Please Baby Please | QFest St. Louis 2023

I thought Gregg Araki’s The Doom Generation would be the strangest film to screen at this year’s QFest—and then I saw Amanda Kramer’s Please Baby Please, which closes out the festival. From the opening minutes, featuring a prancing, dancing, greaser gang clad in black leather, Kramer plays with your expectations while throwing in enough movie references to spawn a trivia game and filling the screen with stylish and stylized images. This is a film that’s queer in every sense of the word, and it’s one wild ride indeed.

The gang in question is called the Young Gents and they immediately demonstrate that they aren’t your grandfather’s musical gangsters by beating a nameless couple to death in an orgy of violence. Another couple, Suze (Andrea Riseborough) and Arthur (Harry Melling) witness the assault and are understandably alarmed but the gang simply tells them to go home. The price of being released, however, is that they have to give up their address to the hoods, and you can be sure that they will put that information to use.

Even as they fear for their lives, both Suze and Arthur have a moment with the gang, in particularly with Teddy (Karl Glusman)—there’s something about these bad boys/girls/nonbinary individuals (yes, this gang is both multi-gender and multi-racial, even though the story is taking place in the 1950s) that stirs something in each of them. They’re already bohemians, of the go barefoot and sit on the floor variety, and are really into each other and their mutual rejection of societal norms. They think they’re sincere, but they’re constantly performing, which fits the style of a movie in which nothing is naturalistic but everything is meaningful.

Maureen (Demi Moore), who sports black gloves, gold spike heels, and a leopard-skin coat, lives upstairs in a very blue apartment: the dominant shade resembles International Klein Blue, and even her paper shopping bags match, underscoring that this is not the real world and that nothing you see on the screen is accidental. Maureen is made up like 1930s screen diva, and when Suze asks if she is famous, she answers, in one of the film’s archest lines, in a very arch film: “I ought to be famous. But I’m just married.” It turns out she’s also into vibrators and sex talk and S & M.

Arthur, meanwhile, is hanging out in a very blue bar, watching the gang interact with each other in suggestive ways. Much exploration of sex and gender roles and gender presentation lies ahead, as does a series of send-ups of beatnik culture (fashion, hairstyles, music, poetry, you name it). All the cast is good, but Riseborough is clearly the star of this film, demonstrating all kinds of theatrical talents that I would never have expected from the actress I first noticed when she was playing Billie Jean King’s hairdresser. In a film in which just about everyone is out there, she manages to be more out there than anyone else. Melling has to wait longer for his big moment, but let’s just say that absolutely nothing in his performance will remind you that he used to play Dudley Dursley.

Please Baby Please works because everyone involved with it is completely committed to what it is, even when they’re required to, for instance, recite ridiculous “verse” or sing dreadfully off key. Special kudos are due to cinematographer Patrick Meade Jones, production designer Bette Adams, costume designer Ashley Heathcock and the whole hair, makeup, and art direction crew, because the way this film looks is absolutely crucial to its success. | Sarah Boslaugh

Please Baby Please will screen at the Hi-Pointe Theatre on May 10 at 7 pm as part of QFest St. Louis 2023. Single film tickets are $15 for general admission, $12 for Cinema St. Louis members and students with valid current photo IDs. Further information is available from the festival web site.

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