Movie Review: 'The Mattachine Family'
Lovely, thoughtful, romantic and real, The Mattachine Family follows a gay couple at a crossroads relatable to anyone.
The Mattachine Family (2023)
Directed by Andy Valentine
Written by Andy Valentine, Danny Valentine
Starring Nico Tortorella, Juan Pablo Di Pace, Heather Matarazzo, Emily Hampshire
Release Date May 12th, 2023 (SIFF)
Published May 17th, 2023
Movies like The Mattachine Family are necessary correctives to the historic record of gay men on screen. This story of a man struggling with a desire to be a father and the strain of a relationship at a breaking point is an authentic and relatable human story regardless of whether the lead is gay or straight. One of the things that so often gets lost in the midst of trying to satisfy people's expectations of stories of gay or straight people, are the basic humanity at heart. The Mattachine Family may be about a gay man but it is mainly about a human being with relatable human problems.
The Mattachine Family stars Nico Tortorella as Thomas, half of a couple in the midst of a wrenching experience. Thomas and his husband, Oscar (Juan Pablo Di Pace), have lost their son. The child hasn't died but the agony is similar. Thomas and Oscar were acting as foster parents when the boy's mother came back into the picture. The details are hazy but she's capable of being a mother, and a good one, and thus she has successfully petitioned to get her son back. She's grateful to Thomas and Oscar for taking care of her son when she could not but she intends to raise him away from where they are.
As we will learn through the story of The Mattachine Family, the idea of being a father was completely foreign to Thomas before he met and fell in love with Oscar. It's easy to forget that gay marriage and adoption are so new that millennials like Thomas are still taking in the idea that they can be married and be parents. Specific to Thomas however was simply that he never considered parenthood until it happened. Now that it has ended suddenly, Thomas finds that he can't just go back to who he was before.
Oscar, on the other hand, is traumatized but not willing to talk about it. He can't bring himself to be there when his son was returned to his mother, nor is he willing to discuss trying to be a parent again. Oscar is coping by focusing on work. Being a former child television star who lost his career when he came out as gay at a very young age, Oscar now finds himself with a chance to get back in the spotlight. The only complication is that the job is filming somewhere in Michigan, far from his and Thomas's home in Los Angeles.
The escape may be what Oscar needs but not what Thomas needs. Thomas has a circle of friends who provide a support system he really needs, especially now. He loves his husband and is willing to sacrifice for their marriage, but when Oscar completely shuts down the idea of trying to be parents again, it may be the breaking point of their relationship. Most of The Mattachine Family will turn its plot on this conflict and it proves to be a very compelling conflict.
The Mattachine Family is a warm, inviting and charming film. It's an achingly human story that deals with serious relationship issues with a maturity and care I really appreciated. It's also a film populated by terrific characters. Thomas is surrounded by wonderful friends played by Emily Hampshire, Garrett Clayton, and Cloie Wyatt Taylor, who form the kind of found family that we should all hope to have. Found family, for me, is as important as blood relations, if not more, and The Mattachine Family captures that beautifully. Found family in the LGBTQ+ community can often prove to be even more important as so many come from bigoted or merely unsupportive homes.
The makers of The Mattachine Family are acutely aware of details like that while the film doesn't linger on making important points, the implications are clear and given depth by scenes depicting these friends being together and caring for each other. Another strong detail comes in the film's voiceover where we get lovely insights into Thomas's worldview. I normally have a low opinion of voiceover, outside of very specific genre conventions, but the makers of The Mattachine Family make it feel right for this story.
Thomas tells us a lot of important things in his inner monologue and its mostly character details rather than simply a device to move the plot forward. It does function as a plot mover but not egregiously. No, rather, the voiceover is smartly employed to remind those of us who don't share Thomas's background just how much things have changed for gay men in Thomas' merely 30 plus year existence. We certainly have not come to a place of equity for the gay community but Thomas' voiceover reminds us just how many possibilities have opened to men his age, legally speaking, in just the past two decades. The voiceover gives weight to the movie in ways I was not expecting.
Thinking about the heady and rapid changes that we are in the midst of and need to push further for, gives this movie an undercurrent of unexpected relevance beyond the drama at play in Thomas's romantic and family life. In many ways, a movie like The Mattachine Family is a story familiar to us all as it has been told about straight couples for years. But there is more to the appeal of The Mattachine Family than familiarity upgraded by the switch to LGBTQ+ characters. There is a strong, thoughtful heart and humor to this movie that transcends expectations in needed fashion.
The Mattachine Family is the kind of movie that can change hearts and minds. It places gay men in a context that straight audiences take for granted. Beyond that, it's a warm-hearted, sweet and aching story about lovely, good hearted people enduring the kind of domestic struggles that plague us all, regardless of our background. The Mattachine Family doesn't set out to be important or groundbreaking, the film never stops to ponder its own important subjects, that's what I brought to it. As someone who is used to having stories told about characters with my background, straight-white-male, I am gratified to watch a movie tell a story about life from a new perspective.
Mainstream movies about gay characters tend to spend a lot of time focused on the character being gay and rarely on life well after coming out. The real, relatable, normal everyday, sometimes dramatic, sometimes comic travails of a character who happens to be gay. One day telling such stories about gay characters won't be so notable. One day we might reach a point where we mention that a character is gay only in a passing remark. We're not there yet but movies like The Mattachine Family are a lovely landmark to where we are headed and what we hope to one day normalize.
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About the Creator
Hello, my name is Sean Patrick He/Him, and I am a film critic and podcast host for Everyone's a Critic Movie Review Podcast. I am a voting member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, the group behind the annual Critics Choice Awards.
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