Becks, co-directed by Daniel Powell and Elizabeth Rohrbaugh, begins in such an inauspicious manner that it is not clear whether the watchable remainder of the film is the result of good filmmaking or relief. The film opens with a roughly five minute montage that tells the story of title character Becks' (Lena Hall) failed relationship with her musical collaborator, a superficially cool but ultimately cold and unfaithful hipster EDM musician. A sequence intercut with a live stage performance, the couple moving from NY to LA, palm trees and the two women uttering meaningful dialogue to each other, scored by their hideous music, plays like an un-ironic version of Selena Gomez's phone call to her grandmother in Spring Breakers: "I wanna come back again next year with you". It is the same level of enjoyment that the Grandma would have if she actually went to spring break. Luckily, the film departs from this grating and obnoxious style to tell a reasonably interesting, if well-worn story of a lesbian relationship across society borders.
The fallout of this absurdly compressed relationship results in Becks moving back to her mum's house in her small, conservative midwestern town. Her mum was previously a nun. She considers herself progressive, but cannot tolerate the sight of her daughter wearing a strap-on, or even remember that the name of the 'gay march' she went on is Pride. Becks wastes most of her time watching reality TV reruns on the sofa, but also plays acoustic guitar (which she also teaches) at a mostly empty local bar with a good sense of humour. The owner of the bar is an old flame (Dan Fogler) from her reluctant and confused straight years as a teenager, and she teachers guitar to an affluent housewife, Elyse, (Mena Suvari) who has hidden depths of soul that Becks grows attuned to, or in the case of the music they eventually play live together, folk. Their relationship is described by the British newspaper Daily Express as a 'very steamy lesbian romp'. Fortunately their relationship is more nuanced than this headline suggests.
These are the two main strengths of Becks: the performances and its insight into lesbian experience. Hall radiates her character's selfishness and defence mechanism of irony, whilst Fogler seems to improvise a likeable, self-deprecating loser, and Suvar plays her repressed WASP with quiet soulfulness. The problem is that these performances are often at odds with the script. The actors embody their characters' various types and make them lifelike, but the interactions written for them can feel strained, and the dramatic development predictable. The central relationship of Becks and Elyse's involves the in/out dichotomy of many queer romances without exploiting the dramatic conflict that usually arises from it. In a sense this is refreshing, but in a pleasant rather than subversive or original way. What is truly successful in Becks is the more general portrayal of homosexuality and its implications in a society weighted more towards straightness, whilst believing itself not to be. The way that Becks is automatically introduced to the sole other lesbian at a barbecue, or how her need to be in a lesbian setting is not so much her sexual preference as a need to be in a comfortable space where she is not judged, are fascinating details that do not take place on a narrative level. It is a shame that the story does not go in a less linear and perhaps more documentary direction.
- Theo Macdonald