JWR Articles: Film/DVD - Buoyancy | Stage Mother | Pariah Dog | Beyond Driven (Directors: Rodd Rathjen, Thom Fitzgerald, Jesse Alk, Riyaana Hartley, Vincent Tran) - September 9, 2020
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Buoyancy | Stage Mother | Pariah Dog | Beyond Driven

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Misery in the world and embracing your inner drag

Buoyancy
93 minutes, 2019
Rodd Rathjen
Four stars

Horrific rite of passage

The plight of eking out a living in the rice fields of Southeast Asia is put under writer-director Rathjen’s telling microscope to excellent, honest effect. Sadly, slavery has been/still is a worldwide scourge that doesn’t seem to make the news much anymore.

In this instance 14-year-old Chakra has had enough of unpaid labour at home, so opts to try his luck elsewhere, shamelessly asking his dad, “Why so many kids?” when, clearly, there isn’t enough to go around. Opting to run away rather than continue his miserable existence, the curly haired young man (without the requisite US $500 “fee” in his wallet), is unceremoniously sold to an unscrupulous fisherman who will take the lad on his boat until “he has repaid his debt”.

Playing Chakra (little dialogue as actions largely speak so much louder than words), Sarm Heng turns in a spectacular début performance that is worthy of many encores. Morphing from naïve suppliant to brutal justice-seeking man, this rite of passage is as engaging as it is unstintingly real.

Evil incarnate readily oozes out of the pores of Thanawut Ketsaro as Rom Ran, the captain with no conscience who by recognizing and encouraging Chakra’s ever-growing courage inadvertently seals his own fate.

By journey’s end, a huge choice must be made; for me, no other option would have satisfied.

Here’s to more features from Rathjen. JWR


Stage Mother
93 minutes, 2020
Thom Fitzgerald
Four stars

When life is a drag, cue the chorus

Not since Keith Hartman’s You Should Meet my Son (cross-reference below) has a decidedly queer mother-son relationship provided such entertaining fuel for the big screen.

In this instance, it takes the early death of long-ostracized Ricky (Eldon Thiele in the brief but pivotal part) while strutting his overdosed stuff, centre stage in San Francisco’s emporium for drag queens and their admirers: Pandora’s Box.

Veteran Jacqui Weaver as Ricky’s church choir leading Texan mother, Maybelline, has to carry most of the film on her own and she does a remarkable job morphing from Bible thumper to featured performer, gamely/gaily flanked by drag queens of various sizes, shapes and persuasions.

Ricky’s partner (in bed and in business), Nathan serves as the leading man with a considerable chip on his well-defined shoulder. His journey begins with outrage (Maybelline has been “absent” for 20 years) to posthumously adopted mom. Adrian Grenier delivers a fine performance that readily balances Weaver’s necessarily more boisterous character.

Brad Hennig’s script is at times maudlin and predictable. Angry dad Jeb (Hugh Thompson) is a one-dimensional bigot whose spots will never change; Maybelline’s success turning Pandora’s Box around, finding a real love for her married life and returning to a “dead” home only to happily come back and make a sensational début on the same boards that her long-lost son used to tread, leave the narrative without much in the way of twists or surprises.

No worries—it’s the production numbers that soar, featuring voices lip-synched or natural, movement that is at one with the flittering costumes, body “enhancements” (occasionally bawdy) that will delight both the eye and the ear.

Kudos to the main queens: Cherry (Mya Taylor offers nuance even as he/she transitions), Joan (able to change gears under the influence of love and respect, Allister MacDonald convinces at every turn) and Tequila (Oscar Moreno clearly knows how to sell a song). Temporarily, and unintentionally, usurped by Maybelline, Jackie Beat never misses one playing Drag Mother Dusty Muffin—metaphors everywhere!

The showstopper is most certainly the finale, where mother and son manage a magical, beyond-the-grave duet, where everyone is invited to “turn around” and perhaps see the real person behind the mascara and sparkling gowns. JWR


Pariah Dog
76 minutes, 2020
Jesse Alk
Four stars

Not wanted on the voyage

Be they goats, dogs, cats, monkeys…it is tough to survive “unattended” in the modern world—especially in Calcutta.

Artists driving hacks, abandoned women no longer interested in men, paupers who crave affection: all of them find substance and solace in the equally unwanted community of critters.

With just one brief reference to population control, (“Who should do this?”), Alk misses the chance to save more unfortunate lives (human and animal), who need to find meaning beyond a wagging tail and unrequited love.

An unleashed viewing is recommended. JWR


Beyond Driven
74 minutes, 2020
Riyaana Hartley, Vincent Tran
Four stars

“It’s just the best feeling ever”

As one who still needs to carefully navigate a successful parallel parking manoeuvre, it was with great interest that drove me into the world of Formula 1 racing (having never watched a lap in my life).

Better still, this production chronicles the struggles and successes of women trying to compete in a male-dominated sport.

But make no mistake, this lovingly crafted documentary is largely a homage to Italian ground breaker Lella Lombardi (1941-1992), whose tenacity and love of “speed” resulted in a woman winning a first-ever “point” (turned out to be .5 in the 1975 Spanish Grand Prix after the race was shut down due to a horrific accident that killed five spectators). What fun that Lella’s intro to a fast-speed Ferrari came at the hands of her previous handball opponent who managed to surreptitiously break Lella’s nose on the pitch!

Contrasting the past to present-day are a covey of female drivers who (as with Lella) all got their start in the adrenalin rush as go-karters.

We learn that far beyond “talent behind the wheel,” corporate sponsorships are the vital ingredient to a successful racing “cake”.

Plentiful as those have become, it is hard indeed to realize that the last woman to “get a point” was in 1992.

The “on-board” cameras add some excitement to the mix, but it’s really Steffen Schmidt’s multi-coloured original score (what says the ‘70s more than a Hammond organ?) and Konee Rok’s ever-imaginative “historical” animations reliving Lella’s past, that add extra depth to the narrative.

Do take it for a spin and decide for yourself. JWR

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