Let Me Just Be

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday March 29, 2016

'Let Me Just Be'
'Let Me Just Be'  

Sometimes it's hard to tell if the title "Let Me Just Be" is meant to be the existential cry of Russia's LGBT community or the irritated retort of either Jenia or Maxim, the long-time committed same-sex couple at the heart of Matvey Troshinkin's documentary.

Jenia -- the name is short for Evgeny -- performs parodies of Russian singers. This entails dressing up in drag. Maxim works as a bus driver, and provides financial and logistical support for Jenia's career.

But drag is a cutthroat business, as the arts tend to be, and Jenia exhibits the stereotypical artistic temperament. When he's not on stage doing his thing for residents at a psychiatric hospital or appearing at a club (the only times he really seems happy), he's grumbling about not getting any respect or engaging in tiresome, endless quarrels with Maxim. After a while you're not sure whether you're bored or have simply settled into a Zen-like state of mindless being, such as comes over one while watching Christopher Guest films.

The catch, of course, is that unlike Christopher Guest films, this documentary takes place in the context of real-life absurdity, rather than a satirical facsimile of such. Russia's anti-gay "homosexual propaganda" laws amount to nothing more than a state-sponsored license for hatred and bias. We don't see Jenia and Maxim targeted for anti-gay violence, but the possibility for it hangs in the air. Maxim, who seems to be the more political of the two, delivers a tart tirade to the camera about anti-gay attitudes in his country; later on, when Maxim and Jenia discuss the matter briefly, Jenia says in a resigned manner that being gay in and of itself will soon become illegal.

He may well be right, in which case you could argue that doing parody acts in drag is one of a dwindling set of rational options left to him. The ultimate joke seems to be that the couple -- and the film -- go nowhere, in an almost literal sense.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.