Matthew Reddin

Dukakis and co. make “Cloudburst” an enjoyable ride

The Milwaukee LGBT Film/Video Festival's opening film doesn't break new ground, but it's the little things that make it worth viewing.

By - Oct 17th, 2012 04:00 am
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Opening the LGBT Film Festival is “Cloudburst,” the story of Stella and Dot directed by Thom Fitzgerald. All photos courtesy of Sidney Kimmel Entertainment.

Even if Cloudburst had nothing else going for it, I would still love it for being the only movie I know of where Academy Award-winning actress Olympia Dukakis curses like the hypothetical child of a sailor and a truck driver.

Better still, then, that there’s more to the Milwaukee LGBT Film/Video Festival’s opening night show than a potty mouth. While it may not hit every target it shoots for, Cloudburst is a charming adventure that keeps you hooked from start to finish.

Olympia Dukakis (Stella) and Brenda Frickr (Dot).

The two women at the heart of Cloudburst are Stella (Dukakis), a spitfire with the aforementioned mouth, and her partner of 31 years, Dot (Brenda Fricker), a slightly sweeter and calmer counterweight. Both are older than they like to admit, which becomes alarmingly apparent when the already-near-blind Dot falls out of bed and ends up in the hospital.

Dot’s granddaughter Molly (Kristin Booth), too close to the situation to make the semi-obvious realization that her ”Nona” and Stella are more than just friends (or to accept the relationship when it’s thrown in her face) whisks Dot away, carting her off to a nursing home in Bangor.

But that’s okay, because if she hadn’t done that, we wouldn’t get the pleasure of Stella’s response: She breaks Dot free, snags the first hitchhiker they see (Ryan Doucette) to confuse anyone looking for them and makes a run for Canada to get married.

That journey forms the film’s core, and writer/director Thom Fitzgerald takes his time with it. The characters are hurrying, but the film never is, giving each sequence time to develop and adding complications here and there, like border-crossing difficulties that divide the group and a casual walk along the beach that turns dangerous when the tide starts coming in.

Hitchhiker Prentice (Ryan Doucette) joins Stella and Dot on their journey from Maine to Nova Scotia.

The edge-of-your-seat feeling’s not great–Dot’s too physically unwell for any misadventure to dodge a feeling of impending calamity–but Doucette’s character, Prentice, goes a long way toward calming your fears. He’s headed north to visit his dying mother, but his loyalty quickly shifts to Stella and Dot. He becomes both stalwart knight and surrogate son and Doucette plays both roles without being cloying or saccharine.

Cloudburst‘s comedic tone balances out the unsettling moments too. The film is only laugh-out-loud funny when Stella is cursing – no matter how hard some sequences try for more – but Dukakis, Fricker and Doucette bring a lighter sensibility to the subject matter. This is no “last hurrah” adventure for Stella and Dot. It’s a life-affirming journey made with an eye to the future.

Not that the movie shies away from serious moments. Fricker shines in those, be it a heartfelt explanation of why she wants to marry Stella after 31 years or her ultimate confrontation with Molly, finally discussing the life she’s kept hidden from her since childhood. And when Stella sheds her rough exterior, Dukakis reveals a woman more nuanced than she appears, growing increasingly aware that their way of life can’t continue forever.

Cloudburst’s real achievement is casting a spotlight on Stella and Dot’s relationship, already a marriage before they even think of making it legal. The little things sell it: the way Dot accurately predicts that Stella, separated for the border crossing, won’t hold onto a ride for more than 20 miles thanks to her mouth, or the way Stella stands beside Dot at sunset, describing the shapes and colors of clouds for her. Cloudburst may not always rise to new heights of hilarity or break more ground than your average indie film, but those moments are worth every minute.

Cloudburst screens Thursday, Oct. 18, at 7:30 p.m. at the Oriental Theatre, as the opening night show of the Milwaukee LGBT Film/Video Festival. Opening night tickets are $15, $10 for students/seniors, and include a post-film reception at Beans & Barley. The remainder of the festival’s films will screen at UWM’s Union Theatre through Oct. 21; tickets for those are $9, or $7 for students/seniors/UWM community members. Visit the festival’s website for more information or to order tickets, and check out our interview with festival director Carl Bogner, who picks out his top films for the festival.

Categories: Arts & Culture, LGBT, Movies

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