SIFF 2022 Review: You Can’t Judge a Book By Its Cover in the Provocative “I’ll Show You Mine”

There is a difference in opinion from the very start of “I’ll Show You Mine” when Nick (Casey Thomas Brown) shows up at the house of his aunt Priya (Poorna Jagannathan) in pajamas, wanting to be comfortable for the “whole weekend” they’re about to spend together, though for Priya, the clock is ticking the second he walks in the door, under deadline to get his life story on the record before Monday. It’s for the best not to spend too much time pondering what’s brought them together — a memoir of his past as a gender-defying model of some renown who never seems like he’d have the following to get a publishing deal — but it’s a shrewd means to an end for all the things co-writers Tiffany Louquet, Elizabeth Searle and David Shields and director Megan Griffiths get you to think about in the provocative drama in which sex and all it entails emotionally, psychologically and physically is explored in revealing candor and with impressive consideration.

Although its setting is kept vague and never strays outside of Priya’s home, it doesn’t surprise that “I’ll Show You Mine” has roots in the Pacific Northwest where Dan Savage’s uninhibited sex-positive musings have been a longtime staple in The Stranger and one can imagine Priya as someone who reads his column for fun, making dime store diagnoses about the people who write in, while Nick has been the one occasionally appearing in print under a pseudonym with questions about his sexual exploits over the years. Neither can hide under anonymity here, though the familiarity they have with one another as in-laws — her husband is his father’s brother — who only occasionally have crossed paths at weddings or other gatherings acts as the kind of knowledge that gives each of them less of an idea of one another rather than more. Nick is more guarded than his explicit comics and past public bravado would suggest and even before loosening the collar from the top of her blouse to let off some steam as the long first evening wears on, Priya is less buttoned down than he probably thinks.

All involved have a lot of fun with this dynamic, as well as who’s in control of the conversation when Priya may have some power as the author assigned to ask questions of her subject, but Nick makes clear throughout he’s got final say over what makes it into the book, preemptively guiding the conversation away from certain aspects of his life, curiously including his partner Kristen. However, the tension is never in whether or not Priya will get what she needs to start writing, but how big a gulf there is in their attitudes towards sexuality and gender roles only a generation apart when both would consider themselves progressive and that their frank conversations about sexual activities are usually meant to obscure from where it’s derived since that’s where the real exposure lies. From Priya thinking early on she’s got a sure-fire icebreaker in describing how she lost her virginity that surely will lead to Nick opening up, there’s almost always an ulterior motive when the two talk about sex, amusingly still being employed as a means of getting what they want, even if no clothes are ever shed.

When real intimacy starts with trust, the lack of it between Nick and Priya is cleverly reflected in how bold they’re willing to be in responding to each other, but from the start that’s clearly never an issue for Jagannathan and Brown, fearlessly moving through the often deeply uncomfortable places the story demands. Griffiths, who can be counted on to bring a subtlety to the most difficult of subjects, whether it was the abduction drama “Eden” or “Sadie,” about a young woman yearning for her father in the military who fights abroad, wisely gets out of the way of her actors with unfussy compositions, though smartly works around the need to occasionally convey the sexual acts in question (and adhere to likely COVID protocols) tastefully with cheeky animated interludes that are conscious of the film’s delicate tone. “I’ll Show You Mine” may be all talk, but well aware that the mind is an erogenous zone, it proves most stimulating.

“I’ll Show You Mine” will screen again at the Seattle Film Festival on April 20th at 4:15 pm at Pacific Place.

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