This Queer film review is part of my “Queer Holiday Film Reviews for 2020” post.
A tad short on the feature film length, “Red Lodge” is a welcome entry to the Queer Christmas Film canon. The first film by director Dan Steadman, this film shows us the trouble that ensues when a marriage proposal does not get the expected enthusiastic “Yes”. Told primarily through Jordan’s viewpoint, and interjecting a recap that breaks the fourth wall, it’s an interesting setup. Add in a trip back home to Red Lodge with the quirky Aunt, an adopted sister he doesn’t know that well, and a flirtatious ski instructor, Jordan faces a handful of hurdles this Christmas season. But when an accident occurs, he is forced to truly examine his feelings. Read on to find out why this Christmas romance is so endearing.
Synopsis of “Red Lodge”
Sitting in a train station, two men text each other while sitting on either side of a heavy-set man minding his own business, making fun of the guy who is oblivious. When they agree to head to the lounge instead, they make up the guy’s story. Cut to Jordon (Joseph Lim Kim) sitting alone in the woods and talking directly to the camera, we learn that that quirky hobby of theirs is what brought them together. While eating tacos outside, they reminisce about trying to find a place to have sex while staying at Dave’s father’s place last year (in a present “fort” under the Christmas tree!). Clearly a happy couple, Jordan decides that he cannot wait any longer. He pulls out a ring box and proposes to Dave (Richard Pierre-Louis). Except we don’t actually get an answer! However, as they are in the rental car driving to Jordan Aunt Vanity’s home, we can infer that Dave must’ve said “Yes” — but has concerns. While they stop at a diner to kill some time, Jordan asks Dave what he’s afraid of. Dave notes that he’s apprehensive because it changes the terms of the game, questioning whether they are ready for such a drastic change and switch to marriage. But when Jordan asks Dave bluntly if he’s saying “No” and Dave doesn’t answer, Jordon gets rather pissy. And as Jordon tells us in another quick soliloquy, he creates plans when he’s upset. So when they finally arrive at his Aunt’s, the rift is already deepening. Jordan is giving Dave the “silent treatment” and telling Dave that everything is “fine”, saying he’s not in the mood for any massages or more in bed.
The next morning, they awake to quite a surprise — Aunt Vanity (Diane Kylander) has climbed into bed with them with breakfast and to talk plans for the day! Comically, she realises the awkwardness and leaves but telling the boys they have a busy day of decorating ahead and groceries to pick up before Jordan’s sister arrives. While getting ready, the snarky remarks continue even though Dave is trying to reconcile the tense situation. After a quick flashback of how they role play even in the stores, like pretending to not know each other last year but flirting, Dave ends up driving into town by himself. When he comes across cute metal Christmas ornaments, he rings Jordan about buying them for his aunt. However, Jordan is busy handling huge candy canes on the roof, and thus is a bit aloof before telling Dave not to bother. Later on, Aunt Vanity asks Jordan if something is wrong, perhaps a cultural difference thing about mixing races? It’s a bit awkward, even though she points out that he is interracial himself and perhaps that was why he had a tough time growing up. But she ends noting that you have to keep a relationship exciting in order for it to work.
We revert back to the past briefly as Jordan is interviewed by a woman pretending to have her own talkshow in her living room (Stephnie Weir). While we never get confirmation, it’s presumed that this is his mother who was a bit… crazy and mental, why his Aunt Vanity actually raised Jordan. The interview turns awkward when she predicts that in six months, he’ll find the woman of his dreams — except he’s gay, and bluntly points that out upsetting the woman. Back in Red Lodge, Dave is at the grocery story when he notices a young man wearing a ski lodge jacket. The cute twink, Heath, (Ross Andrew Dibble) ends up flirting with him, offering him a “deep” discount on skiing lessons, writing his number on a condom. Back at the house, Jordan’s adopted sister Lisa (Jessica Garibay) arrives with her new boyfriend, Lace (Aric Weber), in tow. Being much younger and adopted right as Jordan was moving away as an adult, they actually don’t know each other too well. But they slowly bond and learn about each other. That evening, Jordan and Dave are out shopping for a Christmas tree, but get into an argument when Jordan makes a comment about being non-committal. Dave snaps back that he has been faithful since Jordan came up to him on the dance floor when they met. (We’re treated to a flashback of a very cock and arrogant Jordan flirting with Dave). Before the story moves on, we return back to the past and the mock living room talkshow. Jordan has returned to thank the web psychic because he actually did find the love of his life. But when he reveals that not only is it a man, but a black man — the woman mentions how she likes them white and exotic… Quite awkward, Jordan leaves the room.
Back to present day, they all share a brief moment of happiness decorating the tree. As Lisa tunes her mandolin, she recounts the reason she left school — an abusive date created false child molester flyers about her and posted them around school; she was an elementary ed major! So she left, and in the process found her boyfriend Lace, who is putting together a model absentmindedly off to the side. But Aunt Vanity brings in the board games and all if fine again — until the questions from the game turn a bit serious and Jordan quickly wraps it up. The following day, they decide to take the ski lessons at Red Lodge, but Heath ends up flirting with both Jordan and Dave. He invites them both over to his cabin for drinks later, swimsuits optional. Dave is about to politely refuse when Jordan shockingly agrees. But the entire evening is awkward because Dave doesn’t want to be there, Jordan is throwing Dave’s obvious flirting back at him, and Heath is caught with his sexy butt in between their fight. (Yes, we do get to see his butt!) That night, Dave doesn’t come to bed, but instead stays up talking relationship concerns with Lisa before passing out on the sofa. Turns out that Jordan watched them from the other room, and he quizzes Dave the following morning expecting to catch him in a lie. But while Jordan is lying there seductively, Dave is not in the mood for makeup sex, which worsens everything.
Things hit the fan when they have to go and jumpstart the car. They get into an argument and Dave finally admits that “You’re the man I’m in love with — just not the person I thought I’d spend the rest of my life with”. Realising how bad that sounds he tries to explain, but Jordan tells him to just leave while throwing the keys at Dave. After another soliloquy from Jordan about how he took a shower so no one could see him cry, we return to Lisa and Lace washing the car. Neither wants to return home after witnessing the nasty fight, but eventually they return to find Jordan reading one of Aunt Vanity’s menopause magazines. Eventually Lisa tells Jordan that she talked with Dave last night and that Dave wants to say yes — and will soon say “Yes”. He’s just afraid of things becoming boring. Jordan counters that falling in love is finding someone to be boring next to. Cue another flashback back when Jordan and Dave were starting to date. They’re climbing a tree in the backyard when Dave writes “Dave loves Jordan” inside a heart before they share a kiss. Suddenly, Jordan’s phone awakens him from the memory. It’s Heath calling — there was an accident. Jordan bolts out the front door with Lisa right behind, “I’m driving” she says. Arriving at the hospital, they discover that Dave has some broken bones after colliding with a tree but will still be unconscious for a bit. Jordan frantically looks at the clock before leaving. Turns out Jordan ends up bribing the hospital staff in be allowed to decorate a Christmas tree in the ER room with the ornaments Dave loved, also hanging fake mistletoe and showing a fireplace screensaver on his laptop. While Jordan’s voiceover recounts about all of his loves of the years leading up to Dave and this special Christmas, we watch as Jordan tenderly takes care of Dave laying in the hospital bed and holding his hand as the camera pans down to a Red Lodge Christmas ornament hanging on the tree.
There’s a couple issues I had with “Red Lodge” and had to knock a couple ratings down a notch. The two biggest issues I had were subtle but unfortunately noticeable. There are a handful of moments the camera work is rather shaky, such as when Jordan and Dave have their big fight while jump-starting the cars. While his sister and her boyfriend note that it was difficult to watch, I found it equally difficult to watch because I kept getting distracted from the scene because of the shoddy cinematography. Given that this is the apex right before things resolve, it’s very noticeable. Unfortunately there are a few other times throughout the film where the camera work is a bit amateur. I equally felt that there are moments where it’s clear that this is Writer/Director Dan Steadman’s first feature film; almost as if he tried to take on too much and didn’t quite have the experience to pull it together into a perfect film. Did he do a bad job? Nope, it just wasn’t enough to secure a full star rating between the two relevant categories.
There are two other issues I had though. One refers again to Dan Steadman’s script and directing, but the other actually deals with the cast. As much as I enjoyed everyone’s character portrayals, there is just something that doesn’t quite connect them together. Aside from a handful of moments, it’s hard to believe that Jordan and Dave are truly in love through most of the film. This is unfortunately worsened partly by the script. After all, if they were truly in love after being together for two years, why did Dave not give an enthusiastic “Yes” when Jordan proposed? Yes, I do realise that that uncertainty created the drama for the plot of the film, AND that it is resolved and perhaps reinforced by the end. But it goes beyond just their two roles. Aunt Vanity is a harsh contrast and it feels like she never really connects with anyone else. But again, the connection also goes back to the script — which has flaws itself. At first, I enjoyed the post-film recounting by Jordan that breaks the fourth-wall… but then I got tired of it and just wanted to watch the story unfold. Worse, because we only got Jordan’s viewpoint, I actually felt like there was something missing. Had Steadman given Dave the chance to add his side, even if it was only once or twice, there would have been a balance to help the recaps fit better within the film.
While I previously harped on a handful of issues I had while watching “Red Lodge”, there are still many positive things to enjoy. But first, a quick commentary balance to the negative. Despite a poorly filmed scene at the apex of the story, the rest of the cinematography wasn’t noticeable. I actually loved how well the set was lit when they all are playing the board games with the flickering, soft, warm lights as if it were coming solely from the fireplace. Yet, it was balanced well enough that the scene was warm and cozy rather than too dark. It’s subtle moments like that which I truly can appreciate — even though many overlook those details. And for as much as I got tired of the one-sided soliloquy’s from Jordan, there are moments where they actually work out quite well. Through those moments, we are able to get a different perspective to his character — his actually thoughts. For example, right after he hears about the accident, the first thing he tells us is that he was on the verge of calling Dave after their fight — which perhaps adds an extra twist of heartache to the moment. How many of us have regretted something right after it’s said, but couldn’t immediately apologise? These bits of the film weren’t my favourite and as such got a knock on their respective rating, but they weren’t entirely bad the rest of the time either.
But perhaps my favourite part of “Red Lodge” is the story itself. Rather than the typical queer Christmas plots where the gay lead has to hide their sexuality, and/or is single and thus gets set up in awkward ways, or simply has to deal with a family who doesn’t fully embrace who they truly are — Dan Steadman gives us something different. Our two male leads are perhaps not the first couple pairing you would think of, yet their banter throughout the film clearly shows they have a strong relationship. Strong enough that Jordan can’t even wait until Christmas to propose. Our conflict comes when Dave doesn’t seem too thrilled, even going so far as to question why they should introduce something new to a relationship that is already working well. Now, if Jordan didn’t revert internal and by proxy, push Dave away rather than try to resolve the concerns, well there wouldn’t have been anything interesting to watch! But the best bits were small quirks here and there, such as Aunt Vanity creeping into their shared bed with breakfast. “Sorry for grabbing your boyfriends warm bits!” she apologises as she leaves. Or later when she talks candidly about how she’s so boring that everyone leaves her, including her ex who died — “Maybe I bored him to death!” You can’t help but laugh at such black comedy! Equally there are some rather tender points within the plot, such as watching Jordan and Lisa bond despite having not having grown up at the same time, or my favourite scene: when Jordan gathers all of the Christmas decorations around town in order to surprise Dave in the hospital room as a means of apologising. It’s such a tender and loving act that reveals his true feelings for Dave. While there are a few issues in how the story is told, “Red Lodge” is definitely the Queer Christmas romance we need.
While it has a few issues, many being attributed to Steadman’s first attempt directing and having to work with a small indie film’s budget, “Red Lodge” deserves a lot more attention. A rather short film at only 69 minutes, the plot is captivating, even comical at times, and features an interracial cast that only adds to its charm. So while I couldn’t give it top-notch ratings, I still highly recommend that you find yourself a copy and give this Queer Christmas film a watch. I’ve a feeling you’re going to love it — and you might just find yourself a bit teary-eyed by the end of this Christmas romance!
[Note: it currently is listed on Amazon under the title: “The Unattainably Perfect Gay Christmas”]
Queer Relevance of “Red Lodge”
Giving us a different perspective on the still new concept of same-sex marriage equality, there’s no doubt that “Red Lodge” is a queer film! But it’s this unique aspect that helps set it apart — when getting married is the next step, it isn’t always best for everyone. Through in some uncertainty, a flirtatious twink ski instructor, and the holidays — it’s an interesting commentary on modern gay life and gay relationships. There’s also a relevant bit when Jordan’s presumed mother has a difficult time accepting that his son is homosexual and despite her desires and false predictions, will NOT be finding the girl of his dreams. Lastly our two leads are in an interracial relationship, something that itself is quite enjoyable to watch as it furthers representation even among the queer film niche.
Plot & Script: 1.0 / 1.0
Casting & Acting: 0.5 / 1.0
Directing & Editing: 0.5 / 1.0
Cinematography: 0.5 / 1.0
My Opinion: 1.0 / 1.0
My Overall Rating = 3.5 / 5.0