Please Baby Please is screening as part of the 2022 Fantasia International Film Festival, which runs from July 14 – August 3.
Newlyweds Suze (Andrea Riseborough) and Arthur (Harry Melling) witness a murder outside of their apartment building. The culprits, a greaser gang called the Young Gents, then turn their attention to the couple, initiating a series of events that change the two people forever.
Please Baby Please is a noir-tinged send-up of the biker gang movies of the 1950s, but that description does not come close to identifying what the film is accomplishing. Amanda Kramer’s film is an articulate examination of masculinities, gender identity, and sexuality caught up in a pastiche genre exercise. It is a neon-tinted, gauzy greaser punk fantasia about expression and what it means to express, challenging the common media expressions that have come before. What in earlier films might be hidden in the subtext becomes bare, bold-face text in Please Baby Please. Characters point directly at social norms and media hegemony and do open battle with those representations.
The second scene in the film is the initiation of these conversations, which gives initial shape to characters who will go on to find themselves within the underbelly of gang land. “Everyone wants to be Stanley Kowalski,” Suze posits, clearly infatuated by the media image of Brando masculinity. Arthur counters with the struggle of being a boy “dragooned until you act like a boy is supposed to act.”
The evocation of Marlon Brando seems no accident. The ghost of his representation haunts the film, within Suze’s visual transformation and the Wild One-by-way-of-Anger biker aesthetic of Karl Glusman’s Teddy. For Teddy, Brando’s is an image of masculinity, mirrored in his Young Gents brethren, to which he aspires although it pains him to do so.
The pain of conforming to standards — sediment in the history of culture which is weathering far too slowly for these characters to bear — is the through-line that connects the ensemble of Please Baby Please. Whether they suffer these pains openly or suppress them, each character appears on the cusp of breaking through their social masks and expressing their true selves. The tension found on this precipice between two expressions is what gives the film its unique energy and life.
Kramer channels the tensions into dialogue laden with suggestion and double entendre, sudden bursts of expressive song and dance, and clever use of genre tropes. And the ensemble cast takes up these various pieces with aplomb. Melling is trembling and ready to explode with a passion his character has been suppressing. Riseborough is the lit fuse on a camp dynamite stick. Supporting turns from Glusman, Ryan Simpkins, and Cole Escola also shine through.
I won’t be surprised if some feel the script puts too fine a point on what is being discussed or the characters serve more as stand-ins for ideas than anything else. But it came off elegant to me, particularly as the film moves to its conclusion. The glorious closing split-screen sequence is the realization of the people Suze and Arthur articulated in that second scene as wishing to present to the world. It is also the culmination of Riseborough and Melling’s showstopping performances.
Beyond that, this ending is confident and rapturous to such a degree that it elevates everything that came before. An ending like this feels rare. Across media, endings rarely floor me. Books I lap up like water, reading for hours in a sitting, end in a moment and I move on without much of a second thought. Movies I love might end in a poignant image, I find it fitting, but it doesn’t stick with me in a meaningful way.
The ending of Please Baby Please feels like a true ending. A statement of intent. An emotion put to music as good as any musical could do it. I’m enamored with it. I’m enamored with Please Baby Please.
Please Baby Please: B+
As always, thanks for reading!
—Alex Brannan (Twitter, Letterboxd, Facebook)