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American Primitive: A unique Queer love story
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American Primitive: A unique Queer love story

by Scott Rice - SGN Contributing Writer

In 1973, Skylab was launched, the Arab Oil Embargo prompted long lines at the gas pump, and Pink Floyd released Dark Side of the Moon. More importantly to the Queer community, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its official diagnostic manual. We officially stopped being considered pathological by the medical community.

1973 is also the temporal setting of Gwen Wynne's film directorial debut American Primitive, the story of a widowed father of two teenage girls trying to juggle parenthood, a new business, a new community, and his secret love affair with his male business partner.

The acting is excellent, a strong point of the film. It's good to see Susan Anspach (Five Easy Pieces) again, and she's terrific as the buttoned-down grandmother/mother-in-law struggling originally with unconfirmed suspicions and later with the confirmation of those suspicions.

The handsome straight boys, Tate Donovan (Damages) and Adam Pascal (RENT) turn in great performances as the beleaguered Queer couple just trying to be in love. Donovan's take on widowed dad Harry Goodhart is full of understated witty repression and his sexy British accent never fails. The ever-versatile Pascal leaves his rock star/Broadway roots behind to give us a sweetly understated Mr. Gibbs, Harry's lover.

Youngsters Josh Peck (Spoke White) and Danielle Savre (Madeline Goodhart) are actors to watch. Peck already wowed us by leaping from the prefab ranks of Disney kid stardom to the big screen in 2008's The Wackness, adroitly playing a pot-dealing teenager who trades dope for therapy. And he doesn't let us down here as he gamely takes on the distinctive Cape Cod accent and mostly gets away with it.

Savre gives a solid performance in a tough role. Her character, Madeline, is in narrative purgatory. The two stories, Madeline's and her father's, are told from her perspective, yet her dad's story is far more compelling. Savre does all she can to bring a presence to the character, but it's a losing proposition from the start. Still, she does her job and we'll see her again.

In fact, the only real problem with the film is that Wynne seems to want to tell Madeline's story, but the reality is that this is a Queer movie; it's about the love affair between Harry and Mr. Gibbs.

I know teenage girls fall for cute teenage boys who do stupid things that are hurtful; I've seen that before. And much of Madeline's narrative is driven by her puppy-love triangle with two young men and nothing here makes that more interesting than average - nothing except that Madeline's dad is Gay.

The film was co-written by Wynne and Mary Beth Fielder and is loosely based on Wynne's real life growing up on Cape Cod where one day she realized that her father's regular parties consisted only of men.

The film has a subtle sense of humor that I love and I don't want my reservations about the teenage love triangle to make anyone think I don't love this film. I don't know how to work the problem out, I only know I was more interested in two guys trying to create a Queer family in small-town 1973 Cape Cod than the perils of teenage love.

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