Devin Fei-Fan Tau’s Who’s On Top? (★★☆☆☆), which shadows four different LGBTQ mountain climbers, starts off with the best of intentions, casting the ascension of Oregon’s Mount Hood as the climbers’ great white whale. Narrated by George Takei, the film includes beautiful shots of snow-capped Mount Hood, courtesy of director of photography Justin Rapp, and an engaging musical score that helps set the scene.
Viewers are introduced to the four principal characters, each of whom have a goal they wish to achieve or a tribulation to overcome, for which their trek up the mountain serves as a metaphor.
Ryan, a gay man, grew up in Oregon, where he was bullied and harassed for being effeminate, leading to intense anxiety and struggles with weight issues. Shanita, a queer artist, is overcoming trauma from an incident in which she was attacked by two men hurling racial slurs at her. Stacey, a trans woman, nature lover, and writer, is finally realizing her identity after years of being closeted. Tayalor, a queer woman who has already climbed to the top of Mount Hood three other times, is trying to rebuild trust between herself and her family that was fractured by her coming out.
As the hike continues, the climbers and their guides fall behind schedule, trying to reach the mountain before the morning sun potentially melts the snow and makes their path more treacherous. Each member of the group is eventually faced with deciding whether to press forward or to turn back.
The movie serves as a heavy-handed metaphor for life: just as our four protagonists struggle to get up the 11,245-foot tall peak, LGBTQ people struggle against various odds in their lives and try to achieve personal victories or accomplishments. Even if they don’t reach the top of the mountain, the extent to which they’ve climbed or made progress serves as a personal best.
Ultimately, Who’s On Top? lacks the emotional appeal that should be there as the audience empathizes with the four protagonists. It feels like Tau could have “shown” more by saying less in a much shorter time period.
Who’s On Top? screens as part of this year’s Reel Affirmations Film Festival. For more information about the festival or to purchase tickets or festival screening passes, visit https://reelaffirmations.eventive.org.
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