Binge-r #115: The Bisexual + Manchester by the Sea
THE BISEXUAL S1
Streaming Service: Stan
Availability: All six episodes now streaming
“Bisexuality is a myth,” declares Leila (Desiree Akhavan, also the show’s creator), sitting in a lesbian club in London with her friends, trying to put the recent break-up with her girlfriend of 10 years, and business partner, Sadie (Maxine Peake), behind her. Later in the night, without too much fuss, Leila ends up in the bedroom of the cute guy from the cloak room. Like most things that occur with the Iranian-American expatriate – some happen to her, some she makes happen – it’s not easy to draw a single bead from it. With its orgasm anxiety and sudden bursts of cultural truth-telling, The Bisexual is a series that find the humour in serious situations and quietly wrenches dramatic reconsideration out of antics.
Like Donald Glover’s Atlanta or Issa Rae’s Insecure, The Bisexual is a half hour comedy with explicit ambitions that, in this case, are mostly interior. Apart from the odd anthropological detail about lesbian culture in London, the focus is Leila’s effort to make sense of her desires and needs. Having recoiled from Sadie after receiving a marriage proposal, Leila’s furious when her Scottish ex moves on even as she pinballs from thoughts of reconciliation to trying men. Sexual identity is mixed up in her background and age, but the fact that it’s been so central to Leila’s life means that she can’t easily reckon with where she’s at. There’s a biting insult thrown at her – “emotional intimacy whore” – that Leila cops and then actually considers. The best lines have recurring lives: first as farce, then tragedy.
Akhavan, a filmmaker whose previous feature was the gay conversion drama The Miseducation of Cameron Post, shoots these scenes with low-budget discipline, but the real strength is in the writing. The supporting cast might suggest familiar archetypes, such as Leila’s bumbling new housemate, Gabe (Brian Gleeson, another son of Brendan), but they consistently defy expectations for better and sometimes worse. The sharpest lines come from Leila’s best friend Deniz (Saskia Chana), a straight shooter ready to note that, “when you’re with your roommate, you’re like a girl from a Judd Apatow movie”.
Leila realises that she can be many things, and the same applies to many of her encounters. One starts with unexpected sex, turns to talk afterwards, erupts into an argument, and ends with affection that’s demanded as a due. That’s not an easy progression, and despite the defensive one-liners and gawky body language, it all unfolds with an idiosyncratic naturalness. The sex can be passionate or clumsy – the bodies involved are reassuringly ordinary throughout – and that breadth of possible outcome applies in most facets of The Bisexual. It’s never content to be content.
NEWLY ADDED MOVIES
Manchester by the Sea (Netflix, 2016, 137 minutes): Casey Affleck’s best quality as an actor is his ability to convey the passing of damning years in a single wary glance or stilted response. It’s a talent put to unerring use in Kenneth Lonergan’s compelling film, a drama about the impossibility of escaping the past that finds genuine and unexpected humour in the turns of the present. Recalled to the coastal town he once called home from Boston, where he works as a janitor and picks bar fights, Lee (Affleck) discovers that he has lost his older brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler, in flashback), and gained the guardianship of his nephew, teenager Patrick (Lucas Hedges). What follows is duty, errands and avoidance – there are no heartfelt speeches and redemptive gestures, and the reason for Lee’s failings, and why the locals look on him with sad consolation, is etched in by flashbacks that acquire a visceral force when Lee finally engages with his former wife, Randi (Michelle Williams). Grief is devastating in Manchester by the Sea, but the greatest cruelty is that life just goes on. Finding the shades of compassion and acceptance in that, without hiding the reality, is what elevates Lonergan’s movie.
New on SBS on Demand: An eerily inventive horror film where the possible monsters include late-era capitalism and Lovecraft-worthy beasts, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s The Endless (2017, 107 minutes) tracks a pair of brothers (played by the filmmakers) who return to the Californian cult they once fled, testing both their perceptions and their familial bond.
New on Stan: Side Effects (2013, 106 minutes) is not Steven Soderbergh’s best film, but with Rooney Mara as a depressed wife and Jude Law as her psychiatrist it’s a psychological thriller taking in prescription drug culture and glossy twists; Belgium’s neo-realist masters Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne dissect guilt with The Unknown Girl (2016, 102 minutes), an intimate drama about a young doctor (the compelling Adele Haenel) trying to make amends.
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