Directors: Daniel Powell and Elizabeth Rohrbaugh
Cast: Lena Hall, Mena Suvari, Christine Lahti, Dan Fogler, Hayley Kiyoko, Michael Zegen, Darren Ritchie
Running Time: 1:30
Release Date: 2/9/18 (limited)
Review by Mark Dujsik | February 8, 2018
"I'm single, broke, and living with my mother," says the 34-year-old Becks (Lena Hall), the central character of the film that shares her name, summing up pretty concisely her current rut. This is a low point of her life, though, and she knows it. After accepting the problem, there are two options: Wallow in it, or try to improve her condition. For a while, Becks seems like a fairly standard, if enjoyable, film about a character doing a lot things to overcome her status in life. By the end, though, it's about something deeper than self-improvement by way of surface-level things.
We have to like Becks a lot for this work, and the film possesses two elements that make it very easy to be fond of this character: a smart, observant screenplay by Rebecca Drysdale, Daniel Powell, and Elizabeth Rohrbaugh (The last two also directed) and a naturally charming performance from Lena Hall. Beyond giving us a down-to-earth character in a recognizable situation, the screenplay does something pretty clever here, too. It makes us want to sympathize with Becks from the start, only to slowly but surely tears down everything we think we like about her. It's a gamble, to be sure, and that's why Hall's performance is so vital. We still admire Becks, even as the film itself starts to pick apart her assortment of flaws.
At the start, the Brooklyn-based Becks is in a band and a romantic relationship with Lucy (Hayley Kiyoko). Becks plays the guitar, and Lucy sings. Lucy has an opportunity to go to Los Angeles for a reality-show singing competition. The plan is for the two to move together, but Becks, a shy homebody, isn't quite ready to transplant her life on such short notice. With some time on her own in L.A., Lucy gets an apartment for the couple, and when Becks arrives with all of her stuff, she discovers that Lucy has another woman in the apartment.
With nowhere to live, Becks returns to her hometown in a suburb of St. Louis, where her mother Ann (Christine Lahti), a very religious woman who was on track to become a nun until she met the man who would become Becks' father, welcomes her to stay as long as she needs. There's tension, of course, since Becks is a lesbian and Ann is still trying to wrap her head around the idea (She announces that she attended a gay pride parade, but when it comes to the specifics of her daughter's sexual orientation, Ann changes the subject in a flash). As long as Becks is living under her mother's roof, Ann expect her daughter to keep the details to a minimum.
The basic story follows Becks as she starts performing at a local bar owned by her high-school friend Dave (Dan Fogler)—the first and last man with whom she ever had sex, she accurately jokes at her first performance—and offering guitar lessons. Her main student is Elyse (Mena Suvari), who's married to former high school bully Mitch (Darren Ritchie). There are plenty of reasons that going home again doesn't look too appealing to Becks: seeing the guy who outed her at prom doing well for himself, having to sit next to the WASP-ish women in town who talk about and treat her like some mystical creature, and realizing that her mother may accept her sexuality as a remote idea but probably will never accept it as a specific fact. Suffice it to say, Elyse, whose husband is busy with work, might be the only reason that being back at home seems slightly promising.
This is a simple but attentive study of a woman who knows the kind of person she is but can't quite figure out how to find her place in the world. At least it seems that way for a while, as Becks starts to make some money from her bar gigs and Elyse's guitar lessons, begins to come to terms with her breakup through song (There are some really good ones here), and opens herself up to the idea that maybe this Midwestern life could be as fulfilling as the one she dreamed for herself in New York.
The key complication should be obvious to anyone paying the slightest attention to the dynamics here, but the resulting romantic entanglement offers up reasons for us both to continue liking Becks and to suspect her motives in becoming involved in such a precarious situation. The latter is enough that even Ann's mother, as quietly prejudiced as she may be, starts to make some sense. There's a lot about Becks that we might overlook or forgive in the early stages of the film, such as how often and how much she drinks, how quickly she dismisses the thoughts and advice of others under the belief that she must know better, and how love seems to be something that's deeply felt but easily replaced for her.
Hall's performance is effortlessly charismatic and precisely attuned to this character. It's the sort of performance that looks simple and straightforward, but Hall has to balance the character's charm, humor, internal struggles, and barely noticeable flaws in such a way that all of those characteristics are understandable and relatable.
In other words, we have to like Becks enough to hope that she'll get her act together, beyond simply doing some things to change her life. Becks doesn't see real change for a person as a series of odd jobs and romantic encounters. The film knows that there's more to change than that, and it respects this character enough to let her figure that out on her own.
Copyright © 2018 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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