Fortunately, one doesn’t have to wonder what might’ve happened if Lena Hall and “Becks” directors Daniel Powell and Elizabeth Rohrbach hadn’t found each other, but it’s hard to imagine a more perfect union of a star, a story and filmmaking sensibilities than what happens in this tale of a singer/songwriter returns home to the Missouri after her professional and personal life, all wrapped up in the same relationship, collapse. Then again, these are all people who know a thing or two about harmony, particularly Hall, an truly effervescent chanteuse long known to New York theater fans for, among other things, her Tony-winning turn in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.”
It’s saying something that none of the electricity one feels from seeing Hall live on stage has been diminished in her transition to the screen, inhabiting the titular character as naturally as she straps on a guitar. Ably handling both sides of the equation as the cocky yet clearly vulnerable Becks, Hall doesn’t ever let one pity her as she’s left reeling from a painful breakup with her girlfriend who has gone on to Los Angeles to escape playing dive bars to chase fame. Slightly humbled but ever defiant, Becks returns to live with her mother (Christine Lahti) and hang out with her best friend from high school (Dan Fogler), who offers up his bar as a place for her to play on weekends.
Although returning to one’s roots for creative rejuvenation is hardly new territory for either those on screen or an audience, there isn’t a moment in “Becks” that doesn’t feel fresh, enriched by the little details that Powell and Rohrbach build into the film. Original songs from Alyssa Robbins and Steve Salett and lively, colorful cinematography from Kat Westergaard are reflective of the simmering passion that lies just beneath Becks’ desire to lie low for a while, but in addition to Hall’s nuanced performance, Powell and Rohrbach subtly show her personal growth – and the stagnation in those around her that she recognized once before. Without ever overstating it, the film brilliantly shows the uneasy acceptance of the gay community in the conservative Midwest, and the resentment that still lingers among some, as Becks attends BBQs where she’s expected to bond with the only other lesbian in town and her mother, once training to become a nun, attaches. an extra bit of anger to arguments over unrelated matters out of her deep religious conviction. (Lahti makes this look effortless when scores before her have showed that it’s not.)
This tension underscores the film’s main narrative thrust, a burgeoning relationship between Becks and Elyse (Mena Suvari, clearly enjoying her best role to date), the owner of a vintage clothing shop who catches one of Becks’ performances and signs up for guitar lessons. Feeling equally stuck in the small town, the two bond over more than just the music, but what chemistry they have is a combination of ingredients that are easily combustible and the film runs with that energy, which extends to Becks’ caustic wit, thanks to Powell, Rohrbach and co-writer Rebecca Drysdale’s sharp ear for dialogue. This light dash of danger keeps “Becks” from ever becoming too sweet as things start going its heroine’s way, though the film has a big, beating heart to go along with the beautiful rhythms that begin to reveal themselves to Becks in both her art and in life and seeing all of it come together makes Powell and Rohrbach’s feature debut wonderful to behold.
“Becks” does not yet have U.S. distribution. It will play in Los Angeles at Outfest at 7 pm at the DGA on July 9th.
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