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Film Review: ‘Becks’

Variety logo Variety 6/29/2017 Dennis Harvey

“Becks” is the kind of modest, non-earthshaking indie enterprise that ends up being so satisfying mostly because it’s about a character type familiar from real life but all too under-represented at the movies. In this case, that’s a woman — played with consummate lived-in assurance by Broadway veteran Lena Hall — whose primary personality traits would be considered banally typical if she were a slacker-type dude, yet they can still seem exotic and frightening to some when they come in the form of a young lesbian.

A not-yet-successful musician who parties too hard, horndogs too much and seeks gainful employment too little, Becks (née Rebecca) might be a staple in any gay scene. Still, she remains a stubborn outsider in the hometown she’s been forced back to in Elizabeth Rohrbaugh and Daniel Powell’s narrative feature debut. What happens during her stay there is not particularly surprising or original, but this rumpled dramedy has insinuating degrees of authenticity and charm. It also has very appealing songs made even more so by Hall’s singing, making this a quasi-musical with better music than other such fictional tributes to singer-songwriterdom of late, arguably including the John Carney oeuvre (“Once,” “Sing Street’).

Thirtyish Becks arrives in Los Angeles from New York City a day ahead of schedule, having driven cross-country with the gear and other possessions needed to launch herself and band frontwoman/girlfriend Lucy (Hayley Kiyoko) anew in this more intensive music-industry town. Alas, her early landing catches already-settled Lucy enjoying a presumably post-coital moment with some anonymous “L.A. set of tits.” Enraged by this display of short-attention-spanned disloyalty, Becks turns on her heel and keeps driving till she gets to her mom’s place in St. Louis. There, she can pine at length over that scorched coupledom, not to mention her new homelessness and gig-lessness.

Widowed Ann (Christine Lahti) is tolerant to a point, but it’s an awkward fit, as she is everything her daughter is not — most notably, a Christian teetotaler who has an ex-nun’s sense of self-discipline. When mom finally goads Becks off the couch, the latter wanders into old friend Dave’s (Dan Fogler) bar, where for lack of any better offers she begins to play acoustic solo sets for tips and free drinks.

This goes much better than expected, attracting an audience that soon includes Elyse (Mena Suvari), just the kind of frilly femme our raffishly butch heroine likes. It’s not long before the bored housewife and consignment-store owner is taking private guitar lessons from guess-who, their mutual attraction not at all quelled by the fact that Elyse happens to be married to Becks’ erstwhile high-school tormenter, Mitch (Darren Ritchie).

Such temptation is not a wise risk for Becks, whose good intentions invariably tend to get trumped by immaturity and/or inebriation. It’s also doomed to heighten conflict with her mother, stirring up unresolved issues involving her late, alcoholic father. But the director-scenarists (working with Rebecca Drysdale, a “Key and Peele” writer who also plays a support role) avoid melodrama, acknowledging the more painful emotions that arise but playing it all in the same water-under-the-bridge key of bemused resignation with which the title figure ultimately treats every life crisis.

Hall (who among numerous other stage credits won a 2014 Tony for “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” and has recorded with her own rock band) makes Becks a memorable figure. She’s someone you can easily imagine being the kind of long-term friend who frequently requires forgiveness, and as ex-friend to myriad less forgiving mutual ones. If the very good songs Hall sings with terrific style seem quite credibly written by her character, they more or less were — the movie is loosely inspired by incidents in the life of Alyssa Robbins, a singer-songwriter who collaborated with instrumental score composer Steve Salett on most of the original songs performed here.

Leading a strong supporting cast, Lahti makes the most of the chewiest role, but it’s Hall’s charisma that carries the day. She’s further buoyed by Powell and Rohrbaugh’s confident pace and assembly, which belies their primarily broadcast sketch-comedy and sitcom backgrounds (he’s worn various hats on “Inside Amy Schumer”) to strike the right leisurely tenor of serio-comic Amerindie observation.

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