Leave It On The Floor
Indie gay films can be the bane of my existence. Preachy, earnest, and badly acted, I fear them as much as I fear that new movie with Julia Roberts and Tom Hanks. What's worse is seeing an original movie musical (because they are rare) that has unmemorable songs and lame dancing. So it was with trepidation that I went into the new indie gay musical (*natch) "Leave it on the Floor."
Written by Glen Gaylord (director of "Eating Out 3") and directed by TV veteran Sheldon Larry, 'Floor' is a gritty musical - and I do mean "musical" where characters break out into song - about the ballroom vogue houses made famous in the documentary "Paris is Burning." It stars Ephraim Sykes as Brad, a black gay teen recently kicked out of the house by his homophobic mother. While buying food at a local mini-mart, he catches the eye of Carter (Andre Meyers), another teen to whom he instantly takes a liking. But when he realizes Carter has stolen his wallet, Brad chases Carter back to an old warehouse where a Ballroom battle is taking place.
This is Brad's entrance into the world of the "Ballroom Bliss" where different houses of "girls" compete for bowling trophies and the status of being the best at their craft. As Brad watches the men take the floor - some in drag, others in crazy outfits, or just ridiculously ripped men strutting their bodies on the runway - he meets Princess Eminence (Phillip Evelyn) a handsome man with a volcano of confidence. Discovering Brad has no place to sleep he brings him home to the House of Eminence headed by their queen mother Queef Latina, played by the scene-stealing Barbie-Q. She is none too happy about this new arrangement and makes Brad sleep in his car so as not to infect his home with any shenanigans.
Soon enough, Brad is hanging with Princess who has grand dreams of her own (as sung in his hot number "Justin's Gonna Call") and who promises to teach Brad how to compete as one of the Sex Sirens - the most masculine of the ballroom styles. Meanwhile, Brad discovers Carter lives at the House of Eminence and the two start to fall for each other.
Other characters we meet along the way are Queef's thuggish imprisoned boyfriend Caldwell (Demarkes Dogan), Eppie Durall (James Alsop) a queen that always dresses in pregnancy drag, and Duke Eminence (Cameron Koa) the youngest member of the house who competes in a Schoolboy Realness.
Brad continues to learn about the Ballroom way while navigating his frightening feelings for Carter and dealing with a self-worth that has been shattered by years of emotional abuse. As he does, he learns that he can make his own family and finds that even when he makes mistakes, he will be forgiven and loved unconditionally.
It all does sound as earnest as the story of a West Hollywood boy with dreams of being a star, but in actuality, "Leave it on the Floor" skates by the falseness of most gay narratives and creates a world of which we've seen little or in which we can believe. The characters here are memorable and the songs written by Gaylord and Beyonce's music director Kim Burse are incredibly catchy and distinct. (I woke up this morning with the hard-thumping "Knock Them Motherf**kkers Down" in my head.)
There are a few minor missteps - one in firmly establishing the rules of the Ballroom world and what exactly that type of competition means to these "girls." Also, director Larry does what (in my eyes) is the cardinal sin of movie musical directors; he doesn't let us see the dancing. Using too many quick edits and shooting the dancers in tight close-ups, we miss the footwork and the intricacies of Beyonce's choreographer Frank Gatson, Jr.'s amazing dance moves.
That said, even when the film is biting off more than it can chew, it still charms and moves. When a key character meets tragedy, the worlds of Ballroom and their conservative families collide in a ballad that highlights their differences without pointing fingers or blaming. ("His Name is Shawn") While it seems to be more of a side-note to the plot at hand, it brings a striking reality to a lifestyle that can cause a lot of conflict within families, especially in the black community. And written by a white Jewish guy, that's pretty impressive!
"Leave it on the Floor" should certainly be praised for its efforts and applauded for its originality and fierceness. The songs still burn in my brain and a few are sure to be gay dance club staples for years to come. Despite its minor flaws, this is one House I didn't want to leave.
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Screening at the Boston LGBT Film Festival