Saturday, March 31, 2018

BFI Flare: Going Home

On the lighter side of Flare films, I viewed two that focused on finding or inhabiting places.

The first hour of Becks is superb as the title character, a musician played by Lena Hall, finds herself homeless after a break-up with her girlfriend and heads back to St. Louis to live with her mother (Christine Lahti). As she settles into self-pitying recovery, she reconnects with a childhood friend who runs a bar and takes up a residency there, attracting the attention of bored housewife Elyse (Mena Suvari). Clearly, Becks is on rebound but that doesn't stop her playing with fire. The cast are superb,  the writing crisp, and the songs performed by Hall are a vibrant element, but I felt the film fell apart in the last half hour, with the stage set for some kind of evolution of Becks' character. Instead, the film delivers a non-ending with no obvious development of the themes.

Alaska Is a Drag
By contrast the artfully low-budget Alaska Is a Drag is a real find. Boxing, drag and African-American twins are not a typical mix, but writer-director Shaz Bennett takes these elements and runs with them, as Leo, a would-be drag superstar, faces bullying at his fishery job, while his sister Tristen undergoes chemo for Hodgkins disease. Not obvious comedic elements, but the leads, ably supported by Margaret Cho and Jason Scott Lee as surrogate parent figures, depict people who dream big and throw themselves into achieving those dreams, even if it means decamping to the lower 48. As Leo, Martin L. Washington Jr. inhabits a full range of masculinity from punching out foes to strutting on imaginary catwalks. His relationship with goofy but hunky Declan, while important, never outweights his loyalty to his sister, which is refreshing. So many plot strands are left unresolved, one craves a sequel to see what happens to these sparky characters.

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