In cinemas Fri 14 Dec 2018, available on VoD Mon 17 Dec 2018
As stark as its title, 1985 is filmed purely in grainy black and white. Setting the film in this time is particularly significant as central character Adrian is a gay man living in New York City, and therefore coping with the AIDS epidemic. Not that any of this is obvious to his right-wing Christian parents who he is visiting for the Christmas holidays, thus providing the central conflict in this story. In addition to navigating his mother and father’s strict beliefs and questions about his life in the city, Andrew also has a younger brother who is apparently gay too — an interesting subplot that isn’t quite fully explored enough to make it seem like a necessary choice. Throughout his stay, the protagonist also encounters his childhood best friend, Carly; a girl who his mother wishes he would date. As the plot unrolls further secrets are revealed one after the other and this layering of secrecy reflects the depth of Adrian’s turmoil.
The monochromatic look creates an ironic timelessness to the film, indicating that these issues of shame and prejudice aren’t only confined to this mid-80’s setting. Instead, apart from the inclusion of some giveaway props like Walkmans and references to Madonna’s ‘Virgin Tour’, the film could easily, and sadly, be a contemporary story. The dreariness of the visual palette also mirrors the sense of deception and dread attached to Adrian’s hometown, and is also possibly a nod to queer film staple The Wizard of Oz — Adrian’s parents’ home is his ‘Kansas’: ordinary, grey and lifeless.
The acting from the key players is competent but at times a little stiff, particularly from familiar faces Virginia Madsen and Michael Chiklis. Madsen is frustratingly placid as the docile mother figure while Chiklis plays the macho-father rather obviously with too many awkward pauses. Even Cory Michael Smith doesn’t quite give us enough depth as Adrian to really cling to, with the exception of two heartbreaking scenes. If anything, little brother Andrew, played by Aidan Langford, is the most engaging here.
Luckily, 1985 does overcome its thinly drawn plot and some dragging scenes to build to a powerful crescendo. Its final fifteen minutes manage to condense more emotional gravitas than the previous 65, and the audience is left with some moving and provocative moments. It’s just a little disappointing that this punch doesn’t arrive earlier.