Jon Rutledge (Fat Samurai) joins me in the first selection for Outside the Frame’s Hidden Gems. This thread will seek to discuss movies, that other contributors or I will select, to advocate as underrated or overlooked. The first pick is a favourite of mine, the widely unseen Nicole Conn film, Elena Undone.
Gabby: I have a big love of finding independent film companies online and whilst seeking a new one I discovered Wolfe video. This is a site and company that sells and supports LGBT films as well as making them. I remember following Wolfe on youtube as I do like seeing stuff they have coming. I remember being excited by the look of Elena Undone and was pleasantly surprised by the impression that there were dynamic characters there. So I thought it was definitely go to be at least something to look out for. It was your first experience with this film, what were your initial thoughts?
Jon: Wow….just wow. The writing is well done, it has depth to characters. The core message is love and passion exists regardless of the gender and race. Almost like a more inclusive When Harry Met Sally. The interludes with real live couples of all mixes talking about how they found love was a very nice touch. I do want to get into some of the elements I didn’t care for. Or really thought were ham handed in their execution.
Gabby: I agree there are quite a few! On the other hand, I go back to it quite a lot due to the two main characters being layered and interesting to spend time with.
Jon: Absolutely. I would love to have them over for a dinner part or a picnic; they seem like people who would be genuinely great people and fun to be with. They are interesting and engaging. Sam Harris is outstanding and the narrator. Having him walking us through the stages of finding true love gives a nice break in the acts. His work sounds interesting I want to take his seminar because it sounds like a blast. I have found the love of my life but someone so passionate about their work is very engaging. He is also a great friend to Elena compared to Payton’s friend, Wave, who almost kills the passion that she has at every turn. I can understand warning caution and worrying about where it will end, but you should at least celebrate the happiness that your friend is having. Why take that away from her? I want Tyler in my corner over Wave.
Gabby: Wave for me is cynical, but she is very protective of Peyton. She is a friend, honest, maybe blunt, but at least has her back. I really like the touch of the true stories as well. Rasheed and Ari’s story is one of my favourites. They are so sincere.
Tyler is an amazing friend and I think we get to see him as a character makes a lot of that narration work. Tyler could have easily be a downfall of the movie in seeming contrived with narration and some cheesy lines but as we see his character we see how sincere he is in what he is saying. I don’t think it is laziness I think it is that character. I would love him as a friend and to listen to him talk about his work more. I do love seeing people who are good at their jobs and in this film we have three!
Could you elaborate on some of those issues you have with the film?
Jon: One of the biggest points of discomfort for me was the infidelity. The cheating takes away from the beauty of the relationship, regardless of the gender combinations. I felt bad for Elena’s family. There is also the addition of Elena having a baby at the end. That seemed shoehorned in there. We know that Peyton wanted a child but did she want to go through the motherhood experience and feel the life growing inside her? Did Elena take that away from her with the surprise news of her pregnancy?
Gabby: To your second point, we know Peyton wanted a child but we also know she was adopting. She has ways of doing this if she does want to be pregnant first. She also has ways of getting another child after Elena has had one. I think it is a different thing though to want pregnancy. In this day and age we can talk about these things separately as not everyone wants to be pregnant even if they do want a child and with many children needing homes that is a beautiful thing.
The movie shows Peyton dealing with a mental health problem. I think anyone with one can be pregnant of course, it is their body, choice and responsibility. With the right support they would do as well as anyone else. But, we come to understand the type of person Peyton is. She takes responsibility with her illness; she takes her meds and talks about it. She knows that just because a baby wasn’t growing inside her, it can still be hers without the risk of huge hormone problems that people like Peyton would have, especially post pregnancy.
Jon: Very true. Peyton’s desire for children is the end goal; I forgot her struggle with that. And Elena did say she was trying for a child. Very true. It still felt like it was added only to show that Elena’s son was OK with his mother’s choice and supports her relationship; when he went to Payton and telling her that she needs her could have been done without having the pregnancy. What did the baby add to the story? And why the Six moth gap with no contact?
Gabby: I think that it wasn’t really tagged on as it is brought up a lot throughout though I see what you mean as that six month part was a bit bothersome for me too. To go back to your first problem though, the fidelity, that really is a moral grey area that, for me, you have to look on case by case basis. In principle infidelity is wrong. Now I am not going to make a point that it isn’t because it always hurts someone. However, we can still understand a lot of situations, in films, as to how and why this person cheats on someone. In this film, it is Elena’s inability to communicate with Barry. I think the character isn’t a bad or evil husband, he just has beliefs I happen to find incredibly awful. Does he deserve that? No. But he couldn’t expect a marriage or relationship to last when I feel he didn’t really care about Elena’s true feelings. He saw a surface and didn’t push past it. The lack of ability for him to relate to her means to mean that fell out of love with her and they drifted apart a while before we meet them.
Something I appreciate on this matter is how the film emphasises that Elena doesn’t cheat on Barry in haste or because of his coldness but because she doesn’t connect to him and vice versa. I don’t like it when movies imply that makes it okay to cheat, especially when it seems that whe they reduce the moral grey to the fact they are the same gender. It is insulting to all types of people. Whereas, in this film, Elena falls in love with someone who just happens to be a woman. Instead of judging them, or disregarding the infidelity part, it tried to show the two leads moral struggles with their situation.
Jon: I felt that after they realized the connection they should have taken steps after that. I agree that gender is not a factor because this passion between these two could happen to anyone. You opened the conversation up about the husband so I am going to spend some time talking about his performance and character. Firstly the character- We got absolutely no time with him and what he thought about his marriage. We see him as an empty 50’s stereotypical father figure who stands for outdated social beliefs. But did he feel the love leave his relationship, or was he blissfully ignorant of how she was feeling? If he knew she was unhappy and did nothing about it than totally his jerk face fault. But if he is clueless it almost makes the cheating worse.
It takes two to make a relationship work, if he wasn’t picking up on the signals that she was unhappy she needs to tell him. All that aside I think that the way they did the relationship between Peyton and Elena is real, it feel like a genuine organic way that a relationship grows. Now on to the performance- Gary Weeks was wooden in this role. Every scene that he had was lacking in any sort of depth of emotion. That could be because he was directed to play it that way but either way when he walked on screen he brought the emotional level down. His sermons were delivered with all the passion of a corpse. I want to see something else he has done to see if it was the role or the performer.
Gabby One of the biggest problems I have with his character is that he is a bigot, preaching at people on how to live. He is saying how these people are ruining his life but he is encouraging hatred. He also has a control over Elena that is unsettling. I’ve thought about it and think it is almost emotional abuse. When that is involved I think this dynamic makes a lot of sense.
Regardless of any of that, I really agree that the way the relationship between Elena and Peyton develops feels organic. Morally they might be doing something frowned upon, but that is how people work much more often in life and I feel this makes it very easy to sympathise. To me, he isn’t a stereotypical 50s husband. His son points why he has no passionate around his sermons. He’s acting, he doesn’t feel it, not really. I think that is his character. Just a big wall up due to his preoccupation with social norms and beliefs we know weren’t always there. I don’t feel sorry for him because he takes it out on others. He is superior and narrow minded but also, it might sound odd, but I like the fact he is dull. Not everyone in life is dynamic and I think the other secondary characters here do get dynamics to make up for it.
I do think Barry stifles Elena in an emotionally abusive way and I’m not sure he even realises he is doing it. As someone who has gone through emotional abuse, I know it may not look like much on this occasion, but I think the film shows enough subtle comments or actions from Barry and their effect on Elena to make us understand that feeling she describes of being like a mummy.
Jon: I would agree with that. He is not doing it to be evil he is doing it because he is programmed that way. He is really a small pitiful person who keeps Elena under his control.
You said before that he tells people how to live, that’s kind of the point of that type of church. Well any religion really. They set out rules that they want their congregation to live by, we left a church because they were forcing us to live a way that didn’t fit with our lifestyle. In that respect, the character is well played because he needs to be the negative influence in Elena’s life. And as a plot device he is well fitted but still very poorly performed.
Gabby: I really want to know your thoughts on your wow reaction.
Jon Rutledge: I have never seen a film that captures the sheer emotion of honest love. I admit that I am not well versed in romance films but I can’t think of one that has that much energy between characters. The beauty of this film is that it’s theme of pure love regardless of who it’s with rings true and seeing that is awe inspiring. A movie that highlights the emotion over the people feeling it is what really spoke to me.
The only other same sex relationship movie I’ve seen is Brokeback Mountain and the central theme to that film was: look what happens to people who fall in love with a person from the same sex. It was more focused on the Tragedy. As I think about it, maybe the rest of the characters in Elena Undone were emotionally played down to bring the spark of passion to a higher level in contrast.
Gabby: It really does illustrate that spark It gets to the beginnings of intimacy and shows how these two are emotionally and intellectually right for each despite being quite different. I think Elena has spent her whole life worried about what others might think. She has not done this consciously because there has been a huge expectation on her to follow the rules. I think she lost her love of the world around her by not engaging with who she is as well as a few taking advantage of that by keeping her there. I think it takes someone like Peyton, who wears her heart on her sleeve, to allow Elena to begin to show herself.
I love the depth of Peyton and she is wonderfully played by Traci Dinwiddie. The fact that her agoraphobia is just part of her character as a whole is incredibly rare. You can the subtly of that anxiety coming into play within the performance. Slight gestures here and there, such as fiddling with her cutlery too much before sighing and fighting with her hands out of frustration or whether it is being afraid of becoming emotionally vulnerable when telling Elena about her feelings towards her. Wanting to avoid it is a very typical problem with anxiety sufferers but I also think it is something that anyone can relate to as well. It is one of the most honest looks at what it is like to have an anxiety disorder I have seen. You could miss it entirely on a first viewing, but you can also start picking it up on it on a repeated one. That is the reality of how it manifests in real people. Peyton is so real to me. I admire her courage to try overcome her past as well as her ability to try and deal with this new situation. Also, Elena’s ability to make her realize she is worthy of love.
Jon: Peyton is a wonderful character. Her relationship gives her strength, not in a way that is co-dependent, but through that love, it gives her a feeling of worth. Its infections and she is stronger in the long run. You are right about the subtleties of Dinwiddie’s performance. It is the small touches that really sell the transition from the start of the film to the end.
Elena is very brave in following her passions and gambling everything in the name of the love. To see her transformation is wonderful to see. How she realizes and accepts her love. Their first kiss was magical. In The Princess Bride they say that Wesley and Buttercup’s kiss was number one in the top five. I think this one gave them a run for their money.
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