Written, co-directed and produced by the film’s star Mark Blane, Cubby is a film shot on 16mm Kodak that comes in at just under 90 minutes that highlights homosexuality, anxiety, drug and kink exploration, and the natural inner childishness of your mid-20s. Showcased by the CINECITY Film Festival at the Old Market Theatre, the film had a very warm and personal atmosphere surrounding it with the comfortable venue hosting as well as an introductory video from Blane shot in selfie mode in which he apologises for not being present for the screening and wishing us an enjoyable viewing experience. So, already the film felt like a familiar experience to the viewer, no doubt a goal of Blane’s who paints Cubby and Mark in a similar light.
Cubby is the humorous tale of 26-year-old Mark Nabel, played by Blane, who makes a life-changing move to New York from his small Mid-Western town to start completely anew. He partakes in a journey of self-discovery starting with his newly found job of babysitter of adorable 6-year-old Milo (played by newcomer Joseph Seuffert in a standout performance). It goes on to touch upon the protagonist’s exploration of his homosexuality through his erotic art, his imaginary BDSM master/friend Leatherman (Christian Patrick) and his romantic interest in gardening, literaturist dreamboat Russell (Rodney Richardson).
The film succeeds in presenting a humorous take on a New York coming-of-age tale with a fair few moments garnering large laughs from the audience, highlights being the generally uncomfortable banter between Mark and his roomates, and a scene in which Mark calls out a playground bully for being a “child of the corn”.
Cubby also excels aesthetically, with the choice of 16mm film grain creating a nostalgic vibe that perfectly suits the la vie bohème visuals of New York. Blane and co-director Ben Markoff choice to include animated sketches highlight with effect Mark’s subconscious thoughts throughout his drug-induced moments and key emotional snapshots of his life. The combination of animation and 16mm film is truly a highlight of the film, as it helps progress the emotional core of the film in many ways that the narrative fails to.
The film flounders slightly when it comes to tackling plot. The directors choose to focus not just on Mark as a character, but also on his many complex relationships including his overbearingly caring mother (played warmly by Patricia Richardson), and his budding romance with Russell. These characters are worked in along with Mark’s babysitting job with the young boy Milo, the animosity of Milo’s mother towards Mark, and his poor relationship with his landlord and flatmates. Mark’s sexually fuelled imaginary relationship with his fantasy ‘Leatherman’ is partially explored, as well as his, largely glossed over, struggles with mental health and medication. It becomes over complicated by these plot points, and a focus on the character’s progression of self-understanding for example, might have benefited the movie more. Similarly, the romance subplot is wrapped up neatly with an somewhat unearned forgiveness and a quick conclusive ‘three months later’ title card. All of these factors removed a possibility for the audience to feel a conclusive emotional character development, as there were so many narratives to cover within the 83 minutes.
Mark, the character, isn’t always the most relatable either. Cinema generally benefits from the morally layered protagonist but in the case of Cubby, Mark’s characterisation is slightly too stilted. He’s initially painted as the naive, caring yet lonely protagonist however his childish nature results in a series of poor decisions – in work, in life and in love – which tarnish the audience’s emotional connection with him.
From swearing at a child to ignoring the parent’s concerns surrounding Milo’s bullying to ignoring his mother for months and not paying rent, Mark is often quite unlikable or at least easy to judge as most of the audience wouldn’t think themselves likely to end up in those situations. However despite his blunders, Mark’s story concludes on a hopeful note with an unrevealed surprise guest visiting him before the credits roll, fulfilling an emotional arc offscreen prior to the film’s fin card. But this implied hope can feel unearned. Perhaps if Blane had provided more of a backstory as to why Mark is the way he is, beyond occasional hints towards anxiety; for example exploring mental health in the gay community or delving into the overbearing relationship with his mother that Mark desperately escapes at the film’s start, then Mark could have been a more emotionally accessible and enjoyable character.
Despite these downfalls, Cubby is an enjoyable independent film by a queer voice about queer people, a genre not explored enough in film. It’s often laugh out loud funny, aesthetically pleasing and provides an interesting insight into a complex character. CINENCITY has certainly delivered on its promise of showcasing fascinating films from around the world in unique viewing environments that all cinephiles are guaranteed to enjoy.
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