[Review] At the End of the Day
Gayly Dreadful was founded to be a place where I could discuss horror and other genre fare. Sure, it’d come from my perspective as a gay man, but it’d be mostly about anything genre-related. But it’s not enough. I want to talk about other things, as well. So once in awhile, I’m going to make a slight divergence from horror to talk about purely LGBTQ movies. Consider it Gayly Undreadful…though the movies I cover might be dreadful. Hopefully you’ll come with me on this journey, as well.
Okay, on to the review.
To be honest, I went into this movie with a chip on my shoulder. When I was asked if I wanted a screener to review, I sat on it for awhile and almost turned them down. I didn’t want to watch another movie from the perspective of a white straight man about the LGBTQ community. But here we are. Obviously, I said yes. And I’m mostly glad I did.
Dave Hopper (Stephen Shane Martin) is a conservative professor at a Christian college whose life, prior to the film, has imploded. His wife Samantha left him, with a VW Beetle and a ton of debt, him for (gasp!) a woman. He is forced to move into the home of his eccentric aunt Patty (Susan Mulholland), who lives in a spacious Victorian-styled home. She’s the kind of aunt who, when Dave arrives at the house, plays dead to the point that he’s dialing 911 before leaping awake and scaring him. She kind of kooky aunt who’s seeing a guy named Frank (Ernie Rowland), an elder gentleman who’s DTF and will tell everyone he meets about his 60 minute loving routine.
The church Dave works for is run by Gordon Woodman (Tom Nowicki), who has his eyes on expanding his religious empire by buying an abandoned building. The only problem is that another group is currently trying to raise funds for it, as well, to build a shelter. And so Dave, wanting to find meaning in his life and to help Gordon’s vision, decides to infiltrate the support group and discover how close they are to having the money and maybe to sabotage them. The only problem? The group is a support group for the LGBTQ community.
While it’s mostly run by a straight woman named Alyssa (Danielle Sagona), she’s doing it in the name of her gay brother, who was killed in a hate crime. And so Dave pretends to be gay while trying to figure out ways to upend the group’s goals and along the way, blah blah blah.
You know how this is going to turn out. It’s structured like a romantic comedy. Man meets The Group under false pretenses. Falls in love with The Group. Is discovered to be a liar. Has to make amends. It’s a fish out of water story, where a straight man finds himself surrounded by The Other and, through the trials and tribulations, realizes that, gosh, LGBTQ people are people, too.
I’m obviously being flippant, but the truth is that, on one hand, I’m annoyed that there’s yet another movie that uses gay people as plot points for a straight man’s self-actualization. The narrative thrust is obviously about Dave becoming a well-rounded person who understands that life isn’t literally black and white. A fact further emphasized by his wall art that he and his ex-wife created that’s literally black lines on a white canvas and is commented on a couple times as “needing color.” Thematically, this isn’t subtle stuff. And Dave is unsurprisingly a pretty boring cipher; a stand-in for the audience to take his place. Additionally, he kind of gets let off the hook a bit too easily (it is a romantic comedy, remember)
Filmmaker Kevin O’Brien and cinematographer Brandon D. Hyde do something interesting with the framing and staging of the action. A lot of times, the view comes from behind Dave and focuses on the LGBTQ people in front of him, telling their stories. It puts the focus on the group and their individual stories. At one tender point in the story, the support group goes to The Zebra House, to learn how shelters work.
It’s at this point that the film is at its strongest, as the narrative and straight man takes a backseat to a variety of people across the spectrum of LGBTQ+ tell their story, by speaking directly to the camera about their struggles. Whether intersex or non-binary; transgendered or gay, the stories were a pretty powerful reminder that teens and young adults still have to deal with bigotry and oppression, sometimes in their own homes. It felt real.
So I guess that’s the conundrum. The film has its heart in the right place. The co-writer/director comes to the story from his own past and perspective. In his Filmmaker’s Statement, he writes,
“I grew up in a conservative, evangelical Christian home. I was taught that we had exclusivity to the truth, and the best way to love the rest of the world was to tell them our “truth.” Specifically, we were taught that “love the sinner, hate the sin” was the loving approach to the LGBTQ community.
It wasn’t until I started experiencing life and people outside of that bubble that I realized how dangerous that worldview is, how much I didn’t know, and that the LGBTQ community is full of the most loving, compassionate, and giving people I’ve ever met.
As my faith and views changed, I was compelled to create my first film about the tensions between the church and the LGBTQ communities. I felt an obligation to call out the misinformation that is taught in many churches at the same time I offer a hug to the LGBTQ community, specifically to those youth who have faced religious rejection.”
It’s very earnest, which is the way I’d also describe his film, At the End of the Day. It comes from a tired perspective, but it’s an inclusive one, staffed with a variety of actors who are, themselves, part of the LGBTQ+ community. So at the end of the day, it’s a fine comedy.