After a homophobic attack, closeted Country Star Adam Charles is forced to decide to “play it straight” like his label demands or to finally come out and live an open life with his longterm partner, Brian. After reading the synopsis, I was hooked and excited to give “Dominant Chord” a watch. Unfortunately, this queer short film did not live up to the expectations it set up. Let’s break it down and figure out why not.
Synopsis of “Dominant Chord”
Country Music Star Adam Charles (Clayton James) is checking out his wounded ribs in the bathroom mirror, while his partner, Brian (Sean Poague), overhears Adam’s latest gold single play on the radio. Nursing his own wounds, Brian turns off the radio as Adam limps into the room. It’s obvious they’re in love as they share a kiss and kick off their day, although we’re unsure why they’re both hurt. Everything is perfect for the happy couple — until Adam checks his phone to find missed calls from his agent, Jolene. Suddenly, she’s knocking on their door.
When Jolene (Caitlin Stryker) enters, she quickly tells Adam, “I know”, while playing a video recording of what turns out to be the reason both boys are injured this morning. After sharing a romantic kiss on a side street last night, they were accosted by homophobes and attacked. Apparently the tabloids got wind of it that morning and are asking questions. But she has a plan: tickets for Adam to go to Mexico on a romantic getaway… with Stephanie Stephens. Turns out that she wants Adam to pretend to date her to kill off any gay talk, while equally boosting her image. After a few months, it’ll fizzle away, no one will care — they can save Adam’s image with the label. You see, Adam and Brian are both in the closet about their homosexual relationship. Adam tells her no; but she bluntly tells him that the label will protect their investment. Brian curtly shows her the door. On her way out, she drops the clear threat that he wanted to play in the big leagues and if he wants to continue, that’s what needs to be done.
Once she’s gone, Brian chides that she and the label have the audacity to even demand such a request. The trouble is that Adam actually admits that Jolene is right; it’s what needs to be done. But Brian snaps and the light banter quickly turns to lover’s spat. Their deal was to keep things quiet only until Adam got his first hit… and then it was the second… and now their ability to fully and publicly express their long-term relationship keeps getting pushed further and further back. For Adam it still isn’t enough; but Brian has reached his limit. He no longer wants to be miserable and hide, be ashamed to walk down the street. “We got beat up because we are gay. What about US?” Brian asks before dropping a bombshell: Brian released the footage to the tabloids to finally let it all out so they could finally live a normal life. The trouble is Adam continues to put his career before his partner. As Brian grabs his jacket and walks out, he calls Adam a coward because he won’t even fight for them. Holding back tears, Adam just stands there looking at the mirror on the wall surrounded by his gold records. Suddenly the tears stop, he puts on his cowboy hat, and he’s transported back onstage as the single country artist.
Before I dive into the disappointing aspects of “Dominant Chord”, let’s cover the positive points. The premise is quite enticing and offers a script that cuts back and forth between light romantic banter and serious, heavy conversations. Cinematically, this queer short is decently filmed and edited. The transitions are actually quite quick and abrupt, which is oddly rather realistic; when Jolene enters their apartment, the tone abruptly changes and it’s clear that Brian does not like anything Jolene has to offer. Jolene equally tries her best to ignore Brian, trying to cut him out of her client Adam’s life figuratively and literally.
Both Sean Poague and Caitlin Stryker show off their acting chops, though unfortunately it leaves our lead, Clayton James, coming across as a bit lack-luster. There’s plenty of ambient lighting and no issues with the sound. I thought that showing the phone screen during the attack playback was well done, which bears to note that they also had to film that scene in advance. Lastly, I absolutely love the final song “Wide Awake” by Brandon Stansell. It’s an excellent capstone to the film and quite fittingly, is a country western song.
Unfortunately, there are a few things that pulled my overall rating down and affected my final opinion of this queer short. The first issue is with Clayton James, as I noted above. While I felt there were brief moments of connection with Poague, both when being romantic and also when they were in the midst of their argument, the overall acting felt flat. I couldn’t tell if Adam’s character is simply stunned by the drastic, life-altering decision abruptly thrust upon him — or if his acting chops aren’t quite on the same level as the others.
But the worst part of “Dominant Chord” is the ending. When forced to choose between his partner or his career, Adam does nothing. NOTHING! He never actually makes the decision. And I’m sorry, but I do not agree with the whole “not making a decision IS a decision camp”; letting others influence your life because you can’t decide is a cop out. And that’s what happens here; Brian is the one who decides to leave. Although when the bombshell is dropped that Brian released the video footage to try and push things along, it’s clear that Brian knew the potential consequences and was ready to act either way. In the end, Brian chooses for Adam. And all Adam does is stare at his reflection in the mirror and put on his cowboy hat. That’s when Writer/Director Jeremy Leroux lost me entirely.
I started watching “Dominant Chord” with high hopes. We finally have a queer short that addresses a closeted gay Country music artist who’s forced to make a tough decision to decide between his career or his partner. While the cinematography is good and the script has decent moments, it actually lacks the critical decision it promises! But hey, you don’t have to take my word. You can watch “Dominant Chord” for yourself on multiple platforms. Perhaps you’ll enjoy it more than I did.
Queer Relevance of “Dominant Chord”
There’s actually a couple key queer relevant bits to “Dominant Chord.” First of all, there are very few films out there that hinge around gay Country music stars, which isn’t too surprising because the actual Country music industry is still rather backwards and not that accepting of LGBTQs. There are very few openly gay Country artists, and most have only come out within the last decade.
But we also get to deal with two difficult topics: homophobic hate crimes and the aftermath, and being forced to stay in the closet for your career even if it means losing your partner. Both are aspects many LGBTQ folks have had to deal with in their personal life, and while neither are easy topics to talk about or even watch, having their representation on screen is a step towards reducing both scenarios.
Plot & Script: 0.5 / 1.0
Casting & Acting: 0.5 / 1.0
Directing & Editing: 1.0 / 1.0
Cinematography: 1.0 / 1.0
My Opinion: 0.5 / 1.0
My Overall Rating = 3.5 / 5.0