Thursday, January 25, 2018

Saturday Church

I recently wrote about the movie Freak Show with it's flamboyant main character who described himself as a "gender obliviator" (I fully realize that sounds like a Harry Potter spell). This week I found Saturday Church which might have similar themes but it is far more grounded in unforgiving reality

Saturday Church can accurately be described as work of magical realism. Part musical and part coming of age story. Ulysses (Luka Kain) is a deeply quiet and introverted gay teen who has just lost his father. His new reality is that mom is working extra shifts at night to make up the income and she has invited Aunt Rose (Regina Taylor) to watch him and his younger brother. Aunt Rose is an old school, strict and sometimes sour woman who keeps one suspicious eye on Ulysses at all times. You see, Ulysses seems ok with his semi secret of being gay but lives in fear that people will find out he is fascinated with dressing in women's clothing. He's been caught doing it at least once and promised his parents he would never do it again but he's a teenager; so of course he's lying. Feeling less and less welcome in his own home, he begins sneaking out at night and is introduced to Saturday Church, a program for at risk LGBT youth. Hanging out with them only stokes his desires and opens him up to a world he knows to be his own. There's an inevitable confrontation with Aunt Rose and Ulysses runs away and finds himself on the streets.

With a running time of only 82 minutes, Saturday Church at times feels less like a fully fleshed out movie and more like "a very special episode" of your favorite teen drama. Character development is scarified so that the story can be rushed to a satisfying ending. Also the musical numbers are mixed and don't always gel. At first they add some whimsy to what is very heavy material. I don't know exactly how to describe it but later musical numbers seem tepid. One especially dour song for example is set in what must the most tidy homeless shelter in all of NYC. With all of that said, Luka Kain is amazing as Ulysses. He manages to convey a whole world of emotions with a scant amount of dialogue. The friends he meets at Saturday Church keep everything from going too dark by supplying a lot of humor and some real attitude. Perhaps the saving grace is small bit at the end where we see Ulysses as he has always wanted to be - a confident and fierce person that Aunt Rose wouldn't stand a chance against. Stick around for the credits too. You get a fun look at some of the real participants in the "Ball Culture" that was made famous in the documentary Paris is Burning (1990). If that reference is unfamiliar then I'll go more mainstream and just say "Madonna's Vogue". Saturday Church may falter at times but my final grade is a B-.