Review: North Star

Written and directed by P.J. Palmer, a rural rancher and his ailing husband, struggling against poverty and isolation, make a heart-breaking decision in order to preserve the dignity of their marriage. Starring: Colman Domingo, Malcolm Gets, Audrey Wasilewski, Laura Innes, Chris Sheffield and Kevin Bacon.

Colman Domingo is an underappreciated actor, he’s incredibly talented and any of his performances can show you that, North Star is yet another example. His portrayal takes a classic stoic edge, exploring a deep and heart-wrenching amount of emotion while never letting it appear blatantly on his face. He beautifully communicates the struggle of this story, his character’s dedication, love and refusal to bend to prejudice. Audrey Wasilewski provides the opposite, so rigidly close-minded that it’s hard to watch. It’s not the most original of characters but sadly it is pulled straight from reality, she reflects an everyday persona of homophobia that is still heavily present in society. Malcolm Gets is heavily restricted because of his character’s illness but that in no way limits his performance, the hurt he portrays being in-between his husband and his sister is palpable. Similarly even though he can only do so much in a physical sense, the connection and chemistry between him and Domingo is strong and moving.

There’s an intense empathy, generosity and commitment to this story, right from the opening you get to see how dedicated these characters are in their marriage. It’s great to see a gay relationship in that context, instead of only arriving at the beginning, entering when they’re an old married couple, struggling with everyday challenges. In that respect, the story works very well and has a hugely meaningful tone but unfortunately when Wasilewski’s Erin arrives, things take a turn for the stereotypical. It hits a few bumps in the road as it wanders into cliched territory, it is a great example of the quiet resentment family can hold, viewing as acceptance what is really just an insult but it’s still old territory. It hits too many notes that have been done before and it’s a shame not to see such an initially original story, hold onto that feel.

P.J. Palmer’s directorial style has a much more consistently high quality, the rural, ranch and western influenced aesthetic is hugely enjoyable. It capitalises on the setting for some wonderful imagery, while the cinematography helps fill it with emotion. It creates a larger depth and presence without straying from the everyday. Bringing out the colour, life and love in what otherwise could be an extremely drab and mundane affair. It does real justice to the sincere and touching nature to the relationship between James and Craig, bringing that love and commitment into the film’s overall atmosphere.

North Star is a moving story, beautifully shot and led by yet another fantastic performance from Colman Domingo. It’s filled with emotion, dedication and struggle with a hugely genuine feel but at the same time it gets stuck upon a stereotypical edge that doesn’t have as much to offer. It holds the short back from reaching its full potential but it doesn’t stop it from being a heartbreakingly kind and loving film.

Verdict: ✯✯✯½ | 7/10

Reviewed as part of HollyShorts 2022

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