The Reception is a film that seems to be heading gloriously in one direction, only to actually be heading disastrously in another. It tells the surely thorny enough story of Jeannette, a rich French-American woman (Pamela Holden Stewart) and her African-American lover Martin (Wayne Lamont Sims), who live in bucolic splendour in upstate New York, where he gains her financial patronage for his career as a (blocked) painter, in return for his companionship and quiescence about her drinking – the few glasses of red per night generally turning into a torrent. Then her daughter Sierra (Maggie Burkwit) turns up with her husband Andrew (Darien Sills-Evans) and the delicate balance is undone. It turns out that Martin and Jeannette aren’t that sort of a couple at all – he is in fact gay. And the fact that the new male arrival is also a black man leads to the horrible dawning suspicion that this isn’t an admirably colour-blind movie about human relationships, but a crypto-gay movie that will put black on black because transracial coupling is something that only goes on in real life, not the movies.
As the eccentric, self-obsessed Jeannette winds herself into monster mode, and the newly arrived Andrew reveals himself as an appalling snob, making his displeasure felt as Jeannette and Martin cross invisible borders of taste, things do crackle along. And the fact that the film cost only a few thousand dollars to make, was shot in a few days and the actors are people you’ve probably never heard of, these are all good reasons to be well disposed towards it. And I was. I enjoyed it even, early doors at any rate, and there’s lots to admire, especially the discomfited performances. But as the interpersonal relationships become more tangled, dark secrets become liberated thanks to alcohol and yet another character steps forward for a declamatory speech in which they get things off their chest – because in real life people say just exactly what they’re thinking, right? – the suspicion starts to build that Young is using the furniture of a “a searing chamber piece about complex personal relationships” to hide what is in fact a gay drama. The film is not “about” Jeannette and Martin, nor is it about Jeannette and daughter Sierra, no matter how loudly it proclaims that it is. It seems much more interested in what’s going on between the two men, who are introduced as and continue to be secondary characters. That’s where the action is though, often delivered via the grinding-buttock-ogram. I’m not objecting to the fact that this is a gay love story – though does it all have to be so half cock? – more the fact that I’ve been sold a pup. Or perhaps I’m feeling a sense of injustice that might be characterised as liberal white guilt – and these black guys (the characters and the actors) can look after themselves, surely. All I’m saying is Jeannette was interesting. Sierra too. And there was wild stuff always about to kick off over in that camp, I thought. See you next time, maybe.
© Steve Morrissey 2006