Death And Bowling

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Death And Bowling
"It never quite tips over into surrealism, but Kash lets events play out without too much explanation, plunging us into this world and then leaving us to find our own way."

In the prelude to Lyle Kash’s esoteric tale of grief and readjustment, we briefly see its hero, X (Will Krisanda) in his working life, as an actor. Here, as a trans man (played by a trans man) playing a trans man, he’s required to emote tragically and then hurl himself off a roof. Once he’s done, his stunt double, cisgender, three inches taller and quite a bit thinner, steps in and has two lines hastily scrawled on his chest to stand in for reduction surgery scars before he takes over for the roof jump. It’s an opportunity for Kash to give his crew, playing another crew, a bit of screentime, but it also allows him to put his cards on the table. This is the way that films and television usually represent trans people (if at all). It’s time for something different.

Instead of dying at the end, one of the central characters in Death And Bowling dies early on. It’s an expected death. She’s lived a full life before succumbing to illness and her presence remains vital, helping to drive the story forwards, long after her body has gone. It’s difficult for X to handle, however, because she was a central figure in his life, the head of his found family. As chair of the local lesbian bowling team, she held the queer community together, and what follows is in many ways a continued test of her willpower: can her legacy sustain them after she is gone?

Complicating all of this for X is the arrival at the funeral of a mysterious stranger (Tracy Kowalski), another, older trans man from out of town who has a personal connection to the deceased. The connection that forms between him and X opens up the possibility of a new, lasting happiness, but managing new feelings at such an emotionally volatile time is always difficult. Their interactions also create space for discussions about masculinity, the process of becoming comfortable with oneself as a man as one grows older, and different attitudes to the experience of being trans.

Exploring the way that outsider communities handle death and grieving, when they don’t have traditional family structures and rituals to fall back on, is a valuable contribution to public discourse at present, when the wider public faces similar challenges. This is unintentional, as the film was made before the Covid-19 pandemic, but nevertheless adds to its resonance. Grieving is rarely linear and the structure of the film reflects this, as do the journeys of its characters. In one scene, X and the stranger head out into the desert and suddenly, instead of being in the artificially coloured interior of the bowling alley, we’re confronted with vast horizons and bright light. The transformation is so stark that you may find yourself breathing differently. It never quite tips over into surrealism, but Kash lets events play out without too much explanation, plunging us into this world and then leaving us to find our own way.

Visually striking and atmospheric, emotive without becoming gloomy, Death And Bowling has an experimental quality which echoes the experience of starting out again after a loss. Part of the Newfest 2021 line-up, it’s a film with a distinctive personality which will stay with you.

Reviewed on: 19 Oct 2021
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In a fictional meta-critique on trans representation, a transgender actor struggles with what it means to be seen after the beloved captain of his lesbian bowling league dies and a mysterious stranger shows up at the funeral.

Director: Lyle Kash

Writer: Lyle Kash

Starring: Will Krisanda, Tracy Kowalski, Faith Bryan, Leontine White Foster, Denise Turkan

Year: 2021

Runtime: 64 minutes

Country: US

Festivals:

Newfest 2021

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