A Californian family comes head to head with its Nebraskan relatives in Matt Sobel’s debut feature Take Me To The River is an indie tale of sexual dysfunction.
Nebraskaby Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Much like the song by Al Green from which Take Me To The River takes its title, Matt Sobel’s film is about a sweet teen putting his feet on the ground – not so much a portrait of young love as the cleansing of a young soul. Gay Californian teenager Ryder (Logan Miller) is driving to relatives in Nebraska with his parents Cindy (Robin Weigert) and Don (Richard Schiff), who are encouraging him to keep his sexuality a secret from the “less tolerant” side of the family. With his daringly skimpy red shorts and his vintage yellow sunglasses, Ryder cuts an exotic figure, but when he goes into the barn with his nine-year-old cousin Molly (Ursula Parker) and she comes out bleeding, the event unleashes an emotional maelstrom of suspicion, guilt and family tension. While Sobel’s narrative seems occasionally forced – creating a familial blowout which is only believable with the explanation for Molly’s blood kept secret and Cindy’s willingness to paper over family troubles – it does kind of work, retroactively, through the film’s final reel revelations. But with its Psycho-style shift in focus, it’s hard not to feel abandoned by the gaping chasm between set-up and resolution. And with the gear-change, the story of a gay teen wanting to be out and proud to his redneck family falls by the wayside – besides Ryder’s outré get-up, there’s no hint of any gay characterisation – not even a guilty attraction for his bearded uncle Keith (Josh Hamilton). And lapsing into a backwoods deviant sexuality, Take Me To The River exchanges one sexual secret for a nastier one, as if coming out to grandma isn’t enough. But with an all-pervasive tension and an inescapable dread, Matt Sobel’s film offers a clever and subtle look at the awkward dynamics of family interaction.
Take Me To The River is now showing at the London Film Festival