Overall Rating for this Program: ★★★★★, CRITIC’S PICK
This assortment of comedic shorts is one of the best collections to play in 30 years of Reel Affirmations. Every single film in this curation is like winning a jackpot, over and over and over again.
Things kicks off with Cock N’ Bull 3 (★★★★★), part of a series of zany shorts made by Nathan Adloff and Danny Rhodes, who also star as a pair of “mean gay” flight attendants on an ill-fated flight from L.A. to New York.
We know it’s ill-fated, because, in a splendid nod to the TV series Lost, the film opens at a fiery plane crash site, and then backpedals to reveal how things got here.
There’s no real structure to the narrative, the movie just bounds along from one insanely funny joke to the next, and it’s stockpiled with familiar faces, including Drew Droege, Jim O’Heir (of Parks & Recreation), Kevin Chamberlin, Missi Pyle, and Shawn Ryan, a creepy blast as a homicidal flight attendant.
Cousins (★★★★☆) is less an all-out comedy than a sweet, gentle encounter between Omar (Zayn Alexandre) and Layla (Karina Dandashi), two cousins who reunite, each harboring a secret.
Layla’s is a bit bigger and gets complicated when an ex-girlfriend shows up at the diner where she and Omar are eating. The movie, written and directed with clarity, efficiency, and heart by Dandashi, follows an expected narrative path, but the performances and the elegant writing give it flight. A sweet, affirming film.
The radiant Israeli blossom Happy Birthgay (★★★★★) is a funny, surprisingly potent film about an overbearing Jewish mother attempting to accept her son’s homosexuality by throwing him a one-year coming out party, complete with a plethora of rainbows and miniature plastic penises.
At first, Niv Manzur’s film struggles to find narrative footing, but then a character enters who changes the dynamics and the film’s point pulls sharply into focus.
It knocks the wind out of you, as do the performances by Noam Karmeli, Gilad Merhavi, and, especially, Dorit Lev Ari as a mother who wears her acceptance of her son as a coat of armor that, by the film’s end, falls away, replaced by sheer joy.
What Nyala Moon has created in Dilating for Maximum Effect (★★★★★) is nothing short of an exercise in how to make a jaw-dropping short that not only brings the funny but the smarts.
The film’s tone is bright, sunny, and whimsical, and it’s played to the hilt by Moon and a supporting cast whose standout is the masterful Shiya Trotoman, who is never seen but oh-so-very heard.
Moon plays Drea, who has had gender confirmation surgery but is fearful of having physical sex with a man. “I haven’t dilated in 4 years,” she tells her sister, who replies with abundant sass, “Every hole is a go!”
The resulting attempt at dilation is comedy at its very best — almost Keaton-esque in its execution — and the film’s conclusion is as satisfying as it is beautiful. A diamond among diamonds.
Mikey’s Army (★★★★☆), directed by New York stage star Andrew Keenan-Bolger, and written by Eric Ulloa, is an adorable, brisk coming-out story that exudes sweetness and style. A teen (Mark Aguirre) finds strength in his obsessions — a pop musician (Krystina Alabado), a drag queen (Jesus Martinez), and a hunky movie star (Claybourne Elder, playing dim-witted for all its worth) — all of whom come to “life” in his bedroom to give him tangible advice and fire up his courage to come out to his mother.
It’s a frisky, fun take on an oft-told tale, and features an ending that is determined to leave you with the broadest smile possible.
The less said about Troy (★★★★★), the better, because the surprising twists and turns in this clever 16-minute work of genius are better experienced than revealed.
Mike Donahue has created one of the most original shorts I’ve ever seen, with an extraordinary narrative flow (again, remarkable for 16 minutes), an achingly funny premise that gives way to genuine poignancy, and two core performances, by Adina Verson and Michael Braun, that carry every moment triumphantly over the finish line. Also, Dana Delaney and Dylan Baker show up in amusing cameos.
You really couldn’t ask for a better way to close out this dazzling collection of affirmation by means of amusement.
Funny Stuff Shorts plays exclusively in the Virtual Festival through Oct. 29.
Reel Affirmations 2023 includes the Virtual Film Festival, providing online access to 43 films for those film lovers who cannot attend the festival in person, with a viewing window from Oct. 23 to 29.
Browse the full Virtual Festival catalog here.
Buy Virtual Festival passes here.
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