The Mattachine Family


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Mattachine Family
"This is one of those very Californian tales in which the problems that most people in the world have to deal with simply don’t exist."

In most countries, for every one child who needs to find permanent adoptive parents, there are literally dozens in need of fostering. Families struggle sometimes and need help. After Arthur’s father died, his mother couldn’t cope. Into the gap stepped Thomas (Nico Tortorella), a photographer, and Oscar (Juan Pable Di Pace), his TV star husband. They spent a year looking after the boy, becoming utterly devoted to him in the process, but now that year is over and he’s able to go back to his mother. Oscar seems to be handling it just fine. Thomas is going to pieces.

When relationships between people who love each other this much fall apart, the cause is often attitudes to parenthood. Thomas thought that he and Oscar wanted the same thing, but now it’s achingly apparent that Oscar was simply interested in having the experience of fatherhood with no lasting commitment, whereas he has discovered, in the process, that there is a deep need within him either to get Arthur back (which is clearly not going to happen, and which offends Oscar’s moral principles) or to become a father to another child. It doesn’t help that, as he points out, everyone around him seems to be going through something similar, with two of his lesbian friends, Leah (Emily Hampshire) and Sonia (Cloie Wyatt Taylor), trying to have a child by IVF and another (Heather Matarazzo) co-parenting with a gay man (Carl Clemons-Hopkins). Whereas in the past many gay men despaired of the possibility of ever becoming parents, he knows that it’s possible, and that creates another kind of pressure.

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There’s a complex history between these two men. Thomas lost his father to a car crash when he was young, and part of his longing seems to stem from a desire to give somebody else the support that he lacked. Oscar, meanwhile, is an orphan, having won his fame in a series about that when he was a child. Thomas seems to have dealt with a lot of his pain by trying to craft the perfect life, centred around the husband he idolises, whilst Oscar, who earns most of the money, doesn’t understand why Thomas can’t be content with all the advantages he has. At a pivotal stage in his career, Oscar really wants to focus on that, and is exhausted by the sudden tension and drama at home.

The idea of the perfect life as a precarious or illusory thing sadly can’t quite disguise the fact that in most regards the film is very shallow. This is one of those very Californian tales in which the problems that most people in the world have to deal with simply don’t exist. Thomas has all the free time he needs to tie himself in knots over his feelings. Life is presented as a stream of parties and picnics in the park. We see Thomas taking pictures but never knuckling down to edit them. Oscar works, yes, but not where we have to see it. Family issues aside, there is no sense of depth to anything, and we never really get to know the characters. Thomas tells us how important his friends are in his life because although we spend time with them, we don’t get to see what any of these people mean to each other.

This light, soap opera-style approach does, however, provide an effective backdrop to the scenes in which Thomas eventually manages to articulate his feelings clearly to Oscar. Here, Tortorella is impressive, summoning up a sudden emotive power which effectively reflects the overwhelming sensation often associated with the desire to be a parent. It’s a strong counterpoint to the light, comedy-tinged drama and it’s probably the reason why the film has received so much praise, including at its Newfest screening. Tortorella convinces as a man whose whole life has been abruptly thrown out of joint by an instinct whose power he failed to anticipate. It’s just unfortunate that that previous life isn’t interesting enough to give weight to his supposed dilemma.

Reviewed on: 20 Oct 2023
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Thomas and Oscar have spent a year as foster parents to a wonderful child, a calling that's shown them new dimensions of what 'family' can mean. However, when the young boy is reunited with his birth mother, the couple's differing views on what the experience meant come into focus.

Director: Andy Vallentine

Writer: Danny Vallentine

Starring: Nico Tortorella, Juan Pablo Di Pace, Emily Hampshire, Carl Clemons-Hopkins, Heather Matarazzo, Cloie Wyatt Taylor, Jake Choi, Garrett Clayton, Annie Funke, Colleen Foy

Year: 2023

Runtime: 99 minutes

Country: US

Streaming on: Amazon

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