Review: Cicada

Written and directed by Matthew Fifer, co-directed by Kieran Mulcare and co-written by Sheldon D. Brown, as a young man embarks on a new relationship, he is forced to face the traumas of his past, based partially on the experiences of its lead actors (Fifer and Brown). Also starring: Cobie Smulders, Sandra Bauleo, Jazmin Grace Grimaldi, Scott Adsit, David Burtka, Michael Potts, Bowen Yang and Jo Firestone.

Gay romance is slowly but surely fighting its way into the mainstream, but films can often shy away from a harsher reality, nudity or sex to please studios and larger audiences, not this film. This is such a raw and frank portrayal of a gay relationship, not only that but it also deals with trauma, mental health and addiction. The fact that they’ve openly stated it’s based on their own experiences just makes it all the more sincere. It doesn’t strive for perfection, it feeds off of the reality that humans are by nature, imperfect.

One of the most interesting things about the film is the handling of director and writer Fifer’s character Ben. In the first instance he’s suspiciously quiet, reluctant to interact with conversation, only sex and despite the fact that should make him feel cold and distant, he still draws you in. It’s the perfect set up for bringing in Sam, he’s so different from Ben, he’s sensitive and apprehensive but immediately gets Ben to open up and finally make a real connection with someone. Both of their performances perfectly capture the fragility and vulnerability of their characters, they’re both dealing with intense traumas from their past and the way that they balance it with their burgeoning relationship is very touching and personal. They have such an effortless chemistry that feels entirely natural. Smulders is a fascinating addition as the unorthodox therapist, it’s such an odd energy amongst this otherwise quiet and affecting drama but it really works and she’s very enjoyable to watch. It’s a great ensemble featured in the film and even the characters with brief parts feel like they do genuinely have something to add.

The direction feels very much the modern, stylish way to capture New York, it’s familiar but not so much that it feels unoriginal. Shots following their romance almost feel like a nod to 60s and 70s cinema, they’re very classic and timeless. Its choice to be more realistic with its sex scenes is a huge step in the right direction for gay cinema, it doesn’t go too heavy on the nudity and does leave something to the imagination but it only holds back the right amount to give sincerity and keep the tone that its built. The writing is sublime, it’s so personal, open and honest, it explores gay relationships like very few have before it, and it’s not afraid of the darker side of reality. The way that it explores their trauma is elegant, it doesn’t cheapen the experience by throwing it in your face but doesn’t hold back from making an impact emotionally. It holds a genuine sadness but one that doesn’t take away from their building romance, it plays them off each other well.

Cicada is a gentle and elegant telling of past traumas while also being a refreshingly raw and real take on a gay relationship. It’s well written, directed and shot, all the cast come together to build something intimate and affecting. The performances from Fifer and Brown are exceptional, their chemistry is utterly natural and charmingly bumbling initially. What these filmmakers have put together is something quite rare, to be so open and honest, fresh and full of sincerity, it’s gripping to watch.

Verdict: ✯✯✯✯

In UK & Irish Cinemas and on Digital 21 January

Reviewed as part of London Film Festival

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