Sorting It All Out
by Lester Strong
“Give and take”—a friendly sounding phrase, perhaps indicating a congenial kind of relationship where people help each other in times of need or just for the fun of it. “Give or take”—a distinctly less friendly sounding phrase, indicating perhaps not enmity but a situation where people go their own ways, choosing to deny rather than establish a relationship.
Welcome to the brittle atmosphere you enter at the start of the recently released movie Give or Take. It opens with a young New York City-based techie named Martin heading for the home in Cape Cod where his family vacationed during his childhood and where his father Kenneth moved permanently after his retirement. Martin’s mother has been dead for years, but his father died only recently. Martin’s reason for the trip is to close out his father’s estate, which involves selling the house. There’s one complication, however, and not a small one: After Martin’s mother died, his father came out as gay and fell in love with a local gay landscaper named Ted, who has lived in the house with his father for a number of years. Kenneth left no will, and it’s up to Martin and Ted to sort it all out together.
Both men loved Kenneth, and both are grieving his loss in their own ways, but they have nothing else in common except their relationships with a dead man whom his son always found distant and who failed to include his lover/partner in a will.
To say the least, Martin and Ted spend much of the movie butting heads, with other characters either exacerbating the problems between them or helping the two find some kind of resolution. For example: There is Patty King, a relentless real estate agent wearing a walking boot to protect an injured foot who stops at nothing to push the sale of the house to clients who want to knock it down and replace it with what in many parts of the country is called a “McMansion.” (As Patty stomps her way through the movie, by the way, the boot almost becomes a comic character in its own right.) On the other hand, there is Emma, an old flame of Martin from earlier years with whom the fire failed to ignite, who tries to mediate between the men as a friend to both. Last, but not least, is Terrence, whose unconventional way of teaching Martin how to relax is by introducing him to the idea of a “weed hole,” which they dig themselves on a nearby beach and occupy while smoking a joint.
The movie of course raises questions: In an era of marriage equality, why did Kenneth not protect his partner Ted by getting hitched? Why did he not at least put him into a will? On the other hand, why is Martin so resistant to signing over the house to Ted? After all, he’s successful at his tech job in New York and seemingly not hurting for money. The answers to these problems may lie in the personality of the dead Kenneth, who had managed to alienate his son over the years and seems not to have cared for his partner enough to protect him by the legal means at his disposal. But of course Kenneth being dead means those answers are inaccessible.
Give or Take is an engaging movie, shot on location in and around the Cape Cod town of Orleans, Massachusetts. Written by Paul Riccio and Jamie Effros and directed by Paul Riccio, the principal cast members include award-winning actor and writer Jamie Effros as Martin; Broadway actor and two-time Tony winner Norbert Leo Butz as Ted; TV and film actress Joanne Tucker as Emma; TV and film actor Louis Cancelmi as Terrance; Saturday Night Live alumna Cheri Oteri as Patty King; Jaden Waldman as Colin, a young neighbor who has his own unique way of coping with problems, which he passes along to Martin, and Annapurna Sriram, an award-winning actress and film-maker, who as Martin’s decidedly unhappy girlfriend Lauren arrives unexpectedly at the Cape Cod house near the end of the movie to find herself running into a situation even more fraught with problems than her own unhappy relationship with Martin.
Are the problems finally resolved? To answer that question would be giving away the end of the movie. Let’s just say the film will not leave you bored, and by its end Give or Take may possibly—just possibly—be edging toward give and take.
Note: Give or Take is no longer in theaters, but can be accessed on the following digital platforms: @itunes; @appletv; @primevideo; @googleplay; @vudu. You can also purchase the DVD from Amazon.
Lester Strong is Special Projects Editor for A&U, with a twenty-year history of writing about HIV/AIDS among many other topics and issues.These short articles, mostly related to the disease, are reprinted from his blog blu sunne: Notes from a Pop-Up Life in the Arts. For more of his writing on a variety of topics, visit his blog at blusunne.com.