“1985” is a somber but sensitive drama about a young man coming back to his home with a secret he cannot tell to his family. As calmly observing his several days in his hometown, the movie gradually reveals the repressed emotions between him and his family, and it gives us a number of wonderful moments quietly pulsating with considerable emotional power.
Set in 1985 as reflected by its very title, the movie opens with its young hero arriving in his hometown in Texas. Having lived in New York City since he left his hometown some years ago, Adrian Lester (Cory Michael Smith) has not been particularly close to his family, but now he wants to spend the Christmas week with his family, and we see his rather awkward meeting with his father Dale (Michael Chiklis) at a local airport.
As Adrian begins to stay in his suburban family house, we get to know about his family members bit by bit. While Dale is a Vietnam War veteran who has worked as a mechanic since he returned from Vietnam, his wife Eileen (Virginia Madsen) is your average American suburban housewife, and their younger son Andrew (Aidan Langford) is a shy adolescent boy who is visibly going through the early stage of puberty. As reflected by several brief moments, Dale and Eileen are your typical conservative Christians, and that is the main reason why Adrian still cannot tell them about his homosexuality.
However, it is implied to us that his parents know about their son’s homosexuality to some degree, though they also cannot talk or discuss about that mainly due to their Christian mindset. Whenever Dale talks with his son, there are always some uncomfortable feelings between them, and the same thing can be said about how Eileen interacts with her son. When his former girlfriend Carly (Jamie Chung) is mentioned at one point, it is clear that Eileen wants her son to rekindle whatever is still left between him and Carly, and Adrian eventually comes to call Carly, who is currently pursuing the career of a stand-up comedian in Dallas.
When Adrian talks a bit with Carly after watching her latest stage performance, the mood becomes a bit tender as it turns out that Carly still has some feeling toward Adrian. They eventually go to her residence, and then she attempts to get a little closer to him, but, of course, that only leads to a bitter and painful moment for both of them.
Meanwhile, Adrian becomes a little friendlier with Andrew, who feels rather resentful about his older brother’s long absence but then comes to bond with him as they share their common interest in the certain types of music forbidden by their father for religious reasons. Adrian gladly introduces his young brother to the works of several contemporary pop bands such as The Cure and R.E.M., and they also go to a movie theater together for watching “A Chorus Line” (1985), though, to my small personal amusement, they end up watching “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge” (1985) instead.
It is quite possible that Andrew is also a gay, but the movie never directly points that out to us while doling out some notable details one by one (He is more interested in stage acting than football to his father’s chagrin, for instance). As spending more time with Andrew, Adrian comes to see his younger self in the past from Andrew, and he sincerely wants to be someone Andrew can lean on.
However, there is something Adrian has not confided to his family yet. He often looks quietly depressed and despaired because it seems there is not anyone with whom he can talk about what has been eating him for last several months, but then there comes an unexpected moment of kindness and compassion, and he feels a little better after that, though nothing much is changed for him and his family even in the end.
As leisurely rolling along its loose narrative, the screenplay by director/co-editor/co-writer Yen Tan, which is based on the story written by Tan and his co-editor/co-writer/cinematographer Hutch, handles its characters with considerable care and thoughtfulness. Shot in 16mm film, the movie is filled with deliberate rough textures reminiscent of those micro-budget independent films made during the 1980s, but it still feels raw and vivid with a number of authentic period details to notice, and I particularly admire how Tan and Hutch subtly convey to us the emotional undercurrents inside several key scenes in the film including a long conversation scene between Adrian and his father.
The main performers are all excellent in their unadorned nuanced performance. While Cory Michael Smith, who previously played minor supporting roles in “Carol” (2015) and “First Man” (2018), is terrific as deftly handling the emotions and thoughts churning behind his character’s pensive façade, Michael Chiklis and Virginia Madsen are also very good in their respective roles, and so are Jamie Chung and Aidan Langford.
Like Tan’s previous film “Pit Stop” (2013), “1985” is a modest but admirable queer drama film, and I surely appreciated its small precious human moments during my viewing. Although the movie occasionally feels a bit too languid despite its short running time (85 minutes), the overall result is still engaging nonetheless, and I think you should give it a chance someday.