Saturday Church, The Movie Musical: A Young Ulysses Finds Freedom in a New Tribe.4 min read

Saturday Church, The Movie Musical: A Young Ulysses Finds Freedom in a New Tribe.

Or Aunt Rose is a Rose of a (Very) Different Color (and it ain’t pretty)

By Ross
The musical genre is always a good playground for stories that revolve around hidden or complex emotional responses to the cinematic world that swirls around its central characters. In Saturday Church, the musical film by writer/director Damon Cardasis (Producer of “Maggie’s Plan“), a young man by the name of Ulysses, portrayed quietly and a bit remotely by Luka Kain (2009’s “Adam“) is forced by circumstance to deal with his emerging sexuality and place within his family All at the same time. The musical form is the perfect vehicle for this pretty young character to begin to express and explore his sexual orientation and gender identity, especially because it is buried deep in shame and discomfort.
This is a story we’ve seen before, but Cardasis has done a lovely job expanding it beyond issues revolving around sexual orientation and landing it in the more complex landscape of gender identity, without being too specific. Ulysses, in a attempt to cope with his emerging construct, creates moments of escape from his inner turmoil by receding into a fantastical internal life filled with song, dance, and flower power. It’s a touching and lovingly constructed film that uses beautifully subtle songs and expressive modern dance breaks (choreography: Loni Landon) to deepen our understanding of his exploration, even though at moments it lacks the polish and subtlety of something more expansive.  Saturday Church could benefit from a more detailed emotional core and complex dramatic structure, but generally it succeeds in portraying something real and emotionally engaging etched in the traumatized face of this angularly beautiful young adult.
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Luka Kain.
Ulysses is pushed forward into a more adult role within the family when his army father dies leaving him to be thought of as the ‘man of the house’ by his loving mother. This might have been a moment of strengthening of his internalized sense of control, but the religious Aunt Rose rips away any chance of growth and ego stability as she cruelly tries to diminish him at every opportunity. She has volunteered to watch over him and his kid brother, Abe (Jaylin Fletcher) after school each day but decided to take a firmer stance with Ulysses in order to make him more of a god-fearing man. Played with a stereotypical level of menace and impatience by Regina Taylor (Machinal, TV’s ‘I’ll Fly Away’), her religious fervor is intense and overwhelming, chastising and sending him away at the moment of his greatest need. It feels like her portrayal could have been refined and made more complex as she is too easily made the target to lay full blame and judgement upon. She is not the only one given a heavy hand to bear.
As the mother, portrayed with a strong sympathetic vibe by Margot Bingham (HBO’s ‘Boardwalk Empire‘) is shown at the beginning to be equally unsupportive in the way she talks to her eldest. She does manage to do a great job creating a home life that feels authentic and caring, until she gets wind of her son’s proclivities, and hurtles chastising and shame-inducing words onto the traumatized young man. Those scenes and lines seem to be coming from someone else’s less emotionally caring mother, not the more intelligent soul she has displayed earlier. A more subtle and complex response midway to her son’s experimentation with women’s clothes could have created a stronger semblance of conflict and difficulty, rather than relying on extreme reactions from both mother and aunt. But what this film lacks in curating nuance, it makes up for in its strong presentation of authentic personalities and situations. There are mothers and aunts just like these two, just as Ulysses depressive response to his situation may be truly accurate (the film is said to be based on a true story), but it doesn’t mean these creations are engaging solely because of their realism. Taking some dramatic license with these two might have opened up the complexities a bit wider. (for the full review, click here)
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Luka Kain.
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