An enjoyable road movie perhaps best described as a geriatric lesbian take on "Easy Rider," "Cloudburst" is sure to be an audience favorite at festivals nationwide. Written and directed by Thom Fitzgerald (who adapted the work from his own play,) the film lives and breathes (and invigorates) mainly thanks to the lead performances of Olympia Dukakis and Brenda Fricker, who inhabit their roles with an ease and an audacity that is second-to-none. These two carry the film; the strength of their chemistry transcending its sillier moments. While its pleasures are simple and quickly dissipate; "Cloudburst" is an undeniably fun time at the movies.
Dukakis and Fricker star as Stella and Dotty, respectively, an aging couple facing separation due to their age and orientation. Dotty - the blind, quiet one - has a granddaughter trying to put her in an old folks’ home, selfishly trying to procure Dotty’s house for herself. So that’s why Stella - the loud and abrasive one, who alienates everyone in sight and likes to leave her vibrator in, well, surprising places - is forced to devise her plan: break Dotty out of the nursing home, and embark on a road trip to Nova Scotia, where they’ll marry legally and prevent anyone from pulling them apart.
And it is Dukakis, as Stella, who holds this movie together as much as her character holds the films central relationship together: her abrasiveness, her sheer commitment to the hateful nature of her role; keeps the whole film honest. There’s not a second where you feel she’s playing a part; you can see in her face that she truly adores engaging in such rambunctious behavior. It’s not just that it contrasts well with Fricker’s performance as the unengaged-with-life Dotty, it’s that every second Dukakis is on screen reeks with energy. She’s a ticking time bomb; bouncing off her mortified surroundings with reckless abandon, and I adored every second of it.
Unfortunately, the entirety of the film cannot sustain the reality and the honesty brought to it by the lead actresses. The granddaughter’s shrill attempts to defraud Dotty (along with her conservative denial of the fact that she has - gasp - a gay family member) gives audiences an easy villain to jeer, sure, but it hardly keeps with the humanist tone set up prior. Everyone in the film (not just including, but especially a heterosexual boy picked up by the duo on their road trip, who regales them with his tales of dancing in a strip club and often offers displays of his prowess) is offered understanding and dignity; so the lazy attempt at villainy feels hollow, not cathartic. This movie is better than such lazy plotting.
Which is why Dukakis’ and Fricker’s rapport is so impressive: it overcomes all the silliness (not just the scheming granddaughter, but her clueless beau and the mindless cops on their trail) and leaves you with a touching relationship comedy. You feel for these two, and at least when you don’t have cardboard-cutout villians on their tail, you believe their plight. The film keeps the posturing in the background; leaving the quips about how dumb it is that they must migrate to Canada to get married in the background, and allowing the characters to emerge to the front. There is a terrible, ’social message’ version of this film that could’ve been made, but luckily, this isn’t it.
And that’s very much how I feel about "Cloudburst": it’s enjoyable but forgettable, a valiant telling of an important story that’s buoyed by a dedication to character and anchored down by an adherence to silliness and formula scriptwriting. But for the crowds who will be seeing this at LGBT festivals across the country, one thing’s for sure: this road trip is worth the gas money.
This article is part of our "17th Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival" series. Want to read more?
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