Henry Gamble's Birthday Party | Chicago Reader

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87 minutes · 2015

Drama
In a 2011 interview with Reader writer Ben Sachs, writer-director Stephen Cone praised "those French filmmakers who took off in the 1980s—André Téchiné, Claire Denis, Olivier Assayas, and Patrice Chéreau," saying, "I always want my movies to be as alive as theirs are." Cone's sixth feature-length film is the closest he's come to channeling those directors' graceful, expressive approach to filmmaking. The title character is the repressed homosexual teenage son of a fundamentalist Christian minister, and the whole film takes place during the title event at the family's suburban McMansion. As J.R. Jones wrote about Cone's 2011 film The Wise Kids, the dominant motif here is the ways in which the characters "try to reconcile their spiritual ideals with their physical longing." Yet the acting is so naturalistic and the various subplots are so well balanced that the confused piety of the characters gradually begins to feel like anyone else's everyday problems. Such nuanced filmmaking demonstrates a lack of condescension or sanctimony that's rare in contemporary cinema's treatment of Christianity. Plus, Duran Duran is prominently featured in the film, which is always a good sign.

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