The problems with Close to you are not immediately clear. It is a quiet film about Sam (Elliot Page), a trans man living in Toronto. He tries to decide whether or not to return home for his father’s birthday party. Sam comes from a family whose discomfort with his transition sometimes manifests as an aggressive adherence to their progressive values. He considers whether he can tolerate their actions.
Written and directed by Dominic Savage, Close to you focuses on the drama of Sam’s homecoming. Returning to his small town near Lake Ontario, he is forced to confront long-buried feelings about his family and an old friend (Hillary Baack). The film longs to capture the stages of this emotional dig, but a clunky screenplay makes for less gripping viewing.
Close to you
It comes down to
A confident Page half-saves an undercooked drama.
The film’s visual grammar is based on intimate close-ups that attempt to capture the imperceptible awkwardness of the collision between past and present. On the train to his hometown, Sam sees Katherine (Baack), his once best friend. Together with DP Catherine Lutes, Savage approaches this reunion with a loving eye. Sam and Katherine look at each other and exchange a faint smile that conjures up versions of themselves they used to know. The two friends met in high school, where they found security and validation in each other, and there is a childlike playfulness to these early scenes.
The setup leads to a conversation of the vaguest kind. Sam and Katherine communicate primarily through burdened looks and regretful glances, which suggest the depth of the couple’s intimacy. But Savage’s skeletal dialogue robs the subsequent scenes of their power. In fact the weakest wire of Close to you is Sam’s relationship with Katherine. The duo talk a lot about the stakes of their reunion, and Savage plays on some tenuous sexual tension that they may or may not want. But even their strongest moments lack convincing vitality.
The most energetic scenes take place between Sam and his family members, because there the screenplay is anchored in precise tension rather than a cloudy sense of longing. When the youngest sibling arrives at the house for his father’s birthday party, tense politeness and fear creep into the room. “I’m just a disappointment to them,” Sam told a friend at the beginning of the film. The weight of that fear hangs in the air as Sam greets his parents (Wendy Crewson and Peter Outerbridge) and siblings Kate (Janet Porter), Megan (Alex Paxton-Beesley) and Michael (Daniel Maslany). They express genuine enthusiasm when Sam walks in on them, but their later interactions are based on accusations. “Are you happy?” they all ask at different times. When Sam says yes, they feel like they have a hard time believing it.
Savage portrays the painfulness of these moments well, but it’s Page’s performance that makes them compelling. He plays Sam as a person whose homecoming evokes a carefully constructed self-confidence. As he enters the house, he rounds his shoulders slightly and keeps his hand close to his body. Gone is the playful smile of interacting with Katherine on the train.
Sam’s interactions with his family are a minefield of projection and misplaced responsibility. When his mother uses the wrong pronouns, her dramatic self-flagellation changes the situation, leaving Sam to comfort her. Later, when Paul (David Reale), his sister’s husband, accuses Sam of ruining the congenial atmosphere, the family’s attempts at intervention once again make Sam responsible. The tension of these interactions can be heard in Sam’s voice, which gradually rises as his anger increases. When, at his breaking point, he finally shouts, “You weren’t worried about me when I was actually not doing well!” Years of pain come to the surface.
Even if this dialogue veers too close to cliché, it is still anchored by specificity and fueled by passion that is lacking in other parts of the film. The family scenes also point to truths that Sam, and perhaps by extension Page, is working through. The actor’s role Close to you is his first leading role in a film since coming out as transgender in 2020, and the best parts of the film reflect his memoir Page boy in their honesty. If Page’s book reflects on the journey to self-acceptance then Close to you points toward a future where staying free means pushing for your own happiness again and again.
Location: Toronto International Film Festival (special presentations)
Production companies: Me + You Productions, Good Question Media, Page Boy Productions
Cast: Elliot Page, Hillary Baack, Janet Porter, Alex Paxton-Beesley, Daniel Maslany, Sook-Yin Lee, Andrew Bushell, David Reale, Peter Outerbridge, Wendy Crewson
Director: Dominic Savage
Screenwriter: Dominic Savage, Elliot Page (story by)
Producers: Krishnendu Majumdar, Richard Yee, Daniel Bekerman, Chris Yurkovich, Dominic Savage, Elliot Page
Executive Producers: Anita Gou, Sam Intili, Nia Vazirani, Francine Maisler, Matt Jordan Smith, Andrew Frank
Cameraman: Catherine Lutes
Production designer: Joseph Kabbach
Costume Designer: Cameron Lee
Editor: David Charap
Composer: Dominic Savage, Oliver Coates
1 hour 40 minutes