This low budget affair from Malaysian American director Yen Tan is marked by beautiful black and white cinematography, quietly moving performances and a sustained mood of tenderness and terrible pain.
Set in the titular year but unable to afford corny period songs (we don’t hear Katrina And The Waves’ Walking On Sunshine, for example), this relies instead on dialogue and a few props (a then-top-of-the-line Walkman, a ‘Vote Reagan’ sticker) to suggest time and place, and after a while you pretty much accept it.
Adrian Lester (Cory Michael Smith, also a producer and one of several cast members from TV’s Gotham here) returns to celebrate Christmas with his Christian conservative family in Texas, after three years away in New York City working in an advertising firm. His gruff mechanic Dad Dale (Michael Chiklis) meets him at the airport, and when he arrives home, his Mom Eileen (Virginia Madsen) is tense but happy to see him and his difficult younger brother Andrew (Aidan Langford) has very mixed feelings. Only the dog, a huge and lovely German Shepherd, seems unconditionally pleased he’s back.
One look at Adrian and his parents should be able to tell something serious is up, but there’s a lot of denial and repressed anger here, and it becomes harder and harder for him to find the right time to tell them his secrets. They also encourage him to catch up with his old girlfriend Carly (Jamie Chung), who’s still mad at him for skipping town but nevertheless takes him out to see her perform a comedy gig, have a few drinks and maybe more. And if only she knew.
The use of black-and-white by cinematographer ‘Hutch’ (who also worked as a co-editor and helped with the script in its earliest stages) deliberately links this to the penny-pinching first films of indie-granddaddy Jim Jarmusch, who was actually making his first movies, like Stranger Than Paradise, around the time this is set. However, JJ favoured droll comedy and odd surrealism back in those days, whereas Tan’s pic is strikingly naturalistic and stringently no-frills.
Jarmusch also never told a coming-out story like this, and is still interested in disparate characters making unlikely connections. Tan’s film, however, is all about family, and almost scarily so.
1985 (M) is screening at the Mercury Cinema on Friday May 17 at 10.45am and Sunday May 26 at 2.00pm.