Let's be honest.
If you were to take a national poll right now asking the question "What do you think of when I say "Indiana?," there's a pretty good chance that the most popular answer wouldn't be our celebrated hosting of the 2015 NCAA Men's Basketball Final Four. There's an even better chance that people wouldn't respond with "Indy 500," no matter how popular the race may be. Oh sure, there would be a few people who would respond Indianapolis Colts or Indiana Pacers or any of our other sports teams.
But really, let's be honest. If you were to take such a poll right now, the most common answer would be "RFRA," the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that caused a nationwide uproar over its potential to lead to mass discrimination that, in the eyes of many, would specifically impact the LGBT community since folks who are LGBT are not protected under Indiana's anti-discrimination legislation. Regardless of where you stand on the legislation, the week or so that passed before the Indiana State Legislature passed a "fix" of sorts was a period of conflict, divisiveness, and financially devastating boycotts by corporate and public leaders from Indiana and nationwide.
It was with this "baggage," if you will, that I found myself sitting down to screen the 44-minute short film A Wedding Like That, a film shot in Evansville, Indiana that will have its world premiere at that city's Alhambra Theater Film Festival on the festival's opening night, April 9th. Written by Mark Dessauer and co-directed by Neil Kellen and Lewis D. Chaney, A Wedding Like That tells the story of Sam (played by Dessauer), a wonderful yet fairly clueless father who has more than a little difficulty coming to terms with the news that his daughter, Laura (Megan Hunt), is gay and planning to marry her longtime girlfriend, Joan (Roni Jonah), in a mere week.
There were times while watching A Wedding Like That where I found myself reminded of the works of playwright/screenwriter Neil Simon, a writer who had a knack for capturing poignancy and hilarity within the confines of everyday life. While there are only a few moments of true hilarity in A Wedding Like That, the truth is that it carries within it the spirit of Simon's ability to capture genuine characters living genuine lives with genuine ups and genuine downs. The film has an abundance of laughs, an abundance of tears, and a script by Dessauer that really makes you want to rush home and tell those in your circle who are LGBT just how much you love them.
Why? Because so much of this rings as so completely true.
While A Wedding Like That occasionally dances on that line of caricature, it never crosses it. Instead, it often takes situations that seem like they should be caricatures and it brings them to life. The father who can't believe his daughter is gay? Check. The longtime friend who comes out as a result? Check. The family members who already knew? Definitely check. There's a lot in A Wedding Like That that feels incredibly familiar, yet perhaps that's because I've been around the LGBT community most of my adult life.
Of course, I have a secret, most of us have even if we don't know it. You really don't want to serve a gay person? Yeah, good luck with that. In the time it took me to write this sentence you probably served two. Or more.
At 44 minutes in length, A Wedding Like That barely qualifies as a short film and yet it really is the perfect length for the script that Dessauer has put together. We have ample time to grow a deep fondness for these characters, understand their stories, and fully embrace how everything plays out. This is not meant to be a full-on debate on the issue, but instead a slice of life that is truly everyday life.
As Sam, Dessauer is lovably and believably confused. There's never really a moment when you believe that he's going to turn on his daughter, yet he's believably confused enough that you're never quite sure he's really going to fully "get it." It's realistic, really, because so many parents do, in fact, raise their daughters up believing that they will some day get married (they envision a guy!), have children, get the white picket fence,and maybe the awesome job. It's a stereotype, probably even a somewhat sexist stereotype, yet it's often there. So, it felt realistic watching Dessauer wrestle with his "little girl" no longer being the little girl that he remembered. While his journey is somewhat quickly paced given the time constraints of the film, Dessauer plays it naturally and convincingly. Dessauer is especially convincing when portraying the wounded father who realizes he's the only one in his family who didn't know his daughter was gay.
As Tami, Sam's wife and Laura's loyal mother, Cindy Maples embodies the protective mama bear whose fierce loyalty couldn't possibly be questioned. Maples has a marvelous chemistry with Dessauer and gives the film a nice level of emotional grounding. She possesses a spark that makes you constantly smile, yet an authenticity that plays out beautifully in one particular scene involving the mother of Laura's spouse-to-be.
While much of A Wedding Like That does center around Sam, it would ultimately fail without a central believable relationship. I suppose the best thing I can say about the chemistry between Laura and Joan is that I stopped thinking about their being a gay couple and just kept thinking to myself "Wow, what a lovely couple." The two come from decidedly different families. Laura's, as has been shown already, may be confused but they are loving and supportive. Joan's father, Oliver (Todd Reynolds), is a deeply religious man whose faith isn't played for laughs but whose faith has become an obstacle in his relationship with his daughter and in terms of any possible support he can give the marriage. Joan's mother, Debra (Gracie Strange), is a loyal wife whose maternal instinct doesn't allow her to let go quite as easily. It is deeply moving, and often quite funny, watching these four parents weave their way through the thoughts and emotions that inspire and challenge them. Reynolds portrays Oliver in a respectful and dignified way and never allows the character to fall into caricature, while the delightful Gracie Strange gave Debra several layers of emotions and baggage to deal with yet enough emotional strength and determination that you had no doubt she would.
The film's supporting players are for the most part strong across the board, most notably Sarah McDonald and Kevin Arnold as Laura's frequently funny siblings and Jeff Albertson, whose scene as Charlie is nothing short of a home run.
A Wedding Like That benefits from terrific accompanying music including Mina Fedora's "Breathe and Be," an incredible tune written specifically for the film. D.P. Neil Kellen lenses the film with a warmth and intimacy, yet he wisely broadens the shots when it comes to the film's lighter family moments and allows us to feel like we're sharing the moment with them. While there are moments in the film when its low-budget is evident, these moments are surprisingly few and far between and for the most part you should be so deeply engrossed in the film that you'll hardly notice.
A Wedding Like That made me laugh. To be honest, it made me cry. It made me think about my LGBT friends and the world in which they live, a world that is only starting to accept their right to marry and frequently fights them tooth and nail when it comes to anything resembling equality. I thought about their struggles, sure, but I also thought about their love. I thought about the gay wedding I officiated many years ago and the marriage that is still going strong. I thought about my friends who are now married and pretty much in awe having never expected it to happen in their lifetime. I thought about these characters and how much I enjoyed my 44 minutes with them and, truthfully, how much I wouldn't mind spending more time with them down the road.
Then, I sat down to write this review and I laughed and cried all over again. If you're anywhere near Evansville this weekend, check out the Alhambra Theater Film Festival and check out A Wedding Like That. For ticket information, check out the Alhambra Theater Film Festival website.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic