Filmed in black-and-white 16mm film, 1985 is an incredibly moving film from writer-director Yen Tan.
After his boyfriend dies of AIDS, Adrian (Cory Michael Smith) leaves New York for his hometown in Texas during the holidays to visit with his family. He’s in the closet, which isn’t a surprise given the 1980s setting. At the time when the AIDS crisis was growing, anyone would be scared to come out to their family! By visiting with his family, he’s able to reconnect with his younger brother, Andrew (Aidan Langford), as well as an old childhood friend, Carly (Jamie Chung).
Adrian’s biggest problem is how to tell his religious parents, Eileen and Dale (Virginia Madsen and Michael Chiklis), why he’s back home in Texas. When you come from a religious family, coming out more or less likely ends up with you getting disowned by your parents. It doesn’t help Adrian that being gay during the AIDS crisis increases the burden on him.
The narrative is something that’s all too familiar, even for 2018. Bigotry is alive and well, unfortunately. People shouldn’t feel forced to hide who they are because of their families or even religion. There are religious organizations that cater to the LGBTQ community. I know because I’m religious and a transgender woman but that’s beside the point.
Coming out is terrifying so I can fully empathize with Adrian on that part. Smith delivers such an incredibly strong performance in the film. When Adrian sits down for a chat with his father, the score helps bring home the emotional tone of the conversation. As emotional as the moment may be, it’s also hurtful when Dale makes it perfectly clear that Eileen can never know. As for Andrew, Adrian leaves this to Carly to handle. Nobody should be placed with this burden on their shoulder but this is what goes for the era.
I can’t compare the feature film to the short film that Tan adapted. I can say from watching short films that some can pack a lot of punch into a few minutes while others leave you wanting more. Films like 1985 are such a minority but these are voices that need to be heard. It helps in knowing that Tan and actor Cory Michael Smith are members of the LGBTQ community. This doesn’t just only add to the storytelling at hand but informs the decisions being made. Having your own coming out experience can give you something to draw from, for example!
Make no mistake about it, this is a very personal film. Moreover, Tan gets some incredible performances from Smith, Madsen, and Chung in the process. Smith, especially! It’s such a strong performance on his part.
Making the decision to film in black and white is a really bold choice. Making the decision to shoot on film only helps inform this decision. In doing so, 1985 doesn’t just give off the vibe of being a period film but doesn’t require any added effort to do so.
Led by a standout performance form Cory Michael Smith, 1985 is a a character-driven film that reflects upon AIDS crisis in the mid-1980s.
DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER: Yen Tan
CAST: Cory Michael Smith, Virginia Madsen, Michael Chiklis, Jamie Chung, Aidan Langford, Ryan Piers Williams
An official selection of the Frameline42: San Francisco International LGBTQ Film Festival, 1985 screens in the Showcase program. The world premiere was during the 2018 SXSW Film Festival.