Rating: (3 out of 5) Monday, 10/17/2011, 5:00 PM Feature presentation, $5 at West End Cinema
AS DIRECTOR JOHN Gallino follows Matty Daley and Bobby Canciello, two gay students at the College of New Jersey who want to break the world record for longest continuous kiss, the camera flits and flutters around, peppering with questions before the two friends lock lips.
How long is the record? (A shade longer than 33 hours.) Are there any rules? (More than you would ever imagine.) Why are you doing this? (The record’s only been held by “heterosexual pairings.”)
So when they finally start doing the deed — one that involves a lot of standing, eating through a straw and pantomiming to communicate — it feels massive and important and, well, spectacular. Which is to say, Our Lips Are Sealed is a hell of a lot more dramatic than a documentary about college guys kissing ought to be.
Gallino deserves a lot of credit for that deft effect; outside of a handheld camera and footage that streamed on the Internet, he doesn’t have a lot of wiggle room for production. Instead, he gets nitty-gritty at the scene of the record attempt, an on-campus quad. He interviews supporters and passersby, while capturing the subtle intricacies that go with kissing somebody for more than a day. (Or, more troublingly, the ill-conceived harassment they face from a few bone-headed goons.)
Our Lips Are Sealed starts to crumble as it ends, though. Without giving away too much, Gallino saves a vital bit of post-snogging news for the absolute end, presumably in an attempt to gut-punch the audience. It doesn’t hit like a shocking development, but rather a bewildering oversight that undercuts the message of the movie. As Bobby explains before the record attempt, “It shouldn’t matter that it’s two guys. It’s just the longest continuous kiss.”
Playing with Lips is Melissa Osbourne and Jeff McCutcheon’s short film, Change (), targeting a festering bit of America: bigotry. Set on the eve of the 2008 presidential election, Change follows Jamie (Sean McClam), a black high-school student who juggles his hidden sexual identity with a black culture that vilifies homosexuality. Everyone he knows supports Barack Obama — and takes every opportunity to laud what he means for civil rights — but few seem to extend those feelings to fight Proposition 8, which passed on the same day as Obama’s victory. When his friends decide to vandalize a gay, white classmate’s house — the same classmate whom Jamie is secretly involved with — he’s forced to choose a side.
McClam’s well suited for the lead role, with a face that blends from celebratory to worried to, ultimately, determined and courageous. He’s given the difficult job of shifting gears again and again with limited assistance from narrative momentum, yet pulls it off believably and appropriately. His Jamie is an empathetic character, limited only so far as his cultural barriers, but aware of the ironies of his life. (Amazingly, McClam does all of this in less than half an hour.)
Although Change‘s camerawork apes television’s Friday Night Lights, Osbourne and McCutcheon occasionally toe the line between homage and mimicry, but settle comfortably into a documentary-inspired style that adds heft to the short while softening any razor-sharp attacks; it’s meant to inform and comment, not slash and burn.
Nonetheless, Change finds its purpose through thoughtful critique. Cultural bigotry, it argues, isn’t solved with sound bites or at the ballot box. Even when we celebrate, there’s still work to be done.
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