It’s here. It’s queer. It’s musical. Kind of.
Questions were rightly asked when Andrea Riseborough, backed by the semi-mononymous celebrities Gwyneth and Demi, edged out Danielle Deadwyler’s tremendous performance in Till to take a spot on the Oscar shortlist for best actress. An equally valid question might be why on earth Riseborough wasn’t nominated for her snarling turn in Please Baby Please, Amanda Kramer’s unclassifiable, leather-clad, neon-bathed shakedown of gender, greasers and groaning. Consider us confounded.
Demi Moore in leopard print, rasping, “These are the slums, and I’m a slum starlet,” seems to have wandered in from John Waters’s enduring Pink Flamingos. Gorgeous gang leader Teddy (Karl Glusman) is The Wild One by way of Tom of Finland. The self-consciously shallow staging is pitched somewhere between Ed Wood and Rainer Werner Fassbinder. The script’s probing of men who dodge manliness, women who love butch women with lamb chops, and sexy, fishnetted violence is Kramer’s own.
From the get-go, newlyweds Suze (Riseborough) and Arthur (Melling) are struggling with his passivity (“I will not be terrorised into acting like a savage just because I was born male”) and his attraction to Teddy, the psychopathic head of local hoodlums the Young Gents. Suze responds with equal and opposite nonconformity, morphing slowly into a dangerous, unpredictable bad girl, liable to growl and start fights in bars. Various ne’er-do-wells exchange thoughts on gender and witticisms, as written by Kramer and Noel David Taylor.
It’s not for everyone. Please Baby Please often forgets that it’s a musical, and the action is increasingly chaotic. The sprawling ambition and wild fancy of the project can’t quite live up to splendid lines such as “Men get away with everything. But I’m not interested in getting away with anything.” The glowering aesthetics can feel oppressive.
Still, Demi is a marvel, Riseborough has never been better or scarier, and we wouldn’t have missed Cole Escola sobbing Since I Don’t Have You, through mascara, on the phone to an unseen rotter, for all the fetishwear in Cruising.
Please Baby Please is in selected cinemas and on the Mubi streaming service