Friday, June 16, 9:15 p.m., Castro Theatre: West Coast première
Ulysses (Luka Kain, pictured) just lost his father; the funeral is the opening scene. In the aftermath, Ulysses’ mother Amara has to work extra shifts, so she accepts the offer from Aunt Rose to come watch the kids after school. Aunt Rose is strictly religious, and determined to make Ulysses act like a man, if she has to beat the devil out of him. At school, Ulysses is the target of bullies; at home, his family malign his interest in stockings and heels. He finally stumbles upon a group of young queer folk on the pier, introducing him to Saturday Church at the Church of St. Luke in the Fields — with Kate Bornstein playing the program director — where homeless or marginally housed youth can come for a meal and then do a little voguing. Of course, reality (and Aunt Rose) eventually crashes in, leaving Ulysses for a while with only bad options. The film shows some of the gritty reality of queer kids whose parents have rejected them, leaving them to sleep in dodgy shelters, prostitute themselves, or return to the families that threw them out. At the same time, Ulysses traipses off into dream sequences that are as lyrical visually as they are musically, giving the audience hope that things will turn out all right for him.
It’s as if Paris is Burning did a mash-up with an After School Special with a dollop of High School Musical, but it comes together magnificently. Luka Kain is in his first feature-film role, but his Broadway experience — three years in the revival of South Pacific — gives him the confidence and presence to pull off a spectacular performance acting, singing, dancing, and, yes, voguing. He fully inhabits the role, giving us subtle facial expressions that betray a depth of understanding of the character of Ulysses. I’m only about halfway through my screenings for this year, but I can already tell you that Saturday Church will be one of the standouts of Frameline 41. Unequivocally a MUST SEE. Indeed, I hope that queer and gender-nonconforming kids get to see this film, to see a beacon of hope that the future can be not only less dismal, but genuinely fabulous.