“It was the best day of my life.”
When Dotty’s well-intentioned, but misinformed granddaughter tricks her into a nursing home, it’s up to her longtime lesbian partner to break her out. As the two flee the country on a bid to get married in Nova Scotia, they cross paths with a young hitchhiker with troubles of his own.
This film had been on my radar for a good 6 months before I bit the bullet and added it to my queue.
I’m going to be brutally honest. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to watch an end of life film about two lesbians who travel to Nova Scotia hoping to be married. For me, it seemed to cut a little too close to the bone. I wasn’t sure I could be sold on the fact that Cloudburst was actually a comedy…
With marriage equality legally embraced in my homestate of Washington, and following a handful of other successes across the country, the emotions stirred up by the central themes of the film are polarizing, charged, and palpable. Why should two people – clearly committed and in love – be denied their right to be together until the very end? The idea that anyone could step in and separate me from my girlfriend of 18+ years had me in an intolerable state. I mean, I was upset already and I hadn’t even opened the red Netflix envelope to retrieve the DVD. How on Earth was I going to make it through this film?
Well, I’m happy to report Cloudburst is among the funniest LGBT films I’ve ever seen and while I did shed a few tears, they were mostly of the laughing-too-hard-to-contain-the-emotion variety.
Olympia Dukakis stars as a foul-mouth, eternally randy, drunken old school butch named Stella. When she’s not high on prescription pain medications or drunk on Tequila, she’s watching “extended love scenes” that her blind lover, Dotty, can’t tell are actually lesbian porno films.
Stella is as fully realized a character as you’re apt to find in any film in the genre, but Dukakis’ performance elevates her to a realm of the infamous. She’s larger than life and completely unashamed. She embraces who she is – even in the small coastal Maine community where Stella and Dotty make their home – and faces the world, unafraid of judgment and equally as prepared to dish out whatever she receives. The character is an invitation for future generations of aging lesbians to continue being who they are, to remain visible and verbal, and to never, ever give up the good fight.
Think of it as a call to action. You don’t need to go quietly. You need to be true to yourselves and each other. You need to keep being you, until the bitter end. And to anyone who would stand in your way, or try to diminish who you are or how you live – SCREW ‘EM! Okay, so I’m paraphrasing here, but you get the idea…
When Dotty’s granddaughter tricks her into signing “indemnity” paperwork, I was screaming at the screen, “Don’t do it Dot! Wait for Stella to read it to you!” This solitary act really sets the tone for the entire film. It’s not until Stella and Dot, and their decades-long relationship, are threatened that you realize who the characters are, what drives them, and what they’ll do to stay together.
After all, it’s not until Stella gets good and drunk that she has the nerve to bust Dotty out – and that’s when the film’s shenanigans really begin. So, this one moment in the film really is the catalyst for everything to follow. It’s utterly constructive that it pisses you off…
Thom Fitzgerald, who’s adapted the film from his stageplay, successfully handles the transition from stage to screen. As a result, for a film, there is naturally a lack of visual movement. As a translation, it works because the women would have to spend a disproportionate amount of time in Stella’s little red Ford Ranger traveling from Maine to Nova Scotia.
Brenda Fricker, who stars as the near-blind Dotty, reminds me of any one of a number of my older relatives. She’s set in her ways, has her comforts, and seems to spend her life going along to get along. Her anchor in life is Stella, but she makes it clear that – even after their extended relationship – she’s not sure she’s ready to settle down. The character is quietly tenacious in a way I relate to. In a scene with Dukakis on the morning they are to be legally wed, I found reflected onscreen what I’ve been unable to express since Washington state legalized marriage.
Dotty explains her disdain for marriage in the wake of her (heterosexual) divorce and the subsequent life she had built with Stella. That, because she could not have it with Stella, she had convinced herself she did not want to be married. Who needs it? It was only when Stella had proposed, only when it was a possibility, that the idea and concept of marriage was something Dotty found herself wanting.
Gripping stuff, but will the subject matter translate to and find a willing ear among straight audiences?
I think so.
The humor is undeniable. If there is one truth in cinema (or in diplomacy) it’s this: get your audience laughing and, emotionally, they begin to open up. The wall softens. You have to remove the threat and the fear of the unknown. Cloudburst, full of genuinely funny and endearing moments, is masterfully acted and thoughtfully framed.
Dukakis is absolutely, unequivocally not to be missed.
Olympia Dukakis on Marriage Equality:
Thom Fitzgerald & Olympia Dukakis w/ Queeries Mag: