Cubby

***

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Cubby
"Everything hinges on Blane's performance. Open and emotional and in-your-face as it is, there's more depth there than first meets the eye." | Photo: Courtesy of Outfest

When I was a child my dentist had a picture on the wall showing a child with a missing tooth and bearing the legend 'Charming at six but not at 16'. Well, you can get away with anything when you're six - six-year-olds have it easy. The truth is that many of their behaviours are just as charming at 16, or indeed at 26, but we expect older people to do more than charm. We expect them to take responsibility for themselves.

Twenty-six-year-old country boy Mark (played by writer and co-director Mark Blane) thinks of himself as responsible because he's got a job in New York City, a totally grown-up thing to do. Okay, he's not actually working in an art gallery as he told his mother, but babysitting is still a job. It may not quite pay enough to cover the rent but that will be okay because he's staying with friends and he's sure they'll understand, and anyway he's come up with the smart idea of sub-letting part of his room, which would solve everything if only his tenant paid him in money instead of in klonopin, so he's almost fixed things. At any rate, the klonopin keeps him from getting stressed out by it all. It also helps him to deal with the fact that he doesn't have a boyfriend. Spending his free time in the company of the hallucinatory superhero Leather Man is much less complicated.

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When he was a kid, Mark explains, he used to hide in his cubby at school. It was like a gateway to another world. He seems to have been doing his best to get back there ever since.

All of this makes it easy for Mark to relate to his six-year-old charge, Milo (a wonderfully natural Joseph Seuffert). The two immediately hit it off and form a strong friendship which, as is usually the case in films, proves good for both of them. Milo is a shy kid with lots of artistic interests who really seems to benefit from having his creative talents nurtured rather than being pushed into socialising with other kids. Mark has found someone who understands him in ways that other adults can't, and is also able to build up his confidence by defending Milo from other children. There are reasons why it's not standard practice to put children in charge of other children, however, and the course of best friendship never did run smooth.

Much of the joy to be found in this film comes from watching Mark assert the concerns of a six-year-old with the authority granted to adults. He's a grown-up and he's not going to be bullied any more. He can stamp his feet and use naughty words as much as he wants. But when it's always playtime there's no way to manage anything else, and Mark's childishness hinders his ability to communicate with adults, including the handsome neighbour who seems like he might actually be up for the challenge of taking on someone who will be dependent on him from the start.

Everything hinges on Blane's performance. Open and emotional and in-your-face as it is, there's more depth there than first meets the eye. It's easy to understand others' frustration with him and you may find your own patience wearing thin a times, but all in all he gets away with it pretty well. His chemistry with the kid is fantastic, giving their scenes real warmth. Blane tells the story of a man whose life is a mess without turning his film into a mess in the process, and that's trickier than it looks.

Reviewed on: 20 Jul 2019
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Resorting to babysitting for an elite Brooklyn family, an awkward young man discovers hope and self-discipline through his friendship with a lonely six-year-old, and the adult superhero Leather-Man who is conjured from a psychedelic cupcake.

Director: Mark Blane, Ben Mankoff

Writer: Mark Blane, Ben Mankoff

Starring: Mark Blane, Patricia Richardson, Jeanine Serralles, Peter Y. Kim, Lucy DeVito, Joseph Seuffert, Matthew Shear

Year: 2019

Runtime: 85 minutes

Country: US

Festivals:

OutfestLA 2019

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