1985 almost seems like it should be a dated film, a retro-vibed melodrama or something along those lines but not this work of absolute wonder that it is so filled with vibrance and life and tragedy and richness and humanity that is so immersive and so complete and so all encompassing that even as I sit here writing these words I am overcome once again with the emotions that I felt while watching this miraculous little film.
Written and directed by Yen Tan, a Dallas-based filmmaker who directs from the award-winning short film of the same name, 1985 follows Adrian (Cory Michael Smith, Gotham), a closeted young man returning to his Texas hometown for Christmas during the first wave of the AIDS crisis. Adrian is a different young man from that whom his family once knew, or maybe different but still the same, as he's burdened by an unspeakable tragedy from back in New York and by a life he longs to reveal. He maybe even needs to reveal, but he dare not reveal to his ultra-religious parents (Virginia Madsen and Michael Chiklis). Back in Texas he connects, at least as much as he possibly can, with a childhood friend (Jamie Chung) and a younger brother (Aidan Langford) burdened by his own journey and not so quietly resentful of the brother whom he idolized yet who also left him behind in this strange beast of a town.
1985 is a narrative feature finalist screening in competition as part of the 2018 Heartland International Film Festival going on from Oct. 11-21 at various sites around the city. It's the kind of film that years ago Heartland wouldn't have necessarily touched, yet one only need to be present with the film for a few minutes before realizing that 1985 is, indeed, very much a Heartland kind of film.
Shot on black-and-white Super 16mm film, 1985 is a remarkable film featuring an absolutely stunning performance by lead Cory Michael Smith, whose turn as Adrian is dynamic and vulnerable, aching and celebratory, life challenging and, oh yes, absolutely life affirming in both big and small ways. It's a simply fantastic performance that deserves to be mentioned come awards season, though it's most likely avenue for such acclaim likely lies within the Independent Spirit realm.
While Smith's performance here is masterful, one simply can't go without mentioning the rest of the film's magnificent ensemble cast including an absolutely terrific Jamie Chung as an estranged friend reconnecting with Adrian upon his return home. 1985 is very much set within the opening salvos of the 80's AIDS crisis, yet anyone whose ever returned home after very intentionally leaving will find 1985 an absolutely unforgettable view mostly owing to the uncomfortably intimate, transparent and simply mesmerizing dynamics that unfold as we watch this family attempt to love one another without truly even knowing one another. Virginia Madsen does her best work in years as Eileen, while Michael Chiklis gives such an incredibly bravado and unforgettable performance that I find myself shaking just thinking about it. Quieter, yet equally memorable, Aidan Langford is simply riveting as Adrian's younger brother Andrew.
There's a scene in 1985 that is among the best scenes I've seen unfold this year, a scene with such incredible potential for cliche' yet one that brims with so much honesty and authenticity and humanity that I sit here with tears welling up in my eyes even remembering it.
Cinematography by Hutch is extraordinary, while the film's original music from Curtis Heath is understated and simply beautiful. Everything, and I mean everything, feels honest and truthful in this quietly mesmerizing and absolutely life-changing miracle of a film.
1985 will screen at the following times during the Heartland International Film Festival:
- Oct. 12th @ 3:15pm at The Toby at Newfields
- Oct. 16th @ 3:15pm at DeBoest Lecture Hall at Newfields
- Oct. 19th @ 8:30pm at AMC Castleton Square 14
- Oct. 20th @ 12:30pm at AMC Showplace Traders Point 12
- Oct. 21st @ 1:45pm at AMC Castleton Square 14
For ticket information, visit the Heartland Film Festival website.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic