Exploring gender identity through an incredibly stylized aesthetic, director Amanda Kramer presents a very unique voice in her film PLEASE BABY PLEASE. The movie might present as a complex art film, but basically, the movie follows a married couple who have a late-night run-in with a gang. This then leads to a series of introductions and conversations all revolving around sexual awakenings and gender identity. Probably one of Fantasia Film Festival’s most original works, PLEASE BABY PLEASE offers a happy, horny, philosophical exploration of sex and violence through great choreography, setting, and score.
The overture begins and the opening act starts with a West Side Story/Grease-type ensemble. A group of pipe and chain-wielding, leather-clad gang members half dance, half stalk down an alley. Immediately the film dazzles our senses with an array of contrasting bold colors that stand out even in dim lighting which combines fluorescent shades with muted streetlights. All of this gives the scenery a very staged appearance, almost as if we could expect to see it in a Broadway theatre. Even as we get into the main story and cast, we realize the dialogue and framing all strongly resemble a theatrical performance. All the stylish settings of a1950s musical, but with a lot less singing. And while so many 1950s movies had queer subtext hiding within the margins of their films, PLEASE BABY PLEASE lets the pride flag fly loudly and boldly.
Story-wise, we meet newlyweds Arthur (Harry Melling) and Suze (Andrea Riseborough) who love each other very much, but after one scary night they look death in the eye, and now start to reevaluate what brings them pleasure and how they define themselves. At the root of the movie, Kramer asks her characters to explore “what it means to be a man” and “what it means to be a woman.” And with each character adding to the definition and expectations of the genders, we see how fluid and impossible it becomes to actually label a person’s identity.
Most of the scenes involve people trying to determine the questions the director puts forth, and sometimes these conversations occur through philosophical and well-mannered dialogue, while other times the topic arrives in loud and angry voices. Regardless of the delivery, the discussion remains complex because everyone holds preconceived conceptions, and only through exploration and exposure to others can people understand and respect a person’s identity. Many of these exchanges of ideas somehow become complete nonsense yet somehow poignant at the same time. Either because of society, culture, or class structure, an imaginary scale exists which people force themselves to measure up. Not because they set personal goals for themselves that will bring them pride, but because they feel indebted to those around them.
Aside from the visionary directions of Kramer, the cast boasts some exceptionally strong performers. Riseborough gives some very fiery energy, and Cole Escola as Billy the ever-so-fabulous drag queen just slays in every scene. And Arthur’s new love/lust interest Dickie (Ryan Simpkins) plays a gender-bending version of Danny Zuko. Each and every one of these performers bring a new piece to this eclectic puzzle, but I found myself absolutely drawn to the tender, yet compelling Melling.
Putting everything together, we get an S&M West Side Story with hints of John Waters and David Lynch running throughout the dialogue and set pieces. Through the use of powerful monologues, dramatic lighting, and loads of nods to some of the great names connected to the stage, Kramer advances various types of media, and her two outings at Fantasia Film Festival both embrace types of live performances. While Give Me Pity looks at one-woman shows which highlighted the small screen on Saturday night in the 70s, PLEASE BABY PLEASE looks at the theatre. The acting borders on pantomime, but despite a bit of overindulgence the film offers a funky, campy, kinky good time.
PLEASE BABY PLEASE is on Digital today via Music Box Films.