‘The Mattachine Family’ Review: Moving Story Explores the Evolving Gay Family

Kevin Taft reviews The Mattachine Family, a very moving addition to the gay film lexicon, from Andy and Danny Vallentine.
User Rating: 8

The Mattachine Society was founded in 1950 by Harry Hay and was one of the earliest gay rights activist groups in the United States, setting the stage for movements to come.

In Andy and Danny Vallentine’s autobiographical new drama, The Mattachine Family, this bit of history about climbing the steps to equality and change figures into the story of two men exploring fatherhood.

With smart writing (by the Vallentines), confident direction by Andy Vallentine, and a terrific cast, this handsome-looking film is a refreshing gay story that avoids many of the cliches and oft-told stories of gay movies past.

The film centers on a married couple, Thomas (Nico Tortorella, Younger), a photographer, and former child-actor Oscar (Juan Pablo Di Pace, Fuller House), whose hearts were recently broken when the mother of the young boy they were fostering wants the child back.

Devasted, both find it hard to consider fostering or even becoming a father again. And with Oscar shooting a new TV series in Michigan, Thomas is left at home in L.A. with his feelings. Luckily, he has the support of his best friend Leah (Schitt’s Creek’s Emily Hampshire) and her wife Sonia (Cloie Wyatt-Taylor), who are going through IVF treatments to have a child of their own.

Having sunken into a deep funk, Thomas can’t stop thinking about having a child, but at the same time, he can’t bear to go through the heartache that a potential loss might engender. But he still feels that pull. On the other hand, Oscar is trying to make the best of his career resurgence after it was blown up when he was outed during the run of the popular family sitcom he was on years before. Fatherhood is the last thing he wants to consider.

We meet Thomas when he is depressed and a bit bitchy, so it’s hard to warm up to him right away. But we understand his situation. Not only that, it’s a situation rarely (if ever) explored in LGBTQ+ cinema. In fact, a few pointed topics were raised (sometimes just briefly) that were refreshingly honest and rarely talked about.

In a flashback, Thomas and Oscar go to a photography exhibit of gay male “kink,” to which Oscar raises an interesting observation. Thomas says, “Homosexuality at its core is provocative.” Oscar responds, “That’s my problem with it. This is what everyone thinks gay people are like. It’s like the ever-expanding title of our community. The LGBTQ+Y Zed X plus plus plus. How can we be one thing when we’re expected to be everything.”

See Also: ‘Spoiler Alert’ Review: Michael Ausiello’s Love Story Is Beautifully Hilarious and Heartbreaking

This statement alone merits its own movie and conversation. It’s not talked about enough. We lose ourselves in what people tell us, what our community should be when everyone is different—just like straight people. Every gay person is different. Every couple is different. Every letter of our community is different, with different needs, desires, cultures, etc. Why do we have to fall into a bucket of everything?

And here, in the Vallentines’ story, two men are trying to figure out their own story. Their own likes and expectations in a community that can sometimes be stuck in what it’s supposed to be. Or expected to be.

What is truly beautiful about this film is the focus on Thomas’ chosen family. As gay people, we know that rejection by family and friends often leads us to find support and comfort with others we can relate to. Those friendships often become the family we never had or always wanted.

So as Thomas and Oscar are navigating whether or not to have their own family, they are relying on their chosen family for advice and comfort—especially Thomas, who is oftentimes alone in LA while Oscar films his show.

What’s also lovely is that there are no easy answers here. We see how much this couple loves each other, but their desires for the future cause friction they might never release. Something will have to give, and it’s really no one’s fault where that might lead.

This is why the chemistry of the actors is so important and so good here. We always feel their struggle, and it doesn’t seem put on. It isn’t a plot machination. It feels real.

Similarly, while there have been some great gay films recently, like Fire Island and the UK’s In From the Side, this eschewed the stereotyped characters and plots that are repeatedly explored in gay cinema.

While Thomas’ friend Jamie (Jake Choi) is maybe a bit more of the stereotypical party boy, we don’t have a gaggle of Jamie’s vying for attention. And while it’s a movie about LGBTQ+ people, it’s not one of the sad, closeted stories we continually have presented to us.

These are diverse gay people with various interests and yearnings that don’t always have to be about past gay trauma or what the community cliches often project. There’s nothing wrong with those stories, but it’s nice to move beyond that and begin exploring topics that have evolved along with us.

To be fair, there were a lot of really great little nuggets in Vallentine’s screenplay I wish could be explored more (and maybe we will be gifted with more films from them to come), but this is a wonderful and very moving addition to the gay film lexicon.

The Mattachine Family plays this weekend at OUTFEST LA on Saturday, July 22nd, at 1:30 pm at the Director’s Guild of America.
For more info, visit Films and Events — 2023 Outfest LA Film Festival.

8
Great
Written by
Kevin is a long-time movie buff with a wide variety of tastes and fixations in the film world. He cried the moment Benji appeared onscreen in “Benji,” and it took him about four times to finally watch “The Exorcist” (at age 24) without passing out. “Star Wars: A New Hope” was the movie that changed everything and when his obsession with films and filmmaking began. A screenwriter himself (one long-ago horror script sale to New Line remains on a shelf), his first film "Two Tickets to Paradise" that he co-wrote premiered in June 2022 on Hallmark. He is currently working on another for the iconic brand.

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