Out writer-director-actor Patrick Wang's In the Family really makes a casealbeit a subtle onefor the understated ways in which the term "family" has expanded in surprising directions.
Ostensibly, the movie hinges on the legal wrangling that goes on when Joey (Wang) finds himself in an unexpected custody battle over his 6-year-old son, Chip (Sebastian Brodziak), after Joey's partner, Cody (Trevor St. John), has died in a car accident. We are in Martin, Tenn., in a place where emergency-room nurses are still hesitant or openly hostile when Joey insists that he is part of Cody's family, so what follows Cody's death doesn't surprise us.
We've been down this path before in many a film drama that has mirrored the lives of thousands of gays and lesbian parents in decades past. With each revelationthe will that wasn't quite filed, the adoption papers not secured, the will's executor not part of the everyday discussionwe are one step ahead, knowing that things for Joey with regard to Chip's custody are in big trouble.
But underneath, something not quite nameable is taking place. Part of that, I think, is due to Wang's graceful techniqueslow and contemplative with few cuts, filled with long takes with room to focus on minute detailswhich help move his story away from the stereotypical histrionics the material would suggest. At the film's surprising fade-out, Wang has not only seemed to posit the theory that the definition of "family" has grown in many imperceptible wayshe has demonstrated it.
As we move toward the confrontation between Joey and Cody's surviving sister, Eileen (Kelly McAndrew), Wang fills in the important backstory covering the duo's romance. But, these, too, have unexpected twists and turns and are highlighted by a marvelous scene in which Joeywho has been engaged as a carpenter in the home of Cody, a recent widower left with a young sonis suddenly surprised by an intimate kiss from Cody. The momenta blend of awkwardness, yearning and palpable desireis delicately rendered and beautifully acted by Wang and St. John, whose Cody, we learn, was never involved with men before Joey.
There are many tremendous actors, most of them from the New York stage in Wang's cast (the movie was shot in upstate New York), who register in the long takeswith a special mention going to Brian Murray as a retired lawyer who takes on Joey's case when he has just about run out of hope. With gentle assuredness, Murray provides the movie's last sequence, set in a conference room where Joey is voluntarily being deposed by the lawyer of Cody's sister with an air of grace that emboldens Wang's Joey to rise to the occasion, relating just exactly why he is Chip's one true father and, further, why they are members of his family.
The sequence is close to a half-hour of the movie's 169-minute running time but, by that point, Wang's unforced, contemplative approachdevoid of background score and relying on naturalistic lighting and unfussy cinematographyhas seemed like the perfect way to underline his message. In the Family opens Friday, April 20, at the Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Ave., for its exclusive Chicago engagement. This movie is highly recommended. Wang will be present at certain opening weekend screenings. Check with the Music Box for details; www.musicboxtheatre.com .
The charming lesbian romantic dramedy Jamie and Jessie Are Not Together from out writer-director Wendy Jo Carlton is going to be screened on Thursday, April 26 at 8 p.m. at the Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport). The one night only screening will be a benefit for the Lesbian Community Cancer Project of Howard Brown Health Center.
Carlton will join members of her mostly locally based cast and crew in celebrating the success of the movie, which has won several awards on the film festival circuit and garnered praise from high profile film critics like Roger Ebert and Michael Phillips at a post screening reception from 9:30-11:30pm at Blue Bayou (across the street from the Music Box). Tickets are $18 and include the film and after party (drink ticket, appetizers and DJ music). Advance tickets are at www.musicboxtheatre.com/events/jamie-and-jesse-are-not-together-2012-04-26-800-pm.
Lesbian actress Fawzia Mirzawho plays a pivotal role in Jamie and Jessieis also seen in a new film, Promise Land, which is having its Chicago premiere with a red carpet screening at the AMC River 21, 322 E. Illinois St., on Friday, April 20, at 7 p.m. The movie, directed by Kevin Dalvi (with screenplay by Dalvi, Columbia College's Etta Worthington and Faris Kahn), stars a diverse cast that aside from Mirza includes Anita Chandwaney, Brenda Barrie, Elizabeth Abraham and others. The film is described as a dramedy that focuses on an alternative view of immigration issues in the United States told from a Southeast Asian perspective through three intertwining stories. Members of the cast and crew are expected to attend the gala event and after party at the NV Penthouse Lounge, 116 W. Hubbard St. www.promiselandfilm.com
Welcome, Sawyer Lahr: After nearly eight years of non-stop weekly film-reviewing I find myself immersed in an unexpected, though rather delightful project that necessitates my taking a leave of absence from my Knight at the Movies column for Windy City Times. But fear notyour movie reviews from a queer perspective will continue with the inestimable talents of film writer Sawyer Lahr who, aside from being a member of the Queer Film Society, is also the creator and editor of his own queer arts-themed website, www.goovertherainbow.com . So what will yours truly be up to? Well, I'm working on my first moviea modern-day, gay variation on A Christmas Carol called Scrooge & Marley (executive-produced by WCT's publisher/executive editor Tracy Baim). You can read all about the movie at www.scroogeandmarleymovie.com . Thanks to all my supportive readers; see you again soon.
Check out my archived reviews at www.windycitymediagroup.com or www.knightatthemovies.com . Readers can leave feedback at the latter website.