Tribeca Film Review: ‘Saturday Church’ Sings More Than Just Its Music

2017 TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL: The power of the musical knows no boundaries but so seldom explored as we get to witness in début director Damon Cardasis’ invigorating film “Saturday Church.”  Capturing the spirit of youth and imagination, Cardasis taps into a subject that is all too familar in today’s cultural climate.  This is all brought to head by the outstanding breakout performance of the young Luka Kain and an intense supporting turn from veteran actress Regina Taylor.

“Saturday Church” tells the story of Ulysses (Kain), a young 14-year-old who struggles with gender identity and religion under the thumb of his aunt and hard working mother.  This leads Ulysses to use fantasy to escape the harsh realities of the inner city.

Last year produced an alliance of musical enthusiasts that worshiped the existence of Damian Chazelle’s Oscar-winning film “La La Land.”  There were a vocal group that didn’t fall in line with such praise.  “Saturday Church” offers a raw and honest take on the fears that plague the LGBTQ community from the adolescent views.

Cardasis has much promise in his directorial career as he seems to take cues from Broadway productions like “Rent” and translates them to the silver screen.  He even seems to a semblance of Rob Marshall and Baz Luhrmann as his cinematic sensibilities are impressive and can only get better with more assurance and experience.

The material is authentic as Cardasis weaves effortlessly between dialogue and song and with fantasy and reality.  The pairing with Nathan Larson‘s strong musical compositions is indeed a treat for the ears.  The music emboldens its story with power and resilience.  Engage all this with an impeccable cast, the film is a masterful success.  Some of those bright spots are the aforementioned Kain and Regina Taylor, who tackle their difficult characters with ease.  Mj Rodriguez as the heartfelt Ebony and Margot Bingham as the struggling Amara both manage to hold their own especially in their musical numbers.

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As a smaller, accessible musical, “Saturday Church” will find a home with anyone who admires and champions independent filmmaking.  It seems far too easy to call this the “musical Moonlight” that has been described by some on the circuit when it’s so much more.  With a great producer like Rebecca Miller involved, “Saturday Church” has plenty to say about family, love, and acceptance.  We should all be so lucky to listen.

“Saturday Church” has no scheduled release or U.S. distribution yet.

GRADE: (★★★½)

About Clayton Davis

Clayton Davis is the esteemed Editor and Owner of AwardsCircuit.com. Born in Bronx, NY to a Puerto Rican mother and Black father, he’s been criticizing film and television for over a decade. Clayton is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association where he votes and attends the kick off to the awards season, the Critics Choice Awards. He’s also an active member of New York Film Critics Online, International Press Academy, Black Reel Awards, and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association. Clayton has been quoted and appeared in various outlets that include The New York Times, CNN.com, Variety, Deadline, Los Angeles Times, Bloomberg Television, AOL, Huffington Post, Bloomberg Radio, The Wrap, Slash Film, and the Hollywood Reporter.