Director Matt Fifer and writer Sheldon D. Brown created and starred in Cicada, a gorgeously ragged version of their own lives as young gay men navigating queerness, race, religion and the persistence of memory in Brooklyn. As an exploration of coming out, Cicada plays like two men interviewing one another about their lives on their way to one another.
Cicada is part of deadCenter Film Festival’s ongoing Continuum series of genre-defiant films screening online in the months leading up to the 21st annual festival. It will screen through Sunday through deadcenterfilm.org. Included in the $10 ticket is a Q&A featuring Hannah Royce of the Oklahoma City Pride Alliance and deadCenter’s new Curator of Queer Programming, Laron Chapman (You People).
Music and filmby George Lang
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Fifer’s Ben grew up in a liberal home in Long Island, where his extremely chill mother (Sandra Bauleo) and best-friend sister (Jasmine Grimaldi) serve as an unwavering support group. But even with such an accepting and loving family, Ben is haunted by memories of sexual abuse.
Ben meets Sam (Brown) at the bargain bin at The Strand, New York’s most venerated bookstore. Sam is Black, comes from a religious family and is struggling to leave the closet as he deals with the expectations of masculinity. Each man is enduring different stages in the process of coming out, with Ben recently ending his heterosexual dating life and furtively engaging in same-sex encounters with randos and co-workers and Sam keeping things mostly under wraps.
Cicada contains elements of both wry comedy and true pathos, and it frequently resembles a deeply felt documentary as it takes Ben and Sam through a period of questioning and confrontation, all set against the “golden hour” atmospherics of a New York City summer. Each man has both physical and psychological wounds. Through most of Cicada, Ben is fighting off phantom pains that hint at his past as an abused child while the trial of former Pennsylvania State University coach Jerry Sandusky plays out in the background.
As a first-time feature director, Fifer pulls some strong talent into Cicada’s supporting roles. Second City and 30 Rock’s Scott Adsit plays Ben’s doctor, and Saturday Night Live featured performer Bowen Yang shows up for a split-second as one of Ben’s one-nighters.
But the most recognizable — and jarring — performance is by Cobie Smulders, who Fifer met when he was a production assistant on The Avengers. Smulders’ comic tone as Ben’s therapist suggests that she wandered in from a more conventional romantic comedy. While she is not completely distracting, her performance lacks the subtlety displayed in most of Cicada.
But because Cicada is so grounded in Fifer and Brown’s personal experiences and is further strengthened by both men’s naturalistic performances, no amount of tonal shifting can reduce the film’s power. As it should, Cicada treats being true to oneself and to your partner is far more important than fitting society or family expectations. It rings true.
Whether he is playing a pungent cocktail of jazz and folk with the Low Swingin’ Chariots or performing solo guitar, Kyle Reid is a local master of traditional Americana. Check out Reid in solo performance from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Friday as part of Music First, a series of socially distanced performances at The Jones Assembly, 901 W Sheridan Ave. Tickets are free, but registration is required. Visit thejonesassembly.com.
Last Updated April 1, 2021, 10:10 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor