A Wake is available now on all major digital platforms through Breaking Glass Pictures.
In 2002 the Pew Research Centre began exploring equality and acceptance of LGBTQ+ people globally. This research highlighted the global differences in experience for many LGBTQ+ people, including levels of confidence in coming out and the fear surrounding day-to-day life. Throughout the years, Western Europe consistently held an acceptance score of 80 to 90%. Whereas the United States, while improving, from 51% acceptance in 2002 to 71% in 2019, still has a population of 29% who feel LGBTQ+ life is unacceptable.
In truth, the U.S.A is a highly polarised country, mainly due to conservative religious beliefs that continue to surround American life. The wide-ranging acceptance of the East and West coast gradually diminishing the further inland you go. As a result, many American LGBTQ+ young people still experience a series of wide-ranging problems in their family homes due to conservative and oppressive religious beliefs. There is no clear choice for these young people on whether to come out or remain hidden until they leave the family home. Their lives, held hostage by a need to stay a part of the family unit at all costs. Meanwhile, the family unit encourages secrets and lies as it remains bound to a set of unbreakable principles that only prevent open and honest discussion. Therefore, any film exploring the interface between a conservative religious family unit and sexual orientation is more than welcome.
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Scott Boswell’s A Wake attempts to explore the complex family dynamics that sit at the heart of conservative America, with mixed results. Here, Mason (Noah Urrea) is desperate to understand the sudden loss of his twin brother Mitchel. His brother’s young life, brought to a tragic end by an apparent accidental overdose on prescription drugs. However, as Mitchel’s wake nears, Mason opts to invite his brother’s secret boyfriend, Jameson (Kolton Stewart), in an attempt to force his family to face the truth behind Mitchel’s death.
There is much to admire in the opening fifteen minutes of Boswell’s movie, from its rich autumnal cinematography to the cameras ability to display the inner thoughts that haunt Mason. However, there are significant problems in the performances surrounding Noah Urrea. Here we have a family that does not appear overly upset by the sudden death of their son, their characters simplistic and two dimensional. Equally, we have the incessantly annoying and overpowering Molly, who dominates certain scenes with a grating precociousness. However, despite these significant flaws, Boswell does achieve brief moments of engaging drama, and much of this is down to the performances of Urrea, Stewart and older sister Megan (Megan Trout).
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Boswell’s eagerness to tackle big social issues is evident throughout; however, many are raised only to be quickly dropped. For example, themes of racism briefly find a voice when Mason’s parents believe Jameson to be a drugs dealer. But these themes are airbrushed rapidly away in the next scene. Equally, the film’s overarching themes of generational divide never allow for meaningful learning within the adults onscreen. Their religious beliefs, fixed and unmovable despite the tragedy surrounding them. The result of this is an uncomfortable finale of harmony and hope despite the critical issues of bullying, discrimination, and suicide raised just moments before. Here the ongoing American obsession with a cheerful ending and family togetherness feels out of place and utterly infuriating.
There are moments where Boswell’s indie feature finds its voice, for example, the confessional honesty surrounding Mitchel’s wake. Equally, there are times where A Wake finds its artistic flair, for example, the warm glow of Mason’s dreamlike conversations with his lost brother. But, sadly, these strengths are lost in a loose and unstructured drama void of any emotion. Therefore, while I welcome Boswell’s commitment to exploring the interface between conservative religious belief and sexuality, the result is a simplistic family melodrama that never finds its voice; a great shame considering the importance of the themes at the film’s heart.