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. Western Europe consistently held an acceptance score of 80 to 90% throughout the years. In contrast, 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 surrounding American life. Here the wide-ranging acceptance of the East and West coast gradually diminishes the further inland you go. As a result, many American LGBTQ+ young people still experience wide-ranging problems in their family homes due to conservative and oppressive religious beliefs. For these young people, there is no clear choice on whether to come out as their sexuality is held hostage by the need for community acceptance. Therefore, any film exploring the interface between a conservative religious family unit and sexual orientation is more than welcome.
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However, 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 through an apparent accidental overdose on prescription drugs. However, as Mason unpicks the truth, he decides to invite Jameson (Kolton Stewart) to Mitchel’s wake 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 inner thoughts that haunt Mason. However, despite a solid performance from Noah Urrea and Kolton Stewart, there are significant problems in A Wake’s story, structure and ensemble performances. Here we have a family that does not appear overly upset by the sudden death of their son; in fact, they seem far more bothered about the wake and a visit from the local church leader. Boswell’s family of characters are both simplistic and one dimensional in construct, while the incessantly annoying and overpowering Molly is grating and precocious throughout.
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Boswell’s eagerness to tackle significant social issues is evident; however, many sizable discussions are raised only to be dropped like a red hot stone. For example, racial profiling and discrimination themes briefly find a voice when Mason’s parents believe Jameson is a drug dealer before being quickly airbrushed away in the next scene. Equally, the film’s overarching themes of generational divide never allow meaningful learning among the adults onscreen, their religious beliefs fixed and unmovable despite tragedy. The result of this is an uncomfortable final act blanketed in 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 is misguided, out of place and utterly infuriating. While I welcome Boswell’s commitment to exploring the interface between conservative religious belief and sexuality, the result is a simplistic and confused melodrama that never finds its voice.