April 20, 2011

Queer Review: The Laramie Project (2002)

The Laramie Project
Director: Moisés Kaufman
Writers: Moisés Kaufman, Stephen Belber, Leigh Fondakowski, Amanda Gronich, Jeffrey LaHoste, John McAdams, Andy Paris, Greg Pierotti, Barbara Pitts, Kelli Simpkins, Stephen Wangh
Cast: Laura Linney, Steve Buscemi, Christina Ricci, Janeane Garofalo, Mark Webber, Margo Martindale, Joshua Jackson, Nestor Carbonell, Jeremy Davies, Andy Paris, Frances Sternhagen, Clea DuVall, Ben Foster, Terry Kinney, Tom Bower, Michael Emerson

Overview
One of the most powerful and emotionally compelling examples of queer film-making to date, The Laramie Project tells the story of a town coping with a terrible tragedy that puts them in the center of an unpleasant spotlight.

Synopsis
In an attempt to make sense of a senseless event, the Tectonic Theater Company went to Laramie, Wyoming to conduct interviews with the residents. From those interviews, the screenplay for The Laramie Project was constructed, with the words of the real people affected by the tragedy being used verbatim to construct the dialog.

The Queering
To date, there are only a handful of films that have had the emotional impact on me that The Laramie Project did. Whilst I would rather not admit explicitly in a public forum how exactly I reacted, let's just say that by the time the end credits rolled, had there been a box of tissues nearby, I would have gone through the whole box. As it was, I merely ended up with a really wet shirt.

There are many scenes with the potential to bring audience members to tears, such as the bartender lamenting that he could have prevented Matt Shepard from leaving his bar with the two men who would ultimately become his murderers. Throughout The Laramie Project, the relentless assault on the audiences emotions never ceases. However, since this all based on real life, one gets the feeling that a true catharsis will be impossible. At the end, not even the sentencing of Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson brings any relief.

The method used by those who wrote the play - using excerpts from actual interviews of those affected by Mathew Shepard's death - has been questioned. Many have not asked why not simply make a documentary? However, I think the answer is obvious. What The Laramie Project is ultimately a work of art. By having the words of real people given life by the actors, interpretation and certain themes can be highlighted and brought to the forefront. Yet the method used to give birth the screenplay gives it an authenticity that no project with the "based on a true story" can possibly match.

The town of Laramie is presented in the movie as an ordinary town in America that has been traumatized into a state of belligerent shock by Mathew Shepard's murder. The people interviewed claim that this sort of thing does not happen in Laramie, that the people here are neither homophobic nor gay bashers, and that the prevailing attitude is one of "live and let live". This key phrase is repeated several times throughout, but slowly the words and actions of other individuals paint a much different picture of Laramie where homophobia lurks beneath the surface, ready always to burst out into plain sight. Here too, Laramie appears no different than any other ordinary town in America.

The acting is strong across the board but because of the nature of the project and the large ensemble cast there are no standouts. The only problem I had was when I recognized a familiar face here and there and ended up trying to figure out what other movies a particular actor or actress had been in.

I had seen the play The Laramie Project when I was a freshman in college as part of my Play Analysis for the Stage class. As far as my hazy memories go, there appeared to be only a few changes, although I felt that some material must have condensed as I am sure there was some scenes that lasted longer and characters that were around more in the play version.

Recommendation
Highly recommended, except for those with sensitive constitutions.

The Rating




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