Review: Stephen Dunn’s Closet Monster Is A Must See

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Oscar Madly hovers on the brink of adulthood – destabilized by his dysfunctional parents, unsure of his sexuality, and haunted by horrific images of a tragic gay bashing he witnessed as a child. A talking hamster, imagination and the prospect of love help him confront his surreal demons and discover himself.

Stephen Dunn’s Closet Monster isn’t your typical coming of age film and that is a good thing. The story follows Oscar Madly (Played by Connor Jessup) and his spirit animal hamster, Buffy. Buffy acts as Oscars inner monologue and coping mechanism to deal with life. Oh and by the way, that hamster is voiced by Isabella Rossellini! Oscar has a vivid imagination which he channels into makeup, hoping to attend a school in New York.

As Oscar tries to figure himself out, he finds himself falling for a co-worker, and it scares him. Wilder, played by Aliocha Schneider, meets Oscar at work and things get heated for Oscar. It is clear that Oscar has feelings towards Wilder, as Buffy suggested when he returned home with something special in his eye. However, Oscar cannot let go of what he saw as a kid, having witnessed a hate crime.

4035017-00351137_a-e1448987151508Stephen Dunn’s writing in this film led to some incredibly surreal and deep moments that other films never seem to get past the top layer on. The use of the talking hamster and the physical manifestation of Oscars expression of pain and confused feelings leave you squirming at times. But the suffering of our lead isn’t the only thing about the writing to love. The locations picked for many of the scenes also play a hugely important role in the evolving and eventual melt down of Oscar’s psyche.

The characters of Wilder and Oscar are polar opposites of each other. Oscar is on the verge of falling apart as he tries to find his sexuality, while moving on from a broken family life and the tragic hate crime he witnessed as a child. Wilder seems to have himself together while living life carefree. However, as different as they both are, in the end they both are dealing with understanding their place in the world and their sexuality.

Long time readers of this site know, we are huge fans of Connor Jessup, who appeared in Falling Skies up until 2015 when the show ended. Since then, Jessup has continued to show off his skills both in front of and behind the camera. Jessup’s ability to display the complex and quickly changing emotional state of Oscar was done with a level of acting maturity that you don’t typically see in a 21-year-old.

5063121-00441405_v2-e1448987174211Jessup makes Oscar relatable to almost any viewer. Not just as a gay character, but as a teenager. As a young adult confused about life and their place in it. As a student trying to balance moving out and moving away. As a kid who just wants to be with someone and not always alone. As a boy whose first kiss is anything about magical and straight forward. That scene, in which Dunn portrays Oscar’s first kiss, We are not given a “love at first sight, everything is magical” view. We are given an honest, powerful look at just how complex and confusing such a moment can be.

One of the phrases that stuck out to me was from Oscar’s mother (played by Joanne Kelly), where she said “My point is, you’ve never had it easy. And maybe you never will. If you are forced to walk through shit, you might as well grow a thick skin.” I loved that moment for Kelly’s character. It stuck with me because sometimes we just have to deal with the fact that we may never have it easy. But rather than getting down about it and not handling it, we can grow a thicker skin and get through it. Aaron Abrams and Joanne Kelly do a great job as Oscar’s dysfunctional parents who in the end use Oscar to further their agendas.

When the film comes to a close, Buffy’s final reveal leaves all of us just sitting back and going “I finally get it”. We all go through life on autopilot but we have to wake up and see whats right in front of us. If there was ever a film we would recommend you go see this fall, Closet Monster is our vote. If for no other reason then to see the massive progression that Connor Jessup has taken from Falling Skies to American Crime and Closet Monster.  And to see what happens to a story when great directing and writing take place in the hands of Stephen Dunn.

Closet Monster is not your typical coming of age film but its the only one you should see this year. The awards its won so far back us up on this with over 11 wins including Best Emerging Talent (Connor Jessup) and Best Canadian Feature Film – Toronto International Film Festival. You can catch Closet Monster in the US Tallahassee, FL on 10/14 at the Tallahassee Film Society or this weekend in NYC at the IFC Center.

Be sure and check out their Facebook page for all the latest screenings in the US, two of which start in LA and NY over the next 30 days.

Robert Prentice