The film, which screened in Portland, Oregon this week at the Clinton Street Theater, focuses on Mark, played by Emerson Collins (Sordid Lives), who is a thinker struggling with the church's pressure and disdain toward homosexuality. Mark is one of four young boys who, as mentioned in the story, ironically and perfectly fit the ten percentile gay statistic in their forty-person congregation.
Southern Baptist Sissies is not perfect. The film could easily rely on superficial aspects to reach its audience. Firstly, the four leads playing the gay boys in church have a certain look and body type which could once more become the focus of queer stories, as opposed to having a fuller-frame or short individual (think a young Leslie Jordan) be considered for a 'pretty' or 'boyish' part. Without critiquing this project on its own, being youth-obsessed has become a stale tool in the entertainment industry. In fact, the story criticizes itself when Jordan's character points out the matter. The other self-inflicted criticism is the substance abuse which has been deeply rooted in queer culture, and the lack of diversity in the cast. This becomes a joke when Willam Belli's character wants, and finally, performs as Tina Turner in drag.
Shores' Texas upbringing plays a big part in the character development and theme. The southern and Christian themes are often used in performance pieces produced in the US and can become stagnant and uninspired. Thankfully, and despite all of these concerns of how the entertainment industry can easily affect and pressure audiences, the cast and creative forces behind them put the safety nets aside and bring their most passionate and genuine performances to the table.
Belli, of television (RuPaul's Drag Race, Nip/Tuck) and film (Because I Said So, American Wedding), shares the comedic center with Leslie Jordan (Will & Grace, Sordid Lives). In their own ways, they weave the story through two ends of the queer spectrum. Despite being pigeonholed, Leslie plays the inflicted older sissy, who struggles to find footing in this queer world we all socially accept and winds up being the drink-holding old-queen, rather well. This is reminiscent of his character, Beverly Leslie, opposite Megan Mullally's Karen Walker on W&G. Belli is the sass-mouth drag queen who has the chops and charisma to become the most political character. The crowd certainly enjoys and welcomes his character's 'f***-you' speech toward contemporary anti-gay politicos and socialites.
The other two boys, TJ and Andrew, played by Luke Stratte-McClure (Nip/Tuck), and Matthew Scott Montgomery respectively, bring a lot of the emotion. Andrew's slow demise and TJ's struggle to respect and understand his willingness to love a man and be loved by one become the balance of the two boys who build lives around their queerness, and these two who suffer because of the social and religious pressures. Luke's portrayal of highly-devout TJ hits a nerve as his sermons become more full of hate and self-sabotage. Matthew's take on Andrew's struggle is palpable and ever so gentle. He delivers each line as if it were an extension of his person. His facial expressions, the way his lip quivers between lines and the wideness of his teary eyes, certainly enhance what Sissies really wants to emote: self-acceptance and love.
In fact, the interaction between Jordan's character, Peanut, and Odette, played by Dale Dickey from television (True Blood, Weeds, 2 Broke Girls, Bonnie & Clyde) and film (Sordid Lives, Iron Man 3), is just as tender and heart-warming. Here there are two generations of individuals highly affected by the religious take on homosexuality and how these ignorant believes break apart families.
Emerson who produced the film with Del, is highly devoted to the project and it is not only seen via the performance, but also as the project makes the rounds. From each layer of creativity, Emerson digs deeply into a core which supplies him with an indefinite amount of appeal and magnetism. Mark's words are precise and crisp, and despite being more humorous than not, whenever the character is emotionally inflicted it is involved enough to capture the audience.
The film was certainly made for a particular niche, this is palpable when the church hymns take center stage, but the performances make it easier for the audience to identify itself, however different, to the characters. Overall, this film and its theatrical qualities are worth watching at least once.
Films: Kumu Hina : OFIR (documentary) : Ne Te Retourne Pas (short) : Halina (short) : EK (short) : Despite The Gods (documentary) : Materica (short) : Lawrence and Hollowman, the movie : No Strangers (documentary) : Meth Head, the movie : Echoes (short) : Titans of Newark (short) : A Cure (short) : Precious, the movie : This Is It (documentary)
Music: The Sounds' Weekend : Austra's Olympia : KENN's We Killed KENN : VV Brown's Samson & Delilah : Sammy Crawford's Reality Sets In : Melanie C's Stages : Madonna's MDNA : Nelly Furtado's Spirit Indestructible : CocoRosie's "We Are On Fire" : Stephan Nance's A Troubled Piece of Fruit
Stand Up: Kevin J Thornton