some real heat as the initial flushed cheeks, front-seat groping (apparently oblivious to the two beards—one purposely, the other imagining it was her charms that drove David’s fantasies) then carnal bliss (extremely tastefully done, due in no small part to Brian Fass’ ever-sensitive cinematography). But soon there’s so much trouble in paradise that their dangerous ecstasy becomes more fuelled with artificial crutches than genuine devotion and respect.
The Graham household is a mess. Mom (stoically rendered by Juanita Walsh) is the classic alcoholic, hiding bottles in enough places around the middle class home that her addiction will never go dry. Dad (James Earley) takes his comfort with a sage mistress—Sylvia Norman—who opts to take the tough love approach with her man and his bad-mannered -mouthed kids. Young Lisa (Laura O’Reilly) shows signs of following her mother’s bottled joy while elder brother Michael soon seeks refuge with his girlfriend at her parents’ house. Finally admitted into detox (with a thoughtful encounter between Hope House’s newest patient and Frankie Faison playing the brief role of let’s-finally-face-the-facts therapist), the siblings fend for themselves with David taking on the matriarchal duties.
If no other point is made throughout the familial part of the narrative, it’s entirely clear that the complete lack of communication amongst the Graham clan is at the root of all of their discontents.
Fleshing out the queer side of things are Kenny’s fag hag with the patience of Job (Jennifer Katz is a model of empathy) and the over-the-top Queen of the Bookstore (Tim Loftus) whose dialogue and performance threaten to slip into parody purgatory with every succeeding flame. Nonetheless, there’s a marvellous feeling from David that he’s totally enthralled with his extra-swishy confidante. How is that ever taught in acting school?
Although many of the characters are sculpted from stereotypical clay, they do serve their dramatic purposes. The pervasive feeling that misery loves company is reinforced with every lie that is either told or revealed. Sadly, there are no heroes in this life-drawn tale of slipping over the abyss of disappointment but—somehow, giving others hope—managing to rise above it.
Those twin notions come to wonderful aural life thanks to Ben Goldberg’s poetically orchestrated score (with a decidedly chamber music feel artfully led by full-throated woodwinds) and the bevy of songs that helps everyone on their disparate/desperate ways.
An especially deft image/sound combination appears magically on the screen as David’s personal journal’s pages flip with the wind even as a patchwork of their angst-laden comments are heard in their original voices.
Now that Moretti has purged his difficult past, it’s time to bear down on the plight of others, bringing more of those to cinematic life, all the while ensuring those dear to him don’t plummet down the same slope of artificial happiness because what really matters in their lives never made it into a conversation. JWR