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The Independent Critic

Olympia Dukakis, Brenda Fricker, Kristin Booth, Ryan Doucette
Thom Fitzgerald
Equiv. to "R"
93 Mins.

 "Cloudburst" Opens the 2012 Indianapolis LGBT Film Festival 
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I was sitting there doing the math as the closing credits rolled for Cloudburst, the opening night film for the 2012 Indianapolis LGBT Film Festival.

Stella (Olympia Dukakis) was a mere two years older than I am currently when she met and fell in love with Dottie (Brenda Fricker).

That was 31 years ago.


The two have peacefully co-existed as life partners with a quiet love untainted by an inability to legally marry, Dottie's ever increasing health issues and, as well, the well meaning yet intrusive actions of Molly (Kristin Booth), Dottie's granddaughter and only living relative.

Stella is a brash, cowboy hat wearing spitfire with a quick temper and a penchant for tequila. She has a bawdy sense of humor and a knack for offending even the most street-smart soul.

Dottie, on the other hand, is of a more genteel nature. She's legally blind, though she can see shapes and shadows. Dot, as Stella often calls her, is previously married with children.

If I had to describe their relationship, I'd likely call it the perfect weaving together of interdependence. Stella nurtures Dot's physical being, while Dot nurtures Stella's soul.

They are, quite simply, a match made in heaven.

When an unexpected injury lands Dot temporarily in the hospital, Molly manipulates the situation in order to protect "family" interests and gets Dot to sign over Power-of-Attorney before arranging for her to move into a nursing facility despite the wishes of Stella, whom she knows only as Dot's "best friend." (Really!)

Of course, Stella's not giving up Dot without a fight. So, she ingeniously breaks into the facility and breaks Dot out of it. The two hit the road determined to head to Canada where they can legally marry. Along the way, they pick up a fellow wanderer, Prentice (Ryan Doucette), a young hunk headed up North to try to resolve some unfinished family business.

The Indianapolis LGBT Film Festival has often had very good films, but few have reached the heights of Cloudburst, a film featuring two Oscar-winning actresses giving extraordinary performances destined to be criminally underseen. In a world where a good half the films that hit theaters are deplorable, it's absolutely unthinkable that Cloudburst won't at least find its way onto the arthouse circuit.

Olympia Dukakis is utterly brilliant here, a magic mixture of brash and rude and tenderness and determination. This film is the first time that two Oscar winners have ever portrayed same-sex lovers on screen, and while the fact that Dot and Stella are lesbians is central to the film it's also woven so authentically into the fabric of these characters that it feels simply like another aspect of their lives. Much of that credit goes to Dukakis, whose Stella is so fiercely loyal that one practically feels like she would stop breathing without Dot. It's a damn shame that Dukakis has virtually no chance whatsoever to be recognized for her performance here, because I'd dare say it surpasses her incredible Oscar-winning work in Moonstruck.

Brenda Fricker, an Oscar winner for My Left Foot, gives a quieter yet no less magical performance. Fricker's vulnerability and sweetness are astounding. She's just as passionate as Stella, but in a more maternal and internal way. While the scenes of her seeing cloud shadows are overplayed just a tad, one literally aches watching this obviously wondrous woman realize her coming frailty.

While the initial appearance of Prentice at first feels like a cinematic gimmick, relative newcomer Ryan Doucette exudes such a sense of woundedness that you quickly realize that he truly is a vital part of the puzzle here. I kept awaiting the usual "Hollywood" gimmick of Prentice doing something evil or mean-spirited, but writer/director Thom Fitzgerald (Hanging Gardens) for the most part avoids cliche's and allows a refreshingly honest and natural relationship to develop. There's a couple of scenes near the film's end, one involving Prentice's protective spirit and the other hilariously revealing his creative yet intimate spirit, that unfold beautifully thanks to Doucette's heartfelt performance.

D.P. Tom Harting lenses the film beautifully, occasionally capturing the most wonderful intimacies and occasionally using the camera to pan out widely over the vastness of Nova Scotia and the vastness of these characters. Original music by Jason Michael MacIsaac and Warren Robert gives the film an almost meditative quality, a quality that works perfectly given the film's intimate and universal themes of love, commitment, loss, and the many ways we live out love.

There were many things that I loved about Cloudburst and many reasons why it worked so beautifully. It is most certainly a film about these two women as lesbians who long to be able to marry and commit on the same level as others, however, it's also about learning to celebrate the journey and, perhaps, coming to the realization that one glorious day of love is to be cherished and celebrated. If you get it, you hold onto it.

As I watched Brenda Fricker's Dot, I couldn't help but reflect upon my own frailties, fears, insecurities and bouts of loneliness. I couldn't help but reflect upon my relationships that have failed and those I have pushed away out of fear. I couldn't help but wonder what it would feel like to feel loved, truly loved, for 31 years.

But then, I realized as I reflected back that I've been blessed time and time again with friends and lovers and partners who have come and again yet loved me along the way. Sometimes, I've had one day. Then, I've had another. Occasionally, I've stringed together period of wild and crazy and passionate and amazingly committed love. I can look back on my life and remember those glorious days of love and as I sit here writing this review I'm smiling and celebrating and remembering and rejoicing.

Maybe I've not gotten 31 years. Maybe I won't ever get 31 years or another 31 days, but oh man, I've been blessed beyond words to be able to say that I've known love and I can carry it with me until the end of my time.

Cloudburst has everything you could want from a film. Love. Laughter. Passion. Tears. Joy. And balls.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic