Reel Affirmations 2011
Rating: (4 out of 5)
Friday, 10/21/2011, 5:00 PM
Feature presentation, $12 at Lisner Auditorium
“I’D RATHER BE fucking dead than go on living in a wheelchair,” Morgan Oliver exclaims at one unguarded point in the film Morgan. It’s not so much the small stuff Oliver dislikes about a life confined to a wheelchair, from the extra effort it takes to simply get out of bed to the difficulties in maneuvering around a small kitchen. The beginning scenes show the character struggling with those types of routine, everyday tasks.
Ultimately, the gay athlete is most frustrated that his new life in a wheelchair has put limits on his fiercely competitive nature and his previously wide-ranging mobility. A wipeout during a bike race last year broke Oliver’s back and paralyzed him from the waist down. It will take time before he’s able to compete in that same race again, using a customized bike — not to mention a lot of convincing to get his mother and best friend, adamantly opposed to more racing, on board.
Michael Akers’s fascinating, quietly powerful film follows Oliver in his new life in a wheelchair. And then comes love. Akers’s film is in many ways a traditional love story, told with a refreshing twist: A handsome, hunky gay man falls in love with another, who just happens to be wheelchair-bound. Jack Kesy plays the able-bodied Dean Kagen, who pursues a relationship with Oliver, played by Leo Minaya.
The two bond over basketball, as well as their respective movie-star good looks: Kesy looks a bit like James Dean, while Minaya resembles Gyllenhaal. The two actors have a nice chemistry and sexual heat, and they portray the budding romance with just the right amount of initial awkwardness and eventual passion. Kagen is a natural caregiver, and seems in every way perfect for Oliver, far less troubled by Oliver’s handicapped body than Oliver is.
Oliver still has the drive of a competitive athlete, and he ends up pushing himself and his relationship a bit too hard, leading to a lot more struggle and soul-searching. Fortunately, Akers’s film has a lightness of being, never getting bogged down in too many details.
You’re never too concerned that Oliver won’t eventually figure the right course to take. –DR