UPDATE: Screens at the 40th Anniversary Outfest Los Angeles LGBTQ+ Film Festival on Friday, July 15th at 9:30pm at Directors Guild of America, Theater 1.
All hail Demi Moore! Kneel before Andrea Riseborough! Praise be to Harry Melling! Amanda Kramer’s Please Baby Please takes you on a campy, sexual thrill ride questioning gender, sexuality, and cinema. You’ll either adore it, or loathe it, but you’ll definitely have a strong reaction to it.
Set in a mythical 1950s, Susan (Riseborough) and Arthur (Melling) witness a violent leather-bound gang murder on their doorstep. This extreme event sparks a sexual awakening between them both and the well-liked, nice, straight couple start to question their roles in life. Arthur can’t stop thinking about gang member Teddy (Karl Glusman serving Brando vibes), in his leathers and string vest with sultry eyes and inviting lips. While Susan takes it upon herself to become the “dom” in their relationship. In the middle of all this, their richer upstairs neighbor Maureen (Demi Moore), takes a shine to Susan.
I’m normally screaming for films to have more realism and human connection, but Please Baby Please takes the opposite route, building an extreme world and letting the actors run wild with their characteristics. Arthur muses about masculinity to his artistic friends, worrying about its competitive nature and impulses, before rejecting them all in favour of his own sexual exploration, flirting with Teddy’s danger and sultry appeal. Susan, tired of trying to push Arthur into a traditional male role in their relationship, takes the onus to be the butch of the household; morphing into an androgynous Joan Crawford. Riseborough is clearly having a ball, and Melling serves as a thinking person’s queer sex symbol.
Demi Moore gets one of the greatest movie cameo’s I’ve seen in years. Kramer teases us with snippets of voice, and glimpses of her leopard print coat before revealing Moore’s bored neighbor Maureen in all her glory. “I ought to be famous,” she says, “but I’m just married”. Her apartment is filled with all the latest mod cons—dishwasher! refrigerator!—buzzing with electric vibrations, like domestic sex toys for unfulfilled housewives. This is one of Moore’s best performances, stealing all her scenes.
Deliciously theatrical and dreamlike, Please Baby Please is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea; there were a number of walkouts at the Sydney Film Festival screening I attended, while the rest of the crowd were lapping it up. You’ll likely either be swept away by its camp intensity, or it will leave you baffled and frustrated. It has the heightened reality of a movie musical, combined with an exploration of sexual identities and expectations. Kramer’s subversion of classic gender roles includes non-binary performer Ryan Simpkins playing a poetic member of the ‘Young Gents’ gang, and Cole Escola’s cruising gay man in bridal drag.
Like a blend of Little Shop of Horrors and West Side Story, without the musical numbers, seen through the lens of John Waters, Please Baby Please is a fearless film made by creatives who are clearly having the time of their lives. Campy, crusading, and queer this is the kind of film that festivals were made for.
By Chad Armstrong
Please Baby Please received its Australian premiere at the Sydney Film Festival 2022.
Screens at the 40th Anniversary Outfest Los Angeles LGBTQ+ Film Festival on Friday, July 15th at 9:30pm at Directors Guild of America, Theater 1.