1985

Review by Rory Marsh

Directed by

Yen Tan

Starring

Bill Heck Jamie Chung Virginia Madsen

Anticipation.

Yen Tan has been diligently fuelling LGBT cinema for years.

Enjoyment.

Watching this internal breakdown isn’t fun, but it’s done with a painful reality.

In Retrospect.

A poignant footnote to a monumental crisis.

A gay man struggles to come out to his ultra-conservative parents in this affecting drama from Yen Tan.

The AIDS epidemic has impacted millions worldwide. Cory Michael Smith’s character, Adrian Lester, is just one of them, and is the focus of director Yen Tan’s LGBT-championing film, 1985. The narrative charts Lester’s return to his Texan hometown for Christmas, bringing with him a diagnosis he can’t bear to reveal. The film offers a tidy insight into suburban 1980s Americana, chronicling the stigma of homosexuality on both families and individuals.

Michael Chiklis plays the highly-strung patriarch who casts an ultra-conservative shadow over his son. His take on a disapproving Vietnam veteran is one we’ve seen before, but he uses this platform to define how stone-faced masculinity can detract from the family dynamic.

Smith’s plays the son as a ball of nerves and brings a sense of levity and suitably to the character. He well portrays the sadness of a man living to the sound of a ticking clock while trying to tie up loose ends. During the film’s quieter moments, often set against mono-monikered cinematographer Hutch’s haunting backgrounds, we see the the damage this sense of reserve has caused.

The dialogue is sensitively written, although its many fake outs regarding the central issue can grow frustrating, long after dramatic irony has taken hold. The script tends to sway toward unrelated topics to veil its expository purpose, which causes us to question the validity of these otherwise natural performances.

This disparity between father and son is cemented by the grainy monochrome cinematography and harsh lighting. Their family home, usually a bastion of safety, is cold and uncomfortable, as camera pans to reveal our otherwise-obscured protagonist, or frames a dinner scene from floor-level.

Curtis Heath’s meticulously employed score hits the right emotional beats, even though it sometimes drowns out dialogue as a way to mirror the internal isolation this secret is building. Sometimes the music is completely absent, allowing Tan’s effective long-takes to really emphasise a sense of awkwardness in the room.

As the ending fades to black, it becomes apparent that this is just one of many similar stories. A sentimental closing montage which follows these characters on from the main narrative does feel a little gratuitous and unnecessary, yet the strong lead and fine-tooth formal aspects manages to bring this small-scale personal drama home.

Published 21 Dec 2018

Tags: LGBT Queer Cinema Yen Tan

Anticipation.

Yen Tan has been diligently fuelling LGBT cinema for years.

Enjoyment.

Watching this internal breakdown isn’t fun, but it’s done with a painful reality.

In Retrospect.

A poignant footnote to a monumental crisis.

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