Despite the extremely low budget, and its status as an adaptation of a web series that flew under the radar, Coffee House Chronicles: The Movie is one of the more insightful LGBT films in recent memory that deserves to have arrived with far more fanfare than it has received. It’s a film as likely to dissect important issues within the LGBT community as it is to make jokes about the nightmares of gay dating – and does it all with heart and a healthy sense of humour in just 76 minutes. Director Stewart Wade has taken the essence of the web series and perfectly translated it to a coherent feature film, where all the varying vignettes add up to paint an accurate picture of how it feels to be gay at this exact moment in time.
The set-up is completely simple, as we are witnessing a small handful of stories set in coffeehouses across Los Angeles. The vast majority are first dates – but each similar scenario is either a set-up for a gag, or more impressively, the jumping off point for a deeper discussion about important issues LGBT cinema often refrains from covering comprehensively. One segment explores whether we have unconscious racial biases when looking for a sexual partner, while another rather delicately opens up a discussion on transgender people dating for the first time following their transition.
There’s a distinct lightness of touch to proceedings that stops Coffee House Chronicles ever feeling like an “issues movie”, even when it leaves the humour to one side to delve deeper into an under explored topic. At first, I was reminded of Jim Jarmusch’s own caffeinated portmanteau film Coffee and Cigarettes (which I have to assume was an influence on the project), although Wade’s film surprised me by having something a lot deeper to say beyond the laughs.
This isn’t to say the film isn’t funny – but the quality of the screenplay lies not within the strength of the jokes, but in the ability to offer a perceptive exploration of a variety of different gay experiences. Gay men of different generations, races and relationship statuses all get to have stories that are affecting, and hilarious. The incredibly low stakes conceit (characters chat to each other over a coffee) continues to pay dividends throughout, overcoming the budgetary limitations in order to connect on a purely human level.
As with all anthology films of this nature, not all the segments are of the same quality; a detour into magical realism feels slightly out of place, while the tale of the older couple celebrating their 25th anniversary feels somewhat anticlimactic. But there is no denying the positive intentions of everybody involved, and that every sequence feels as heartfelt as the last even if the quality does notably vary throughout.
Rest assured, you don’t need to catch up with the web series before you see Coffee House Chronicles: The Movie, as director Stewart Wade has created something that stands on its own two feet as a singular film about the contemporary gay experience. It’s more consistent than you’d expect from an anthology film – and a hell of a lot more heartfelt too.
All pictures reproduced courtesy of TLA Releasing