Writer-director Andy Vallentine follows up his stunning 2021 short, The Letter Men, with another weepie, the narrative feature The Mattachine Family. Beautifully shot and acted, this is a glossy yet moving exploration at the meaning of family. It’s available to stream US-wide as part of NewFest’s 35th New York LGBTQ+ Film Festival until October 24th and will receive its Australian premiere at the 33rd Melbourne Queer Film Festival on November 12th and 15th, 2023.
Younger breakout star Nico Tortorella plays Thomas, a gay photographer in Los Angeles who finds himself struggling to reconcile his conflicting views on queer families. He is still struggling after he became a foster parent with his husband Oscar (Juan Pablo Di Pace) to a young boy, only to have the child return to his birth mother a year later. After initially not wanting to be a parent, Thomas is struck by the loss, but unsure whether he can put himself through the process again.
Thomas and Oscar’s view of family is gently probed by those around them. Thomas’s best friend Leah (Schitt Creeks’ Emily Hampshire) and her wife Sonia (Cloie Wyatt Taylor) are going through IVF, hoping have a child of their own. At a party Thomas meets Annie (Heather Matarazzo), a lesbian mom who is raising a son with her gay best friend Todd (Carl Clemons-Hopkins), the biological father. As Todd tells Thomas, “there are no rules”.
Tortorella is excellent as the lead. Charming and heartbreaking, the movie revolves around Thomas’ internal battle to process his sense of loss and to figure out how to move forward. Andy Vallentine’s screenplay (co-written with his husband Danny) deftly takes an often passive observer who hides behind his lens and keeps him captivating as an active protagonist, but it is Tortorella’s ability to express emotion with a twitch or glance that beautifully conveys the turmoil within.
As the narrative touches on issues of queer surrogacy, adoption, gay dads on social media and the differences between found families units and parenthood, it does so with an air of inquiry rather than a lecture. This film is full of questions, leaving each of us to come to our own conclusions.
Light on plot, and relying a little too much on expository voice over, The Mattachine Family is held together by the chemistry of its cast. Nico Tortorella and Juan Pablo Di Pace make convincing and warm partners, while Hampshire and Tortorella have the effortless familiarity of old friends. Vallentine mines his cast for authenticity and it really shows.
This is a beautiful film, both visually striking and poignant. While there might be the occasional awkward tonal shift and a few rom-com style contrivances, it has an emotional richness that many films lack. The sunsets and swelling music cues may feel as manipulative as a Grey’s Anatomy pop-song driven montage, but it works. If you want a queer film to tug at your heart strings, this is it.
By Chad Armstrong
The Mattachine Family receives its Australian premiere at the 33rd Melbourne Queer Film Festival on November 12th and 15th, 2023. MQFF33 runs November 9th-19th. For the full lineup and to purchase tickets head to mqff.com.au.