Written & directed by Yen Tan
MuseLessMime Productions/Cranium Entertainment
Reviewed by John Francis Leonard
1985 is a film about secrets—the secrets we think we’re hiding, but are only too often known by our families and those closest to us. Shot with great effect in 16mm black and white, it’s the story of a young, closeted, New York City advertising professional returning home to Texas for a holiday visit after many years away. Adrian, played sensitively by Cory Michael Smith, visits his fundamentalist Christian family under the weight of some heavy burdens. He is hiding both his sexuality and his struggles with the decimation AIDS has wrought on New York’s gay community. Tan has written and directed this film with great subtlety, not all is revealed initially—he allows things to play out gradually and there are surprises in store. Adrian skirts close to the truth, but his parents, played by esteemed actors Virginia Madsen and Michael Chiklis know more than he thinks. Parents so often do in these situations. The most touching of his relationships is a budding closeness with his young brother, played by the brilliant actor Aidan Langford.
I initially thought the 16mm format would be limiting, but Tan makes brilliant use of it, allowing the small frame to highlight the emotion in the faces of this talented ensemble. In a wide shot, we see Adrian walking the family dog, just a small dark silhouette in the lower right hand corner with power lines highlighting a dramatic cloud-filled Texas sky. He then cuts close to Adrian’s face, sobbing and profuse with tears, overwhelmed by the secrets he’s hiding. This incredible film builds gradually to its touching denouement with each parent letting him know, indirectly and directly, that his secrets aren’t as well kept as he thinks. Madsen and Chiklis deliver masterful performances in each of these encounters with the subtlety and emotion unique to actors of their long experience. There isn’t a bad performance or a false note in this remarkable and powerful film. It’s a joy to watch and will bring more than a few tears to one’s eyes.
John Francis Leonard is an advocate and writer, as well as a voracious reader of literature, which helps to feed his love of the English language. He has been living with HIV for fifteen years and he is currently at work on his first novel, Fools Rush In. His fiction has been published in the ImageOutWrite literary journal and is a literary critic for Lambda Literary. Follow him on Twitter @JohnFrancisleo2.