I’ve always enjoyed Michelle Ehlen’s films, such as Butch Jamie, Heterosexual Jill, and S&M Sally, and consider them a maverick in that they write, direct, produce, edit and star in their own films. Full disclosure: Michelle wore many hats on my feature debut, Eating Out: All You Can Eat, and our pre-existing relationship scared me a little when considering reviewing this new film, Maybe Someday. Imagine my relief when I ended up truly loving it. Ehlen’s style until now has been to present a goofy, Chaplin-esque main character, but this new work runs much deeper.
Jay (Ehlen), who is nonbinary, separates from Lily (Jeneen Robinson) in the opening scene and decides to move from New York to Los Angeles to start a new life as a photographer. Lily expresses that, maybe someday, they may get back together again. On the road, Jay decides to stay awhile with a high school best friend Jess (Shaela Cook). The two have a complicated history and have not seen each other in years. Jess, a divorced single mother of daughter Ava (a terrifically grounded Caroline Lobbin, who lacks the sickly sweet cuteness of so many child actors), offers Jay a home for as long as desired, which gives Jay the chance to reflect on their history and figure out their steps moving forward.
We get many flashbacks to a younger Jay and Jess (perfectly matched and played by Eliza Blair and Cameron Norman respectively) where we witness the push-pull of their attraction for each other and the mess it has created in their relationship. This pair could star in their own movie, so good are they with complicated dynamics. We also see in flashback how Jay and Lily’s marriage began to crumble, with Robinson getting a chance to shine in a crucial scene.
Jay has an issue of not being able to let go of the past. You see it manifested in that they still use an outmoded flip phone, complete with having to press each key multiple times to get to the right letter when texting. It’s an economical way of illustrating the larger hurdles Jay faces. Then out of the blue, Jess gets Jay a job photographing a local stand-up comic, Tommy (Charlie Steers), a gay man who has given up on love and feels stuck in his own life. Jay and Tommy form a unique bond, with Tommy trying to bring Jay out of their shell, and Jay breaking down the walls of humor Tommy has built up to avoid addressing some serious concerns. Both succeed to varying degrees, and their friendship becomes the core relationship in the film, offering up fantastic chemistry. Detailed exchanges about anything from milk breast lotion to the joys of drag won me over to the point where watching the two of them laugh together warmed my cold, dead heart. Steers gives us a gay man I haven’t seen too often on screen; campy, witty as hell, acutely aware of his surroundings, but hobbled by some well-covered rage. It’s a breakout performance and you miss him when he’s not onscreen.
Every relationship gets their due in this carefully constructed yet effortlessly casual story. Ehlen, who has such expressive eyes, taps into emotions I haven’t seen before in earlier films, creating a character of such complexity; vulnerable yet biting, funny yet in pain. I’ve always loved films that go on an emotional journey, and here, in the final close-up, we’re treated to the warm expression of someone who has found a type of peace and freedom. Some of my favorite movies end on people in cars as they embark on new adventures. Think Muriel’s Wedding, The Accidental Tourist, Dazed And Confused, Paper Moon, and Good Will Hunting. This film, although shot on a much lower budget, manages to evoke similar feelings.
There’s nothing flashy going on here. Ehlen directs like they have nothing to prove, confident that we’ll be interested in the characters’ journeys, creating assured shots without the “look at me” tendencies of so many other directors. It’s enough that we all can relate to Jay, to feeling lost and lonely, to wanting to connect with others so badly but unable to get out of our own way. Maybe Someday treats these things seriously without sacrificing the funny. It’s a modest gem.
By Glenn Gaylord, Senior Film Critic
Maybe Someday screened in person at the 40th Outfest Los Angeles LGBTQ+ Film Festival on Saturday, July 23rd and is available to stream online until 8am PT on Tuesday July 26th 2022.
The 40th anniversary Outfest Los Angeles LGBTQ+ Film Festival runs in person and online until Sunday, July 24th 2022. For the full lineup and to purchase tickets head to OutfestLA.org
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