Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"There's some intelligent drama here structured around intersectional issues, which manages to show, at least to an extent, where lesser films only tell." | Photo: Newfest

The point of embarkation on a new relationship is when we're most anxious to come across at our best. Often, however, it's when we're most vulnerable. When Ben (played by director Matt Fifer) and Sam (Sheldon D Brown) meet in New York City, both are recovering from past trauma. Sam is clear about his boundaries from the start and acknowledges that there are things he's struggling with, but Ben has yet to talk about his trauma to anybody. Keeping everyone else under the illusion that his life is nothing but fun seems to be part of how he's trying to persuade himself that he's okay.

Ben's recent history has not exactly been focused on relationships. A delightful early montage shows him enjoying exuberant sex with pretty much anyone who's up for it. Pleasingly, this isn't a set up for scenes of regret later on, and he remains friends with a co-worker he's slept with. it's clearly leaving a deeper need unaddressed, however. Perhaps Sam might have provided just another fleeting encounter, but his unwillingness to rush into sex, despite obvious attraction, forces Ben to take a different approach. What's more, Sam isn't interested in trying to please for the sake of it. He calls Ben out on his failings. If they're going to make things work, it's important to him that Ben respects his boundaries and makes an effort to understand his experiences as a black gay man.

Copy picture

There's some intelligent drama here structured around intersectional issues, which manages to show, at least to an extent, where lesser films only tell. Ben's process of coming to accept that he might not always understand things, and that he shouldn't let habitual defensiveness get in the way of real communication, is valuable not just as an educational moment but because of what it tells us about the two characters. The dialogue is beautifully observed and moves easily between playfulness and drama which needs to carry real weight.

What's really intriguing about this film, which screened at Newfest 2020 is that for much of is, the traumas the two lead actors are discussing are things that happened to them in reality. In places, they recreate scenes from their own recovery processes. This gives the film real edge, and makes its open ending particularly powerful.

Fifter makes a number of interesting directorial choices, showing us the action from unusual perspectives and encouraging us to think about how the couple might be observed, how their interactions might be understood by those around them - something which they have both, for their different reasons, learned to be acutely conscious of. It's a reminder of the difficult balance between recovery and the maintenance of necessary survival strategies for trauma survivors who are also members of stigmatised groups. Popular ideas of the therapeutic journey don't always cut it in those circumstances. The love of others with a similar understanding can help, though - and Ben and Sam just might be on their way to finding that.

Reviewed on: 17 Oct 2020
Share this with others on...
A young man is forced to face past traumas when he embarks on a new relationship.

Director: Matthew Fifer, Kieran Mulcare

Writer: Matthew Fifer

Starring: Sheldon D Brown, Matthew Fifer, Cobie Smulders

Year: 2020

Runtime: 93 minutes

Country: US

Search database: