Seen at the Sydney Film Festival
Sometimes a film is targeted to such a specific audience that once someone comes up with the perfect one-line description of the plot it almost renders the job of reviewing the film pointless, if the single-line description sounds like a great film to you then you’re going to like it and if not then you’ll probably hate it. Please Baby Please is part of this year’s roster of films that are part of the Sydney Film Festival and in the film festival program this film was described with the sentence “A Streetcar Named Desire by way of John Waters”… so that’s my job rendered useless, if that phrase doesn’t immediately make you go “I HAVE TO SEE THAT” then this film isn’t for you, review effectively over.
But screw it, we’re here, let’s bump up the word count a little bit
Please Baby Please follows Suse (Andrea Riseborough) and Arthur (Harry Melling), a young couple who are living in apartment 2B in a bad neighbourhood. It’s so bad that they end up seeing a biker gang known as the Young Gents mercilessly beat another couple of people right outside their building. This is the catalyst for a long series of discoveries for Suse and Arthur surrounding their relationship, gender identities and sexuality… that last one is largely brought on by Arthur’s infatuation with Teddy (Karl Glusman). Along their journey into self-discovery, they’ll come across strange people, bizarre scenarios and more than a few dance routines happening among the gang.
Please Baby Please is definitely not a subtle film, indeed I don’t think anyone in this film would know what subtlety was if it gave them a lava enema. Every performance is pushed to a 12 no matter what the role is, from Riseborough delivering a scenery-chewing insane spectacle of a performance that would look forced in any other film, to Melling who somehow finds a way to be an extremely straight man who is so stunned at where things are going that you honestly wonder how the man could survive on his own. It’s all going for a level of high camp that is so deliberate that it shouldn’t work, as deliberate camp often fails spectacularly… but not here. Here, everyone is so completely committed to what they’re doing that you buy into it completely and it works.
Scenes in Please Baby Please can be lengthy discussions about the strangeness of gender roles and how weird it is to identify as male purely because you happen to be in possession of a penis and it works because it just feels like the kind of natural conversation the characters would have, plus the film itself almost revels in fucking with gender norms. Characters play against the expected gender roles, Suse’s entire plot is basically about her embracing a more masculine side while Arthur seems to slot somewhere in the non-binary world (or at very least, explicitly not the idea of male that everyone expects him to fall into), there’s even a non-binary actor (Ryan Simpkins) as one of the gang members and they absolutely steal so many scenes they’re in with how they delicately dance along the gender line.
Like a lot of camp films tend to be, Please Baby Please is also extremely queer. Not even just gay, but queer in every possible for. There’s something here for every letter of the alphabet, from butch lesbians to several gay characters (including an honestly adorable forbidden gay romance), trans characters, non binary, the list goes on and on. Throw in some gay icons like Demi Moore delivering a dramatic monologue about how her appliances are basically sex toys while walking around a completely blue apartment and you have a film that couldn’t be more perfectly timed for Pride.
Honestly, the only downside is one scene towards the end where our old favourite strobing effect happens. Please Baby Please itself jumps between monochromatic colour palettes, mostly pink and blue (because gender) so during one of the big climactic moments of this film a tv set that takes up a fair amount of the frame flickers between those two colours creating a strobing effect that might end up setting someone off. Just worth knowing about ahead of time in case, it’s definitely an effect that feels very pointless and just risks making someone ill but at least it’s mercifully brief and not as intense as others have been.
Still, Please Baby Please is the kind of wild camp creation that you only get when someone who has a great knowledge of cinema history gets to play with the classic toys in a way they never expected. With visuals that wouldn’t feel out of place in a classic 50s film (albeit this is in glorious technicolour) and a strange dreamlike quality that goes perfectly with the subject matter, Please Baby Please is absolutely not for everyone but those who enjoy the weirder side of cinema should give it a look… and those who just wanna see a film where everyone repeatedly goes “Fuck gender norms” before doing a strange little dance.