Nursing a tough breakup with Lucy (Hayley Kiyoko) and a stagnant music career, 34-year-old Brooklynite Becks (Lena Hall) returns to her Midwestern hometown of St. Louisand, more specifically, the house of her devoutly religious widowed mother Ann (Christine Lahti)while figuring out her next move. When her one and only past boyfriend, Dave (Dan Fogler), offers her a gig performing at his bar on weekends, she jumps at the opportunity and gradually begins pulling in modest, admiring crowds. Following a few chance encounters, Becks befriends vintage boutique owner Elyse (Mena Suvari), wife of a former high school bully she and her pals long ago nicknamed Mitch the Bitch (Darren Ritchie). While giving Elyse guitar lessons, Becks continue to hit it off with her, encouraging her student to break out of her comfort zone and perform a duet with her at Dave's tavern.
Written and directed by Daniel Powell and Elizabeth Rohrbaugh and co-written by Rebecca Drysdale, "Becks" is a relatively simple yet always poignantly observed indie drama with a potential breakthrough turn from its lead performer. The film does not hinge upon plot hooks and narrative twistsit's more a slice-of-life than anythingbut nonetheless surprises in where it goes and how it gets there. As the eponymous Becks, Lena Hall, well-deserved winner of a 2014 Tony Award for playing the gender-bending role of Yitzhak in the Broadway revival of John Cameron Mitchell's "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," is a double threat: she can sing extraordinarily well, and she can act like nobody's business (it wouldn't be a surprise if she can also dance well; she is the offspring of ballet dancers and one of her early stage credits was in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Broadway sensation "Cats"). Hall is not playing herself, but her raw authenticity and seeming inability to strike a false emotional note makes it seem like she is.
Becks is a true original as far as cinematic heroines goor, perhaps it just feels that way because gay female protagonists are so starkly underrepresented in film. Either way, she's flawed and vulnerable, tough but tender, disappointed over where her life has taken her but rather content that it has led her to this current place and time. She's also, ultimately, a woman passing through, a truth known to both Ann, who struggles to be accepting of her daughter, and Elyse, who connects to Becks more than just about anyone else she has met. The scenes between Becks and Elyse are its fluttery heartbeat, alive with intimacy and tension. Becks is hesitant to get too attached to an unhappy straight woman who may be merely experimenting, but there is also no denying their electricity.
In one of the meatiest big-screen roles she has had in several years, Mena Suvari (2012's "American Reunion
") is exquisite as Elyse. Hers is a performance of aching complexity and desire, so honest the viewer sometimes questions if he or she is overstepping a boundary by watching. Together, Hall and Suvari are magical screen partners. As Becks' ex-nun mother Ann, Christine Lahti (2014's "Hateship Loveship
") brings welcome shades to a role that could have easily been treated as a caricature or punchline. They may never be able to see eye to eye as mother and daughter, and they are better off not living under the same roof, but it's not for a lack of trying.
"Lesbian sounds like a sad Hogwarts house no one wants to be in," cookout guest Amy (Rebecca Drysdale) explains to Becks on why she prefers the term "gay" to describe her sexual identity. It's a great line in its unexpected succinctness. "Becks," too, exhibits the same level of precision throughout, even in tough moments which, like life, cannot be tidily resolved by the end credits. As the film approaches its debate-worthy conclusion, a particularly hard decision must be made. By this point, Becks has become such a genuinely defined individual she has earned the right to make it on her own terms.