[Outfest 2019 Review] Cubby Wonders What Leather-Man Would Do
Cubby is an oddity in queer cinema. It oftentimes feels like the lovechild of Napoleon Dynamite and indie cinema like Lady Bird. Consider the opening, with Peggy (Patricia Richardson) driving her twenty-something son Mark (Mark Blane) from Indiana to New York City. Mark is the kind of character you’d see in a Seth Rogen movie or the R-rated comedies of the early aughts, where the male protagonist is a manchild that, over the course of the film, must somehow become an adult. Except instead of having an obsession with breasts...well, let’s just say that he’d be a prime suspect in American Vandal Season 1. He likes drawing dicks, evidenced by the explicit sketches of the erect member sitting open on his lap for the whole world to see.
He’s neurotic. With his semi-pornstache and mouth that always seems slightly ajar, he looks like a character from Napoleon Dynamite. I almost expect him to say, “Gosh” at some point. He’s been living in his parents’ garage, but now he’s ready to grow up…maybe. He tells his mom (who he calls Peg), that he has a job lined up in NYC, at a gallery that seems interested in his erotic and lightly BDSM-influenced art. But it’s a lie. He has no job lined up. No apartment. No prospects. Nothing.
He’s moving to the city because it’s what adults do. So…“Here’s some money, now hide it,” Peggy whispers when she drops him off. And when he seems hesitant about staying, she tells him point blank: “Mark, you are somewhat unbearable. But all unbearable people move here.” Besides, his father has already turned the garage into a cat sanctuary.
Somehow he Forrest Gumps his way into an apartment with an old friend who now goes by Noah-Gregg (John Duff)—two Gs, please—and a job babysitting for some Manhattanites. The apartment is a collective, filled with the kind of hippy-dippy folk you’d expect. His job is to babysit the adorable Milo (Joseph Sueffert), a kid with a fondness for drawing and artistic endeavors and whose parents are barely there.
Oh. And did I mention Mark’s imaginary friend Leather-Man (Leather-daddy Christian Patrick) who, as the name implies, is a man dressed in leather fetish gear and based on a super hero comic he discovered as a kid?
If you’ve gotten this far and wondered what you got yourself into, I can relate. Cubby, co-directed by Mark Blane and Ben Mankoff from Mark’s script, is an odd and quirky story filled with odd and quirky characters, situations and set pieces. It won’t be for everyone.
An example is the art gallery that Mark pretends to work at to appease his mom. She continues to send packages to the gallery that has a too-perfect receptionist (Zachary Booth) who types on a see-through glass-screened computer and calls for Lilo, his assistant whenever Mark tries to converse. Or Mark’s apartment collective, with roommates that all share food and bring something to the table. Because he’s not making rent, Mark sublets his closet to Briahna (Naian González Norvind), a palm reader who pops out once in awhile to say things like, “losing is a construct.”
Mark is supposed to get a therapist and prescribing psychiatrist. He doesn’t. He needs to pay rent. He can’t. He needs to grow up. He won’t. As his mother says, he’s kind of unbearable. He takes the concept of a manchild quite literally. At times when he’s hanging out with Milo, you wonder who’s the kid. It’s telling that the only two people he feels completely comfortable around are the kid and the imaginary Leather-Man. The latter kind of acts as mentor of sorts and a security blanket Mark’s had since first peeping him in an issue of Shag.
This dramatic throughline is where Cubby misfires. As we follow Mark’s misadventures through NYC, falling in love with a handsome man named Russell (Rodney Richardson)—you know he’s in love because drawn dicks float around his face—and dealing with Milo and his disconnected parents, we don’t ever really see much character growth for Mark. Yes, the characters are important in Mark’s self-actualization…Russell represents the stability of an actual adult relationship; Leather-Man the self-confidence Mark needs; Milo the childlike wonder that powers his art. But the narrative slips while trying to pull everything together in a satisfactory way.
Cubby isn’t going to mesh with everyone. It’s eccentric and mishmash in its humor with a threadbare plot that meanders the way Mark meanders through life. It’s not until the third act that things get “real” and actual stakes are introduced. It’s at its best when it dabbles in the absurdity of living in NYC and some of the ridiculous sequences had me rolling. Some people will incredibly dig the humor. Others will probably be annoyed. I have a feeling it’ll be a divisive movie.
But I personally enjoyed it and the off-center oddity of NYC as filtered through an overly imaginative manchild with a penchant for Klonopin and psychedelic cupcakes.