In the past few decades, the LGBT community has come out of the shadow as a minority and proudly stepped into the spotlight as a widely accepted and respected group. Ignorance and small mindedness have faded away, giving gay people an opportunity to rise above stupidity and be really special. This is at the core of Saturday Church, a courageous indie drama that continues to shed the stigma that sadly still exists in this world. It is a film that feels familiar, but it’s a good familiar, and one that audiences are in for a real treat with. Premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival, Church aims to tell a simple story while letting everyone know that being gay or different shouldn’t matter and it doesn’t.
The story in Saturday Church is a pretty straightforward one, as are most films that deal with a young person coming out. Meet Ulysses, a confused 14-year-old boy (played by a magnetic Luka Kain), who deals with bullies, both at school and at home. He is fatherless, and has just been “taken under the wing” by his religious, stubborn, and downright horrible aunt Rose (Regina Taylor). Ulysses is an innocent young man who is just starting to discover who he, not just sexually, but as an adult; for instance, he sneakily dons his mother’s high heels and peruses random gay porn. These acts seem taboo to aunt Rose, but to Ulysses these are acts of freedom in a society that has deemed them shameful.
Church picks up steam when Ulysses ventures into the West Village world of Christopher Street in New York City, where homosexuality is commonplace and nothing to be ashamed of. The titular “Saturday Church” is an establishment that Ulysses is welcomed into with open arms by a group of transgender women. Shy and reserved at first, Ulysses doesn’t know what to make of this place and its inhabitants, but his journey in getting to know his new friends is quite a special one. Along the way, Ulysses meets a love interest and forms a strong bond with his fellow “churchgoers.”
Now, with a story with shades of cliché, Saturday Church is a curious film. Written and directed by openly gay filmmaker Damon Cardasis, the movie is a simple story with very complex moments. One of those complexities is the fact that it is also a musical. It isn’t a blatant, in-your-face type of song-and-dance like say, La La Land, but it does feature moments of charm and beauty brought out by a rather kickass soundtrack. Ulysses breaking out in dance is really charming, and the choreography is one of the film’s best aspects. The subtlety of each song’s appearance is what brings Church out of mediocre coming-of-age cinema, and into refreshingly original territory. Each song is unique, and brings a little something new to the party. Fans of musicals should take note here.
There are many colorful characters in Saturday Church, and one other character is actually the setting. With a New York City backdrop, this film is elevated to a very appealing level. New York has been the setting for many films, and Church is yet another adventure in The Big Apple. The scenes in the streets are gritty and real, taking the viewer on a trip that is not only deep and meaningful, but visually stunning. With the inhabitants of the church already being so vivid and outrageous, the atmosphere around them seems quiet and subdued, making it perfect for the characters and the story to unfold.
Relative newcomer Damon Cardasis has created a fantastic world in Saturday Church, one that many may fall in love with. The story is simple yet important, the performances are strong (especially by young Luka Kain), and like many smaller films, this one has something to say – and if you are willing to listen, then you won’t be disappointed. LGBT themes are carefully explored in this film, and with a beautiful mix of drama and musical, Saturday Church is a film not to be missed. No matter what your sexual orientation or background is, this movie is fun, smart, and at times, rather profound. Hopefully we will see a lot more from Cardasis and Kain, because they have the potential to be future golden boys, and an award-winning team.