Sometimes when you watch a film, one of the key things that exudes from the screen is how much love it was made with. That’s certainly true of the LGBTQ musical, Saturday Church, which has just hit US screens, following a successful, award-winning run at film festival.
Ulysses (Luka Kain) is a 14-year-old, African-America living in the Bronx. His father has just died, leaving him with his largely absent mother and domineering Aunt Rose (Regina Taylor). He’s also starting to explore his sexuality and gender expression – however both his mother and most particularly his aunt are determined that he shouldn’t ever wear women’s clothes – something they’ve discovered him doing more than once. While looking after Ulysses and his younger brother, Rose believes it’s her job to ensure Ulysses becomes a proper ‘man’.
Despite these home pressures and being bellied at school, the teen manages to find the Saturday Church programme, a gathering for dispossessed LGBTQ people. It allow young, homeless people to be clothed and fed, and others to dance, vogue and show their inner selves. Many of the people at the ‘Church’ have been completely abandoned by their families and have been forced to turn to prostitution. While Ulysses finds companionship and maybe even some romance amongst his new friends, the situation at home leaves him feeling increasingly alone and feeling that perhaps he too will end up on the streets.
The story is interspersed with songs, allowing various characters to give an insight into their thoughts and feelings. For example, the bullied Ulysses fantasises that one day people will see him and know him properly.
Throughout Saturday Church is it clear that the whole thing was stitched together by people who believed in the project and wanted to tell this story. Simmering underneath is an anger at the way some LGBTQ people are treated, particularly those who don’t find the traditional gender binary.
This passion ensures that it’s easier to overlook some of the film’s flaws, such as some slightly dodgy acting from some of the minor characters. What could have been more problematic is that while the musical numbers are good, they have a tendency to feel like they’ve been shoehorned into the narrative. It’s certainly not a dealbreaker, but more care with the transitions – and also more music early on as the first number feels like it’s come out of nowhere – wouldn’t have hurt.
These small flaws are subsumed by what’s good about the movie, not least Luka Kain as Ulysses, who gives a quiet, powerful performance, helped by having a wonderfully open face. He’s pulls the audience into the story, giving life to a film that does a great job of showing how easy it can be for young LGBTQ people to end up on the streets. Thankfully, while it’s keen for the audience to empathise with the characters, it doesn’t want to wallow in misery and treat its characters as perennial victims. It knows things can be bad and unfair, but it also knows there’s hope and possibility for change – especially if you have friends who can help you find a way.
Overall Verdict: A charming, extremely heartfelt musical about the difficult of growing up outside the sexual and gender norms. It may have a few flaws but it overcomes them by filling the screen with sincerity.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac