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.
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.