Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Two Short Film Reviews: Men Don't Whisper and Call Your Father

This will be reviews for two short films, both directed by Jordan Firstman: Men Don't Whisper and Call Your Father.

The first is Men Don't Whisper, which is 22 minutes.
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Even among gay men, there appears to be an expectation of what a 'real man' is or isn't.  Men Don't Whisper, the short film, touches in a wry way these expectations about 'masculinity', leading to rather odd circumstances.

It's a sales conference seminar where Reese (cowriter Charles Rogers) and his business/life partner Peyton (Firstman) find themselves embarrassed by Dr. Jocelyn Verdoon (Cheri Oteri).  Dr. Verdoon encourages her mostly female audience to 'sell like men', and is shocked to find both Reese and Peyton hesitate when asked what they want.  Verdoon insists that men know instantly what they want and go and get it, so Reese and Peyton's hesitancy puzzles her.

Reese asks Peyton if he think Reese is 'masculine', and soon it becomes an informal competition between our males as to which of them is.  Reese insists his one heterosexual tryst in high school puts him as the more masculine, while Peyton turns to his more successful sales record.

There is only one way to settle this: they have to sleep with women.  Fortunately, there are two women who are hot to trot for our attractive duo: the clinically depressed and sunburned Beth (Bridey Elliott) and her more aggressive BFF Dominique (Clare McNulty).  Despite Reese and Peyton's more gentle manner and vacation pictures of hot Greek guys from their vacation in Mykonos, the women agree to have sex with the men.

Both men, however, are starting to question their decision to 'go straight'.  Reese finds himself with Dominique, while Peyton is paired with Beth, still struggling with the fact her soon-to-be-ex-husband killed someone in a hit-and-run.  The boys struggle to find sexual interest, more than once running into the bathroom together to encourage each other emotionally and physically.

Their efforts at heterosexuality flop big time for as hard as they try, they simply cannot.  It's Beth who states the obvious, then lectures the both of them for being misogynists.  "Just because you're gay doesn't mean you're not misogynists," she tells them, with both declaring they will report them to Human Resources.  Our boys, defeated, return to their hotel room, accidentally finding Dr. Verdoon in a compromising position with a man they had seen earlier powdering his face at the bar and dismissed as less masculine than either of them.

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Men Don't Whisper made me wonder whether Reese and Peyton really were misogynists, and the more I think on it, they probably are.  Even as they were not attracted sexually to Beth or Dominique, they were going to use them as both sex objects and as 'notches on their belt' in the same way heterosexual men would.  This hoped-for tryst was nothing more than a metaphorical penis-measuring contest between this gay couple, and Men Don't Whisper plays well with this curious concept.

Firstman gets good performances out of his cast, and any film that uses Oteri in such a wild way as the hyper and hyper-assertive seminar leader gets points.  We get a great contrast between the more sexually aggressive and somewhat clueless Dominique, who does not think anything is off when Reese tells her he loves her shoes, and the more dubious Beth, who questions why there are so many pictures of shirtless men on Peyton's phone.  We also get good visuals, in particular when our very confident 'heteros' stride back to the girls, ready for a romp they both know they have no desire for in any way.
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First and Rogers also give us nice subtle moments that reveal character, such as Peyton scrolling through his phone at liking various photos of attractive men while assuring his partner that he is indeed masculine.

Men Don't Whisper is a short that could be expanded more, especially if it gives Oteri another chance to really go wild and showcase her talent.  I was a bit lost as to who was whom between Reese and Peyton, as they don't use their names until later.  I had to see it twice to notice their name tags.  I also think the bit where they had to go back to the hostess' desk to be seated and served at the bar even though the bar was practically empty was a bit odd.

However, on the whole Men Don't Whisper was a nice, brief tale of two gay men trying to live up to some ideal of what 'a man' is, only to come out looking foolish.


The second review is for Call Your Father, running 20 minutes.

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Call Your Father is a smart comedy on the pitfalls of generational romance which has moments of oddball humor and moments of actual human emotion, a well-crafted dramedy.

Greg (Craig Chester) is a fifty-year-old gay man who is on a daylong date with Josh (Firstman), who is 24.  This date takes very curious turns, where the different worldviews between a Boomer and a Millennial keep crashing into each other.

Josh constantly tries to get Greg to drink, even after Greg tells him more than once that he is sober (so I'm assuming he is a recovering alcoholic).  Josh texts while Greg waits, then muses that all of Greg's friends must have died of AIDS while waxing rhapsodic on his own friend's suicide.  He gets Greg involved in a theft of a Rihanna mug, with a very embarrassed Greg unsure why Josh did that, or exactly who Rihanna is.  Greg is temporarily stranded in the city until Josh surprises him and invites him to his place.

There, Greg is still slightly puzzled by Josh, but the sexual attraction is too great and they have sex.  Greg asks Josh if he has a condom, and while Josh replies that he does not and implies he does not need one, Greg's lust overtakes his caution and they indulge in the pleasures of the flesh.  It's only after Josh appears to threaten suicide by hanging that Greg finally has had enough of this rather mercurial yet intensely attractive fellow and leaves.  However, in his car, while swearing he won't get involved with Josh, he still hesitates, the push-pull between a paternal and erotic love making him doubt.

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Call Your Father, whose title comes from something that the older Greg yells at Josh, seems to have a lot of fun mocking the younger generation.  As portrayed by Firstman, Josh is self-centered, prone to saying oddball things, and showing very little discernment.  He also appears needy and irrational.

However, Greg is no saint either.  He endures Josh's behavior primarily out of self-interest, and despite having seen first-hand the ravages of AIDS, which sadly many Millennials think is both a thing of the past and something that won't touch them, he lets his erotic desire for Josh trump the rational caution of using a condom.

Firstman should be congratulated on having some wonderful visual moments in Call Your Father, particularly the beautiful lighting when Greg and Josh consummate their relationship.  He also draws a wonderful performance from Chester as the much put-upon Greg, who seems sensible but who also cannot argue against Josh's rather torturous logic about how texting while on a date is 'acceptable' because Greg never told him to stop and thus, accepted the behavior.

Firstman also does a good job as Josh, making him mostly a comic character who makes even the most ghastly statements and actions almost endearing in his clueless nature.  His monologue about Greg's friends all dying because of AIDS is both cringe-inducing and amusing in its insensitivity.  Even when rationalizing strange moments, such as when he tells Greg, "I stole because you're boring," we see Josh as more thoughtless than deliberately mean.

I am not sure if Call Your Father is a bit of a spoof of a May-December relationship or an exploration of the differences between the generations when it comes to romance.  It is, however, a good short film, even if I wonder about a date that goes as long as this one.  Then again, I was not sure if this was a first date or not.

Nevertheless, Call Your Father and Men Don't Whisper show Jordan Firstman to be a young filmmaker on the make, with these proving strong calling cards.


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