The problems with Close to you are not immediately recognizable. It’s a quiet film about Sam (Elliot Page), a trans man living in Toronto. He is trying to decide whether or not to return home for his father’s birthday party. Sam comes from a family whose discomfort with his transition sometimes manifests itself in an aggressive insistence on their progressive values. He wonders if he can bear her performance.
Screenplay and direction: Dominic Savage, Close to you focuses on the drama of Sam’s homecoming. Returning to his small town near Lake Ontario forces him to confront long-buried feelings about his family and an old friend (Hillary Baack). The film aims to capture the stages of this emotional exhumation, but a clunky script makes the film feel less moving.
Close to you
A confident side saves a half-baked drama.
The film’s visual grammar relies on intimate close-ups that attempt to capture the imperceptible awkwardness of the collision of past and present. On the train to his hometown, Sam discovers Katherine (Baack), who was once his closest friend. Working with DP Catherine Lutes, Savage approaches this reunion with a loving eye. Sam and Katherine look into each other’s eyes and exchange faint smiles that bring back versions of themselves they once knew. The two friends met in high school, where they found each other’s security and reassurance, and these early scenes have a childlike playfulness.
The setup leads to a conversation of the vaguest kind. Sam and Katherine communicate primarily through burdened glances and regretful glances that illustrate the depth of the couple’s intimacy. But Savage’s skeletal dialogue robs the scenes that follow of their power. Actually the weakest thread of Close to you is Sam’s relationship with Katherine. The duo talk a lot about what’s at stake in their reunion, and Savage exploits some weak sexual tension whether they like it or not. But even its strongest moments lack convincing vitality.
The most energetic scenes are between Sam and his family members, where the script is anchored in a precise tension rather than a murky sense of longing. When the youngest sibling arrives at the house for his father’s birthday party, there is a tense politeness and concern in the room. “I’m just a disappointment to her,” Sam said to a friend early in the film. The weight of that fear hangs in the air as Sam greets his parents (Wendy Crewson and Peter Outerbridge) and siblings Kate (Janet Porter), Megan (Alex Paxton-Beesley) and Michael (Daniel Maslany). They show genuine enthusiasm when Sam walks through their door, but their later interactions are based on accusations. “Are you happy?” They all inquire at different times. When Sam says “yes,” you get the feeling that they can hardly believe it.
Savage portrays the pain of these moments well, but it’s Page’s performance that makes them compelling. He plays Sam as a person whose homecoming shatters a carefully constructed self-confidence. When he enters the house, he rounds his shoulders slightly and holds his hand close to his body. The playful smile from her interaction with Katherine on the train is gone.
Sam’s interactions with his family are a minefield of projection and misplaced responsibility. When his mother uses the wrong pronouns, her dramatic self-flagellation changes the situation, leaving Sam to comfort her. Later, when Paul (David Reale), his sister’s husband, accuses Sam of ruining the friendly atmosphere, the family’s attempts at interference again make Sam responsible. The tension of these interactions can be heard in Sam’s voice, which grows louder with his anger. When, at the end of his breaking point, he finally screams: “You weren’t worried about me when I wasn’t actually feeling well!” Years of pain come to the surface.
Even though this dialogue borders on cliché, it is still marked by specificity and driven by passion that is missing in other parts of the film. The family scenes also hint at truths that Sam and perhaps Page are processing. The role of the actor in Close to you is his first starring role in a film since coming out as trans in 2020, and the best parts of the film reflect his memoir Pages in their honesty. If Page’s book reflects on the path to self-acceptance, then Close to you points to a future in which remaining free means continually insisting on one’s own happiness.
Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (Special Presentations)
Production companies: Me + You Productions, Good Question Media, Page Boy Productions
Cast: Elliot Page, Hillary Baack, Janet Porter, Alex Paxton-Beesley, Daniel Maslany, Sook-Yin Lee, Andrew Bushell, David Reale, Peter Outerbridge, Wendy Crewson
Director: Dominic Savage
Screenplay: Dominic Savage, Elliot Page (story by)
Producers: Krishnendu Majumdar, Richard Yee, Daniel Bekerman, Chris Yurkovich, Dominic Savage, Elliot Page
Executive Producers: Anita Gou, Sam Intili, Nia Vazirani, Francine Maisler, Matt Jordan Smith, Andrew Frank
Camera: Catherine Lutes
Production designer: Joseph Kabbach
Costume Designer: Cameron Lee
Editor: David Charap
Composer: Dominic Savage, Oliver Coates
1 hour 40 minutes