Close to You 2023 Movie Review
For the first several minutes of Dominic Savage’s Close to You, there is little to no dialogue as we are introduced to Elliot Page’s Sam. In the humble room that he is renting in Toronto, he awakens and gets ready for what is going to be a painful day ahead. However, at least for these opening moments, just simply getting to spend time with this character as he goes through his routine is a breath of fresh air. He makes toast with plenty of jam that he will then joke about as being a sign of his mental state. It is a moment of humor and pain that Page plays perfectly, telling us so much about whom this person is even though we only just met him. For this opening sequence, there is a patience that lets us see Sam’s fears slowly pour out as we learn that he is going to see his family for the first time since transitioning. Though this impending reunion hangs heavy over the scene, there is still a delicate nature to it that feels promising. It is then a shame that most everything that follows lacks this same subtlety.
From the moment Sam subsequently steps into his childhood home after taking a train ride from Toronto to Cobourg, the tension coming from the family begins bearing down on him. Even the more well-intentioned family members seem to want something from him. Sometimes, it is forgiveness for not being supportive of him through hard times and the subsequent mistakes still being made in the present. In others, it is an explanation for why he left and who he is now. None of this is something that he owes them, but they keep placing their baggage on him anyway. The entire thing is exhausting in a way that is overdone as Sam just wants to be there for his father’s birthday as himself while everyone else just keeps badgering him. Even as he travels from room to room in the home, there is no escaping the discomfort and expectations of all those around him. Pop into the kitchen? His sister’s husband from hell decides that this is the perfect time to confront Sam out of the blue. Try to then sit down for the family dinner? He’ll follow you there too and just keep bothering you for no reason. If this sounds repetitive, that’s because it is for the vast majority of its runtime.
If you look closely, there is a well-intentioned core to this as Savage wants to shine a light on how callous and entitled cis people can be around a trans person who is just trying to exist. The trouble is that it takes on an unrelentingly blunt approach that becomes punishing for both Sam and the audience. While we are clearly meant to feel this discomfort, much of it obfuscates who Sam is as he is just made to place himself second over and over again. Even when family members share how they are worried about him, it all has little to do with him and everything to do with them. Much of this is by design, but Savage stakes out little other narrative territory. A movie where Sam is repeatedly made to face the weight of everyone else’s expectations is not executed in the way the film thinks it is as he becomes more and more swallowed up by them. When this is then shot with a roaming camera and cuts that often disrupt the flow of what could otherwise be an engaging scene, what feels like it could be a potentially illuminating improvisational approach descends into being directionless.
If there is a saving grace, it is an element of the film that is essentially reduced to a subplot surrounding someone Sam knew from high school who he meets on the train ride in the very beginning. Without going into the precise details of this too much, so as to preserve the most emotionally potent element of the film, there is a spark that we can see in each of their eyes from the moment they first meet. Without even saying anything at all, they bring infinitely more emotion than everything else playing out in the main thrust of the narrative. Every time we get out of the house to take in these scenes, be it on a beach or in a cafe, it feels like the film is starting to get somewhere. It just keeps bringing us back to the confines of the same conversations from the family. Even when the patriarch gives what is supposed to be a speech that puts an end to the disrespect that Sam has had to put up with, it comes far too late and passes too quickly to be of any substance. The film just ends up feeling like it is talking itself in circles, making every respite we get from what is its central premise into a small relief.
All through the scattered experience, Page is a shining light. Every move he makes gives the film something greater that it is never able to grasp. Instead, it all slips away into repetitive conversation scenes that are clunky rather than resonant. When all the noise quiets, there are moments that start to feel much more authentically transcendent and reflective. Had the film given room for more such scenes to explore this element, perhaps it could have become something comprehensively impactful. Unfortunately, this never comes to pass, ensuring that the sole emotion left lingering is one of disappointment at what could have been.