The Movie Waffler First Look Review - 1985 | The Movie Waffler

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First Look Review - 1985

1985 movie review yen tan
A young man returns home for Christmas but struggles to break some bad news to his family.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Yen Tan

Starring: Cory Michael Smith, Virginia Madsen, Michael Chiklis, Jamie Chung, Aidan Langford

1985 movie poster yen tan


Writer/director Yen Tan's 1985 - an expansion of his 2016 short - shares a very similar premise with Xavier Dolan's It's Only the End of the World. Both films are centred around a gay man who takes a trip home with the intention of breaking the news of his impending AIDS related death to his family, but struggles to find the right moment.

In execution, the two films couldn't be more disparate. Where Dolan's film was overblown and leaned heavily on loud melodrama, Tan's is quiet and withdrawn, and the latter is far more affecting in its approach.


1985 movie review yen tan

Cory Michael Smith (a star on TV with Gotham, but a fresh face to this gogglebox averse reviewer) plays Adrian, a twentysomething who leaves New York and returns to his family home on the outskirts of Dallas at Christmas time, 1985. From the moment Adrian's father, Dale (Michael Chiklis), picks his son up from the airport, we can sense the passive aggressive friction between the two men. Arriving home after a three year absence, Adrian is greeted with enthusiasm by his mother, Eileen (Virginia Madsen), but initially receives a frosty reception from his teenage brother, Andrew (Aidan Langford), who feels like his older sibling has deserted him in the years he needs him most.

Adrian can't bring himself to tell his parents of his fate, fearing his father's rage and his mother's and brother's heartbreak, so he looks up his old girlfriend, Carly (Jamie Chung), but she gets the wrong message and mistakes the reunion for an attempt at a romantic reconciliation.


1985 movie review yen tan

Many recent movies have appropriated 1980s settings to evoke cheap nostalgia, but there's nothing sentimental about Tan's adoption of the era. For gay men it was a time wrought with existential dread. When Adrian finally manages to reveal his health status to someone else, his wallet is filled with pictures of dead friends, and he confesses to attending six funerals in the past year alone. Adrian shows great strength in accepting his fate, but he's drowning in the prejudicial weakness of those around him.

Adrian's situation is a far cry from the accepting liberal milieu of Call Me by Your Name, and there's a confrontation with his father that plays like the polar opposite of Michael Stuhlbarg's climactic speech in that movie. Yet while Dale is portrayed as casually racist and homophobic, the film doesn't simply dismiss him as a lost cause, a deplorable, and there's a moment of partial reconciliation that in its own quiet, unassuming way, is every bit as impactful as the aforementioned Stuhlbarg monologue. It doesn't involve any speechifying, but rather a simple physical gesture, and in Chiklis's face you can see his character negotiating a moral crossroads, forced in the moment to choose between his son and his religious beliefs.


1985 movie review yen tan

1985 is shot in striking monochrome on 16mm film by a cinematographer who goes by the singular moniker 'Hutch' (he also co-wrote the story). Shooting in black and white may sound like a pretentious indie cinema gimmick but it serves a valuable purpose in this case. By removing the garish day-glo colours that defined the '80s, filming in monochrome gives 1985 a timeless quality, meaning we never get distracted by any period detail and can focus solely on the human drama rather than the ghastly wallpaper it plays out in front of.

The Reagan era saw a surge in Christian conservatism, and religion hangs over 1985 like a cloud. There's almost a Body Snatchers quality to how religion causes the residents of Adrian's home town to behave, but the film isn't simply a tirade against those who believe in a higher power. His faith has certainly exacerbated Dale's more negative qualities, but we also witness Adrian encounter a former school bully who has since found God and apologises for his former behaviour. The real tragedy is that while those around him seem to have traded a part of their souls to their church, Adrian has followed his heart and ended up suffering for it.

1985 is in UK cinemas and on VOD December 21st.


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