Movie review: "please baby please" — Gay Awakening – | Episode Movies

By Nicole Veneto

Amanda Kramer has crafted a thoroughly campy and celebratory ode to queerness that stands as both a timely political statement and a genuinely well-crafted piece of independent filmmaking.

please baby please, directed by Amanda Kramer. Demonstration at AMC Liberty Tree Mall and AMC Methuen.

Andrea Riseborough leads a queer S&M daydream please baby please. Photo: Music Box Films.

The broadest and most comprehensive definition of “camp” can be summed up in five simple words: things are what they are not. Although Susan Sontag’s “Notes on Camp” is still considered the leading authority on defining camp sensitivities, the line she drew between the low “naive” camp and the high “willful” camp is in the nearly six been blurred decades since their publication. When it comes to filmmaking, pure naïve camp still exists in the form of box office disasters being made into meme fodder cats or disease as well as Ed Wood-esque vanity projects apparently written and directed by extraterrestrials (your Neil Breens, Tommy Wiseau, etc.). But given that so much of the contemporary media takes an ironic attitude towards itself, the dominant current of the camp today is largely conscious, fully aware and indulgent in its own campiness with a postmodern meta-consciousness of itself.

This is where the sense that “things are what they are not” becomes particularly useful; everything is inherently performative and to some extent artificial, and what something “is” or “isn’t” is both relative and easily changeable. The malleability of camp goes hand-in-hand with gender and sexuality — no wonder, considering queer people have long been at the forefront of camp sensibilities. Queerness and Camp share an intuitive understanding of “things that are what they are not”. This is arguably the driving emotion behind Amanda Kramer’s film please baby please, a music-tinged camp extravaganza about a downtrodden heterosexual couple whose encounter with queer hooliganism opens up new possibilities for their relationship (spoiler alert: they’re adding a third). As Neptune Frost, please baby please is a DIY ode to queerness and queer filmmaking. Brimming with creativity and a love for all things gendered, it serves as a poignant political statement at a moment when the paranoid, conservative fear-mongering of the McCarthy-Reagan era is making an uncomfortable comeback.

On the way home to her Manhattan apartment, Beatnik’s newlywed Suze (Mandy and Owner star Andrea Riseborough) and Arthur (Dudley Dursley himself, Harry Melling) encounter a queer Greaser gang who are murdering a couple outside their building. (After they’ve danced and made their way down a smoky alley, of course.) The second Arthur faces handsome Young Gents leader Teddy (Karl Glusman, observer) and it’s lust at first sight. Arthur, a soft-spoken clarinetist, was never sure of his supposedly heterosexual masculinity. He is alienated from cultural expectations of sexual dominance and the relentless “compare and measure” between men: “I’m not terrorized into acting like a savage because I was born a man and I don’t want to be rewarded for it, either. To use colloquial queer terminology, Arthur is afraid of surpassing his wife and would much rather be a bottom.

Suze, on the other hand, (literally) wears the pants in the relationship. With her heavily winged eyeliner, messy beehive updo, and aggressive New York accent, she’s far too rough around the edges to qualify as a doting ’50s housewife by Rockwellian standards. The encounter with teddies The Rise of Scorpio Gang has a similar effect on Suze as it did on Arthur, sparking newfound gender anxieties. She begins to question the validity of their relatively asexual relationship. Her desires are heightened when her beautiful upstairs neighbor, Maureen (an agelessly beautiful Demi Moore), a well-groomed woman with expensive tastes, asks Suze to look after her brand new kitchen appliances. As enamored with Maureen’s gilded cage lifestyle as Maureen herself is, Suze is undergoing her own sexual transformation that will test the strength of her marriage to Arthur.

Craftsmanship is the name of the game in please baby please. Handcrafted props and lovingly constructed practical sets exude the kind of theatrical artistry essential to the camp sensibility. Each scene is played out with a playful wink and nudge despite the instigating plot being a double homicide. The transatlantic drawls are thick and the dialogue salvos alternate between screwball banter and cheeky double entender, unfolding like a Tennessee Williams screenplay directed by Bertrand Mandico. Visually, Kramer’s has created an incredibly structured tribute to queer filmmaking that honors the iconography of Kenneth Anger and Curtis Harrington. From drag queens singing their own (inappropriate) musical numbers to Ryan Simpkins’ (street of fear) Grease Gang Boy Drag getup.

Melling’s casting also has a wry charm, given his ties to the Harry Potter franchise and its creator JK Rowling, whose pernicious transphobia has either disowned or distanced itself from much of the younger cast in their post-Potter careers. Intentional or not, Melling’s presence alone feels like a subtle (but more than deserved) “fuck you” to Joanne for Kramer. It’s hard to overstate the damage done by Rowling’s TERFy diatribes given their massive cultural impact around the world; As the author of what is arguably the most lucrative YA multimedia franchise of all time, she continues to make a profit from every little piece of Potter paraphernalia that is bought or sold, no matter how many former fans she’s driven away with her. When Arthur admits that it’s “hard to believe I was even born a man,” one gets the sense that Melling is delivering a personal and purposeful “fuck you” to Rowling and her ilk.

Personally, I prefer either tightly structured storytelling with emotional/character driven narratives, or completely insane dream logic. please baby please falls a bit short because it oscillates between those two extremes, at the expense of anti-climactic once Arthur, Suze, and Teddy decide to become a Throuble. Aside from some sparse phallic imagery, the film could really afford to be more explicit when it comes to its characters’ sexual proclivities. Nonetheless, Kramer has crafted a thoroughly campy and celebratory ode to queerness that serves as both a timely political statement and a genuinely well-crafted piece of independent filmmaking.

Nicole Venetia graduated from Brandeis University with an MA in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies with a focus on Feminist Media Studies. Her writing was featured in MAY Feminism & Visual Culture, Film Matters Magazineand Boston University Hoochie readers. She is the co-host of the new podcast Marvelous! Or the death of cinema. You can follow her on Letterboxd and Twitter @kuntsuragi as well as on Substack.

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