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Please Baby Please 2.jpg

This Is the Movie Andrea Riseborough Should Have Been Oscar-Nominated For

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Film | April 5, 2023 |

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Film | April 5, 2023 |

Please Baby Please 2.jpg

It’s the 1950s. Sort-of. The streets are filled with bisexual lighting. Leather-clad gangs dance through the alleys and engage in casual murder. The only observers are Suze (Andrea Riseborough) and Arthur (Harry Melling), a perfectly pleasant married couple who soon become the target of this gang’s terror. The weird part is that they’re kind of into it.

Please Baby Please, now available to watch on MUBI, is the sort of film that you know whether you’re going to love or hate it the moment it’s described to you. Directed and co-written by Amanda Kramer, it’s a satirical drama with black comedic moments, a few musical numbers, and a hell of a lot of queer theory. Imagine if Kenneth Anger directed West Side Story or John Waters mashed together a Douglas Sirk melodrama with a tawdry biker film of the same era and you’re halfway there. If you’re a fan of films where the creators think subtext is for cowards then you’re on the right road, but such glibness inevitably underplays the real savvy of Please Baby Please, which surely deserves our attention.

The gang of greasers, known as the Young Gents, are led by Teddy (Karl Glusman), a fine specimen of male virility whose violent exterior conceals an achingly gentle heart. The more his goons seek to reinforce their knife-wielding manliness, the more he clings to Arthur, a sensitive artistic soul who feels trapped by the staid expectations of his gender. For Suze, the repulsion of this gang who seem to want her dead is too alluring for her to look away, inspiring S&M fantasies where she is burned on her backside with an iron. When she meets her mysterious and glamorous neighbour (a fascinating cameo from Demi Moore), the conundrum is spelled out for her: ‘What if you wanna get a little choked?’ she asks Suze.

For Kramer and Please Baby Please, smashing the gender binary is often easier said than done. Its contradictions are tough to untangle, especially when there’s an undeniable appeal to some of those more black-and-white aspects (although, in this film, there are no colours so drab as that on display.) ‘You can’t have it both ways with men,’ Suze sighs, before pausing and adding, ‘Can you?’ So much of what is expected, nay demanded, of heterosexual dominance and submission is directly tied to society’s strict desires of behaviour. When you’re trapped by this narrow boundaries for so long, nobody should be surprised when you eventually snap. Besides, there’s such fun in rubbing your rebellion in everyone else’s faces.

With her surprise Oscar nomination for To Leslie, bolstered by a now-controversial indie campaign that seemed to send the Academy into an existential stupor, Andrea Riseborough was introduced to a wider audience than her work typically reached. It was a mixed consequence since many focused more on the technical machinations of how she got the nomination than her years of sinfully underrated and hugely varied performances. Riseborough has always been an actress who gallops from opportunity to opportunity, embracing projects of differing genres, scales, and audience appeal. Her chameleonic nature has become something of a running joke, as she remoulds herself from part to part, often looking wildly different in the process. To Leslie may have been the more traditional awards-friendly kind of role - stripped of glamour, a narrative of struggle, a tale of family in crisis - but it’s in Please Baby Please where you are reminded of her unpredictability.

As Suze, the dissatisfied wife who delves into a world of sexual freedom and danger, she is almost feral. Wielding a deliberately heavy Brooklyn accent, she’s perfectly balanced on the edge of madness. There’s a lot of Mink Stole, one of John Waters’ muses, in this performance, along with a hefty dose of Brando’s ’50s allure and a dollop of Cage Rage. It’s big, intentionally so, with Riseborough aiming for the rooftops as Suze veers from bouffants and cat eyeliner to teddy boy butch, both lovingly parodic versions of the rigid gender binary that the film seeks to shatter. Balanced by Harry Melling’s tenderness, with a face that seems torn straight from Victorian romanticism, Riseborough is able to sink her teeth into the most primal attractions of societal rejection. Maybe embracing all of masculinity’s excesses isn’t the healthiest idea but it sure is exciting.

In an interview for Film Comment, Kramer explained: ‘A couple traveling through a ‘queerification’ of their relationship can find a way to stay and evolve together.’ The full spectrum of gender offers immense opportunities for community as well as self-expression. Kramer is constantly reminding the audience of this, whether it’s through the trans and non-binary gang members of the macho men Young Gents or a flower-adorned drag queen singing ‘Since I Don’t Have You’ in a phone booth to their angry lover. The most unsettling rhetoric and reinforcement of the binary comes from an effeminate gay man who decries Suze as being less than a woman in his eyes. If the girl/boy dynamic pleases nobody then tearing it to shreds helps everybody, and Suze and Arthur eventually find a kind of utopian ideal in their journey of queerness. Who knew that marriage could be so good when you’re allowed to be your true self with your spouse?

There are obvious academic ideas at play here but Kramer is more interested in the messy lived-in nature of them than the abstract of theory. It’s romantic here, not wholly so, a journey through a past that never existed into a future that damn well should. Please Baby Please has lofty ambitions but not impossible ones. It would have been easy to take a downbeat approach to this story, to go down the route of grimy realism and explore a time when homosexuality was illegal. It’s been done before, but Kramer’s intentions are smartly positioned between truth and potential. Argur and Suze may descend into something messy and dangerous and occasionally ill-advised, but the conclusions are worth it, as they are for so many LGBTQIA+ people just trying to get out of the binary in one piece. Doing so while looking fabulous certainly doesn’t hurt.

Please Baby Please is now available to watch on MUBI.