Directed by Matt Fifer and Kieran Mulcare.
Starring Matt Fifer, Sheldon D. Brown, Jazmin Grace Grimaldi, Sandra Bauleo, Michael Potts, Jason Greene and Cobie Smulders.
A bisexual man swaps casual sex for commitment when he finally meets someone with whom he believes he can truly be himself.
If gay people are under-represented on the big screen as protagonists – and they are – then that counts double for bisexual characters. The notion of someone who is attracted to both genders is so foreign to Hollywood that it’s difficult to remember more than one or two bisexual lead characters in recent years. Step forward the quietly brilliant drama Cicada, which paints an effortlessly diverse picture of modern New York City through the prism of a sweet, authentic relationship blooming between two men.
When we meet Ben, played by co-director Matt Fifer, he’s pinballing between casual sexual encounters. There are men and women in almost equal measure, but Ben never seems to get anything more than immediate gratification out of these liaisons. That changes when he meets Sam (Sheldon D. Brown) over a copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar and their immediate sexual attraction morphs into something tender. Sam, who has yet to come out to his blokey father (Michael Potts), begins to chisel away at Ben’s defence mechanism of crass humour in order to reveal the deep-seated trauma beneath.
Cicada is a frank and nuanced drama, leaving no stone unturned in its examination of two men trying to make their way in a society that still nurses prejudice, despite its claims of liberalism and acceptance. For Ben, his refusal to ever be serious about anything is his way to avoid the trauma he has never quite been able to confront – and the associated hum of cicadas he links with a horrifying event in his past, which is wisely kept ambiguous. Sam, who has more visible scars from his past, proves to be exactly what Ben needs in order to begin to break down walls.
Elements of Fifer’s real life bled into his script and, as a result, his performance feels natural. He claims he isn’t an actor really, and this serves as a benefit for a movie that is raw and, most importantly, real. Fifer carries himself like someone trying a bit too hard to be a gregarious extrovert in order to avoid having to address the issues that inevitably come to the fore when he’s alone. Brown’s Sam is a quieting influence, helping him to block out some of the constant, cicada-like bustle of the city.
There’s a frankness to the story, which has an appealing ability to maintain the frankness of its character study while also embracing other elements. Sam’s colostomy bag causes problems during a sex scene and, during an altercation between the couple, Sam is frustrated by Ben’s apparent inability to understand the intersectional issues created by being Black as well as gay. Brown provided his own insights and additions to the script and it’s clear that, for Fifer and co-director Kieran Mulcare, this movie was an evolving and adapting creation, rather than a set-in-stone monolith. The approach was loose, and the result is a delightfully enjoyable film as rambling and unusual as life itself.
Not everything works, with Cobie Smulders popping up for a truly bizarre star cameo as a distracted therapist whose one main insight is a desire to “skull-fuck” paedophiles to death. But her appearance is a rare bum note in a movie that provides a fresh and organic point of view on the queer experience, through the sensitive lens of filmmakers willing to adapt that lens to suit differing performers and perspectives. It’s fascinating, layered and frequently very touching indeed.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.