DOC NYC 2014: SONGS FOR ALEXIS (2014)
Half of the very full of people for SONGS and half full of people for STILL DREAMING which was playing downstairs. The older people were the stars of the film. Until you knew that it seemed like it was going to be a really weird night.
SONGS FOR ALEXIS is the story of Ryan Cassata, an 18 year old transgendered man who met the love of his life, a 16 year old named Alexis. Ryan lives on Long Island, Alexis in California. When the film opens Alexis is getting ready to head back home after some time with Ryan and his family. Sometime after that Ryan goes to San Francisco to play the Gay Pride Festival, things are tense between the lovers and its revealed that Alexis's dad is not happy about the relationship.
Damn that sounds exciting.
Sadly it's not.
What the film really is is a hagographic look at Ryan (Alexis is largely is a cipher here, I mean I know she smokes...and?) who sings, writes songs and spends months moping around because of being separated from Alexis. Wait, Ryan also whines a bit when Alexis isn't forth coming about details of the guy, Quinn, who is texting her, or the trouble with her parents.
To put it another way had Ryan not been transgendered this film would never have seen the light of day or at the very least it would have been cut down to a great 20 minutes.
Don't get me wrong I do like the film, but I have lots of issues with it. And the problem is if I tell you about them its going to sound like I'm ripping the film apart-which I am. But at the same time there is enough good here that the film should have been better.
We deserved better.
There should have been more than the the doe eyed looks and puppy love between two people who are more or less adults. It doesn't help that the pair both look to be about ten and not 18. Who are these people really?
What annoyed me was that I saw Ryan in the theater, I watched him interact with his friends, family and the festival staff and he wasn't as narcissistic as he is in the film. I know break ups can be bad but in the film he comes off as an obnoxious kid who only exists for the Alexis, who he then smothers. There is nothing to his life but moping and writing an occasional song- there has to be more to him then that-no I know there is.
Alexis is as I said a cipher, though she reminds me of a long ago ex-girlfriend who was much too young to be dating anyone never mind me.
Also getting my nose out of shape was that the film feels staged at times, Ryan's mom talking to her friend in such a way as to get all of the exposition out in a seemingly realistic fashion. It may be real but it never rings true. This is especially true of the late in the film trip to Alexis's house- could it have been staged any more than it is? (And while circumstance keeps the split between Alexis and her family off camera, I'd have liked some thing more- say from Alexis about it since such a crucial event is only seen in the waves it creates for Ryan)
Is this a bad movie? No,but it's not the great feature it should have been. As it is now so much happens off screen that this should have been chopped down to a short film because there is too little real material to support a feature.
Should you see it? If you run across it you can give it a try.
Though to be honest I don't know if you will have a chance since I can't see the film getting much play outside of the LGBT community or fans of Ryan's (Ryan does have a following and is a low level celebrity in some circles). Ultimately this is not a film that is really going to go beyond it's core audience the way that truly great documentaries should.