The Review/Short Read/

Hump Day Movie: Closet Monster

A charming Canadian queer coming-of-age story with a talking hamster to boot

by
Jun 8, 2016

Isabella Rosellini is turning 64 next week. Let that sink in a moment. Rosellini is an ethereal being. She's not of this earth. She is at once the lounge singer from Blue Velvet (playing TIFF Bell Lightbox, starting July 1st) and the creator of Green Porno, which is arguably one of the strangest and most delightful things to exist on this fair planet.

How does one celebrate such a human's contribution to cinema and indeed, the world? The only way one can. By recommending a Canadian film where she voices a pet hamster.

The hamster in question is named Buffy, after Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And the film in question is Stephen Dunn's magical semi-autobiographical debut film Closet Monster, which recently won the Best Canadian Film prize at the Inside Out Film Festival. Not to mention, the "Best Canadian Feature" award at TIFF 2015.

Closet Monster follows Oscar (Connor Jessup), who witnesses a horrifying attack on a young gay man in a graveyard as a child. Young Oscar quietly moves towards the attackers with a stake (again, Buffy) in his hand, but freezes, unable to intervene, and the victim ends up paralyzed from the waist down.

Fast forward 10 years and Oscar is a young man about to graduate high school. He spends his spare time transforming his best friend Gemma (Sofia Banzhaf) using make up to create a portfolio that will act as his ticket out of Newfoundland. When he's not applying sea-theamed makeup to Gemma's face, he works at a local hardware store. This is where he meets Wilder (Aliocha Schneider), a young man who acts as a catalyst for his sexual awakening. These feelings are paired with violent remembrances of the attack he saw as a child, conflating his burgeoning understanding of himself as a sexual being with an act of bigoted gay violence.

This is no ordinary coming-of-age story. Oscar navigates the world with the help of his "spirit animal," voiced by the aforementioned Rosellini. A gift received during his parent's divorce, Buffy is at once friend and pseudo-mother, a fantastical realization of the maternal ideal.

Embedded content: https://www.youtube.com/embed/VSLEI55SS5s

Dunn's film tracks one long summer in Newfoundland as Oscar learns how to become himself. As he navigates his fear of coming out, he also comes to terms with his relationship with his erratic and potentially dangerous father and embraces his own creative mind. Dunn gives life to the coming out story, elevating it to almost mythic proportions. He recognizes the magic and fear that lives in all of us, creating a film that feels at once, deeply personal and universal in its ideas. The soundtrack kicks ass, too.

Happy birthday, Isabella Rosselini. You're the best spirit animal anyone could ask for.