This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 27th October 2013
I don’t want to be unkind to this film. There are too few gay love stories on screen, let alone lesbian stories, least of all elderly lesbian stories. Casting heavyweights Olympia Dukakis and Brenda Fricker in roles that go against type, writer-director Thom Fitzgerald is to be applauded for exploring relatively fresh cinematic territory in his tale of a couple, beleaguered by ignorant family members and the threat of a nursing home, who take off on a roadtrip to Canada to seal their love so that they can stay together.
Despite good intentions, however, it just doesn’t work. Stuck in distribution hell since 2011, Cloudburst may perhaps have proven a hard sell, but this shouldn’t be because of the subject matter. The superb indie film Weekend exemplified a sensitive and universally-affecting gay love story, while Julianne Moore and Annette Bening easily won over mainstream audiences in The Kids Are All Right.
But Cloudburst risks turning audiences off with its hyperbolic bad language (the prickly Stella delights in alienating people with her explicit talk and use of the C-word) and ridiculous antics, peppered with peculiar supporting characters, as Stella and Dottie head north with a shirtless, cowboy-hatted young dancer wedged between them in their truck. (The echoes of Thelma and Louise are all the more disappointing for this not being at all like Thelma and Louise.)
Dukakis certainly pulls out all the stops as you’ve never seen her before, channelling an (albeit crass) Topp Twin more than the Italian mama from Moonstruck. Similarly, Fricker takes a break from stern Irish matriarchs to make gentle, blind Dottie quite endearing, and the essence of their relationship, when not obstructed by bullying granddaughters, naked wife-beaters and Stella’s foul mouth, delivers rightly touching moments.
However, the narrative arc is as cloying as it is predictable, and much of the dialogue simply risible. The potentially beautiful topic handled differently, Cloudburst may have been charming. Unfortunately, each of this film’s niche target markets may want to steer clear.