Sunday, September 18, 2016

Stephen Dunn's CLOSET MONSTER: Growing up gay, closeted, and a little crazy in Canada

Gay coming-of-age stories may be rife but it seems there's always room for one more -- if that one is handled with enough creativity and energy to hold our attention. CLOSET MONSTER is just such a film, and if it does occasionally deal in cliché, much of it proves visually interesting and well-acted so that it circumvents mild objections. As written and directed by Canadian filmmaker Stephen Dunn (shown below), the movie should resonate with any viewer who can identify with a child, Oscar, who feels abandoned by one parent and terribly misunderstood by the remaining one, and who, from a young age, tries to come to terms with feeling "different," while seeing in the worst possible way the results of what being different can bring.

Our hero -- played as a child by Jack Fulton and as an young man by Connor Jessup (below) -- has a somewhat less-than-normal grasp on reality, and this takes his character far enough out of cliché to render him not simply unusual but maybe a bit of a problem. Not only does he carry on conversations with his pet hamster, Buffy, she answers him, as well. This might seem unduly fantastical, but since Buffy is voiced by Isabella Rossellini, and what she has to say is often worth hearing, we can put up with this little oddity. (There were times, though, when I wished Buffy's accent was just a bit more understandable.)

It is visually -- with camerawork by Bobby Shore and editing from Bryan Atkinson (of last year's terrifically funny Guidance) -- that the movie makes its finest impression. How Mr. Dunn and his cast and crew weave together past and present, the horrible event that lays waste to our hero's psyche, and how he unfortunately works this into his sexual life and fantasies are handled quite effectively, creating a major hurdle to be leaped before Oscar can really grow up.

Helping or hindering him along the way are his kindly friend, Emma (Sofia Banzhaf, above, left), and his obtuse and mostly nasty father (Aaron Abrams, below, left),

Most helpful of all is his male friend and co-worker, played, by Aliocha Schneider, below, with just the right mixture of easy-going confidence and bi-sex appeal). Oscar's mom (a very good Joanne Kelly), though missing in action for some time, finally proves a decent friend and parent, as well.

But it's Oscar himself, along with the finely-tuned performance of Mr. Jessup, that holds the film together. This kid is creative and a little crazy, and we root for him to work it all out. The film's ending is a kind of beginning: at once sad, funny, moving and as odd as all that has come before. Closet Monster is worth seeing, and maybe more than once.

From Strand Releasing and running just 90 minutes, the movie opens this coming Friday, September 23, in New York City at the IFC Center, and the following Friday, September 30, in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Playhouse 7 and the Sundance Sunset Cinema. To all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters, click here, then click on Screenings in the task bar midway down the page.

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