An unexpected recent trend in independent LGBT features has been the re-emergence of family dramas; films where the sexuality of the lead character is largely irrelevant from a narrative perspective, with a focus on documenting the many nuances of families with a younger, openly gay member. Sure, the bulk of stories in this mode are tender coming out tales (see Princess Cyd or Evening Shadows for recent examples), but in an age where the vast majority of people wouldn’t react negatively to a family member coming out, filmmakers are realising that a classic coming out story is no longer enough to fuel an entire narrative, let alone create substantial domestic tension.
This is where Becks, the feature debut from co-directors Daniel Powell and Elizabeth Rohrbaugh, succeeds, caring less about the sexuality of the title character and more about the inter-generational conflict that arises after she moves back in with her mother. Co-director Powell has a background in comedy (he served as a producer and director for multiple episodes of Comedy Central’s Inside Amy Schumer), and sprinkles plenty of laughs throughout. But the screenplay’s light touch, and the natural comedic timing of the ensemble, don’t detract from the realistic portrayal of a fraught mother-daughter relationship, and the stifling reality that moving back in with your parents as an adult hurls you face first back into adolescence.
After moving from Brooklyn to LA to move in with her girlfriend, musician Becks (Lena Hall) instantly ends her relationship after discovering she’s been cheated on. With no map for her future laid out, she makes the decision to head back to the midwest and move in with her devoutly catholic mother Ann (Christine Lahti). The pair have never seen eye to eye, and the difference between generations is only heightened after she gets a job at her ex-boyfriend’s (Dan Fogler) bar, eventually lapsing back in to a hard drinking/partying routine at odds with her mother’s religiously focused lifestyle. This isn’t the only area where her adolescent life choices have re-emerged; after deciding to earn money tutoring wannabe guitar players, she begins to fall for Elyse (Mena Suvari), who is married to the man who publicly outed her at her High School prom.
One of the joys of Becks is how it takes what sounds like a contrived culture-clash setup on paper, and transforms it into a naturalistic, highly believable comedy drama. Multiple aspects of the film’s premise seem ripe for farce, which is where the comedic background of the directors really shines – there’s an innate awareness that underplaying the film’s narrative progression leads to more earnest laughs, and helps make the sequence of events only feel questionable after viewing. Like the best comedies, the sharp, pointed dialogue commands your attention so vividly, it’s only after viewing that the increased preposterousness as the story develops becomes apparent – and that it doesn’t matter, because of how convincingly it has been written and performed. I was strongly reminded of the films of director Nicole Holofcener (most recently, her 2013 film Enough Said, starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus), which equally take broad comedic concepts and expertly turn them into nuanced character pieces without compromising on the laughs.
The film’s success is also due to how the ensemble cast embody archetypes without ever devolving into mere caricature. With the exception of Lena Hall’s excellent leading performance, which avoids even dancing around stereotypes, we have subtle subversions of archetypes ranging from the overbearing religious mother, to the overgrown frat boy bartender – and are embodied with empathy, instead of being made to be the butt of the joke.
Becks is a delightful comedy-drama, which understands the minutiae of mother-daughter relationships and the mixed emotions of winding up back in your hometown after life didn’t turn out as planned. It’s an impressive directorial debut from Powell and Rohrbaugh, who have effectively made the transition from the small screen to the big screen, without compromising on the quality of their writing.
Read our interview with co-director Elizabeth Rohrbaugh
All pictures reproduced courtesy of Blue Fox Entertainment