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  • Writer's pictureBen Turner

Cicada ***

Starring: Matthew Fifer, Sheldon D. Brown, Cobie Smulders

Directors: Matthew Fifer, Kieran Mulcare

Country: USA

Ben (Fifer) swings from hook-up to hook-up, meeting men at every juncture of his busy life in New York. Undiscerning in his sexual proclivity, he is desperately trying to bury a past trauma that he has kept hidden since his teens. He starts to change his ways when he meets Sam (Brown) in a bookstore and they begin to date. With the help of a free-spirited therapist (Smulders – How I Met Your Mother), he embarks on a journey of fraught self-reflection as it becomes clear to him that he’s not going to be able to live an authentic and loving life with this perfect man if he remains unable to process what happened in his past.

Written and directed by its star, this film is reminiscent of the arrival of Xavier Dolan, except without the narrative intelligence of the Canadian wunderkind. Where the latter confidently bestrides the camera to tell and depict striking character portraits with memorable plots, Fifer’s debut has far more emphasis on its characters than any solid storytelling. And with the actor-director spending much of the screen-time either nude or shirtless on screen, you can’t help but get a whiff of millennial narcissism that makes a film about mental health feel shallow when he’s trying to distract us with his six-pack.

Ben is an interesting character, for sure, with his suffering exhibited through toxic sexual behaviour. The complexity of his sex addiction does feel conveniently “cured” by the arrival of Ben, but the romance that blossoms is a far-cry from the spiral of noxious conduct of before. Much of the film’s runtime is populated by long scenes in which the couple learn about each other on dates and in bed together. Like Weekend or Room In Rome, we are clearly intended to fall in love with them as they fall in love with each other, but there is something nauseating about the self-therapy of their conversations that leaves us feeling somewhat cold. There is chemistry between its leads, for sure, but the script in unremarkable and bland.

Despite all the naval-gazing, this a well-composed film, with striking cinematography and even pacing. This is clearly the arrival of a capable director – and even star – but it’s just not the arrival of a strong screen-writer. With the reason for its title only becoming clear in the movie’s final shot, it’s clear that Fifer is going to for subtlety, but that doesn’t mean we should languish with inactivity syndrome along the way.

UK Release: 21st January 2022 in cinemas and VOD, released by Peccadillo Pictures.


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