October 25, 2018 1985 (Movie Review)
No, Yen Tan’s new film 1985 is not an adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ Orwell tribute 1985. Nor is it a Yellow Submarine-esque cinematic expansion on the Bowling For Soup song. It is more of a Texas-based take on 1994’s Philadelphia, with its dramatic tale of love and empathy in the 1980s.
1985 is about a man called Adrian (Cory Michael Smith: Gotham series, Carol 2015) returning to his Texas hometown for the holidays. He is hoping to reconnect with his younger brother Andrew (Aidan Langford: Hear Me Whisper 2011, Bosch series), while working things out with his conservative parents Eileen (Virginia Madsen: Dune 1984, Candyman 1992) and Dale (Michael Chiklis: The Shield series, Fantastic Four 2005). He has yet to admit to them that he is gay, a fact made worse by the rise of the AIDS virus in New York City. Though when he tries to reach out to his old childhood friend Carly (Jamie Chung: Dragonball Evolution 2009, Big Hero 6 2014), things take a heavier turn.
Written and directed by Yen Tan (Happy Birthday 2002, Pit Stop 2013) and from a story by Co-Editor/Cinematographer/Producer Hutch (The Price 2015, Strange Beasts 2015), 1985 is now set to open in New York and Los Angeles on Friday, October 26, 2018 via Wolfe Releasing. Though it has already won five awards on the film festival circuit, including the Audience Award for Best American Feature Film at the Champs-Élysées Film Festival. Though Tan has a relatively slim film history, his work has generally done rather well with critics. Does 1985 beat his previous work to the post?
For starters, it is in black and white, and shot on super 16mm film courtesy of Kodak. So, there is grain to go with the grit. There is the old anecdote about a filmmaker using B&W film due to cost, and film scholars later interpreting it as an artistic choice. Though it might have been a little bit of both here. Even if that little bit meant making the opening production company logos monochrome to match the rest of the film. That said, it does make the film feel starker and colder, which adds to the more awkward and heavy scenes.
But it is not all doom and gloom. There are moments of levity sprinkled throughout to balance out the harder stuff. The emotional baggage between Adrian and Carly can be followed by him and his brother having fun at the cinema. Likewise, Dale reluctantly trying on the jacket he got for Christmas can be followed by Adrian praying tearfully for courage. The film smoothly builds up to each moment too, without it feeling like a sudden shift into darkness or light.
It is all backed up by some solid writing. 1985’s premise sounds familiar – some people might have even lived it. Yet it does not rely on typical stock characters. Adrian’s parents are pious Christians, but they do not come off as caricatures. They love him, as do Andrew and Carly, and they want to know him better. But his secret keeps getting in the way – making him cagey and defensive. Yet, Adrian feels he has to do this because the backlash may be worse. Either way, it makes the eventual reveal all the more heartrending.
That said, it would not be as effective if the cast’s performance was not on the level. Luckily, each actor does a good job playing their roles. Smith gels rather well with the rest of the cast, particularly with Langford during their scenes together. Chiklis balances out gruff grouchiness with heart with his role, as does Chung with love and pain. Madsen also handles the supportive mother role with ease. They carry the film with little trouble and really bring the film to life.
So, overall, 1985 is worth a watch if one is into good Drama. The camerawork is solid in a workmanlike kind of way – simple, straightforward cuts than fancy transitions. Likewise, the score is similarly light, evoking the bittersweet mood of the picture with its strings and piano combos. That in mind, it is the strong acting and writing that will suck the audience in until the end. It deserved its awards, and that is why CrypticRock gives 1985 4.5 out of 5 stars.