Nora Highland **
Starring: Marin Ireland, Michael Hsu Rosen, Carlease Burke, Mallory Portnoy, Henry Jenkinson, Eric Patrick Harper
Director: Ryan Spahn
The debate over whether heterosexual cis actors should play LGBT+ roles has been raging for years now. When presented with the evidence – a list of all the actors and actresses nominated for Oscars for playing LGBT+ characters – the proof is fairly damning. Of the dozens the Academy has acknowledged, only Sir Ian McKellen was a gay man playing a gay part, versus the dozens of straight cis performers whose careers have improved inexorably from “playing gay”.
And so Nora Highland begins, stating its mission from the outset, to illustrate this point through a dramatisation of the casting process of a play of the same name, told via Zoom during the pandemic. Over a series of recorded calls, we see a casting agents (Marin, Portnoy) rejecting gay actors (Rosen, Harper) for playing a gay character because the director finds it unconvincing to see a gay man play a closeted character. Meanwhile, Angus, the straight actor eventually cast in the role is more than happy to revel in the label “ally” from a LGBT+ Awards show (hosted by Carlease Burke) for making a Queer film, but in reality, he is an opportunist thirst for prestige.
Zoom-call movies had their moment in 2020. Two years later, as the world is trying desperately to move on from our never-ending Covid-hangover, a movie that harks back to that period is actually quite difficult to watch. It was a novel format then; it’s not so much now. Subsequently, the long duologues could really have done with an editor, rather than subjecting us to such long and rambling conversations that hammer home the same point over and over again.
The film’s most interesting sequence is its last, with Angus accidentally exposing his contrived woke-baiting with farce-like tech ignorance. But this is the final scene. And though the film is adapted from a play, it would really have benefited from aspiring a little higher cinematically. Just look at what Bo Burnham was able to do with a camera and some editing software in his flat during quarantine!
A low-budget film with an admirable message, Nora Highland preaches to the choir like a church still conducting online services long beyond lockdown.
UK Release: 20th May 2022 on VOD on RevryTV