When watching films from a festival that champions queer voices and stories, you would expect them to highlight stories that did just that. What you don’t expect is for a film to end with the only out gay character being told that God has something great in store for him—especially after said character has denounced his relationship with the Church for being homophobic. If a “woke” Christian Church was to make a movie about understanding your sexuality as a young person, then you’d get Dramarama.
Set in 1994, Jonathan Wysocki’s film takes place on the eve of Rose’s (Anna Grace Barlow) departure to NYU to study stage acting. Rose hosts a murder-mystery costume party with her best friends as a final send-off. The friend group consists of Oscar (Nico Greetham), an aspiring film actor who is about to move to LA; Ally (Danielle Kay), an opera singer; Claire (Megan Suri), a devote Christian; and Gene (Nick Pugliese), a closeted young gay who feels lost in life and questioning his place within this circle. Throughout the night, multiple dramatic moments unfold (unsurprising for a group of drama nerds) with each person confronting their own deep-rooted issues with their childhood friends.
Most of the arguments that transpire throughout the evening are petty teenager problems: Rose is mad at Gene for distancing himself from their group and becoming friends with the cool, older kid (and perhaps the film’s attempt at an off-brand Timothee Chalamet), JD (Zak Henri). Oscar is annoyed with Gene and Ally for not inviting him to the movies with JD. Ally is harbouring resentment towards Rose for sabotaging her chance at playing a lead role in the school musical. Gene is bitter towards all of them because they’re moving away for college, leaving him behind in their hometown.
Dramarama is a film for high schoolers who are at the crossroads between youth and adulthood. And that’s about the only people it’s for. I could personally relate to the kids in this story: I was a theatre nerd in school, was unpopular and disliked, prudish and reserved, and had a massive existential crisis when I had to leave my comfortable bubble for university. So, I really should be the most empathic and appreciative of these characters.
Yet that’s far from true. I found each character obnoxious and disingenuous (except for Ally, who seemed to be the only one within this circle that had lived a life outside of the Church). They are immature and ridiculous. Their sheltered naivety and overbearing religious beliefs are unbearable (I don’t think I’ve ever rolled my eyes so much while watching a movie). It’s noted that these kids became friends by knowing each other from Church, presumably because they did bible study or youth groups together. Sure, these characters are meant to be like that, but their lack of realness and authenticity made any empathy you have for them disappear almost instantly.
It’s fair to say that the young actors are charming in their roles, as they really do capture the insufferable awkwardness of weird teenagers. But the characters themselves play out like stereotypes of their own stereotypes. I mean, even religious drama kids have sex and party. They are teenagers, after all!
But what really made me question the validity of Dramarama‘s message was a conversation between Gene and Oscar. When Gene is trying to come out to his friend and tell him the truth about his sexuality, he asks Oscar if he still believes AIDS was a curse sent by God to kill all the homosexuals for their sins. Oscar admits that he doesn’t believe that anymore, but that he “hates sin, loves the sinner.” For me, this moment, along with all the other references to Christianity’s hatred of homosexuality, is what makes the film lose its purpose. How can you have a film that is supposed to be about accepting yourself filtered through religious characters that are raised to hate the person they’re trying to accept?
The ultimate core of Dramarama is strong; the film’s themes are important to send to young people who are on the brink of discovering lives for themselves outside of their family. But the execution of these ideas was more of a nostalgic parody piece than something actually influential. And it’s especially upsetting because Dramarama had the potential to be an inspiring coming-of-age coming-out story. But, in the end, all the kids continued to be repressed in their sexuality. There was no euphoric conclusion for them. We can only hope that each one of them is able to actually find themselves and explore their identity once they get to college… but that’s left entirely for the audience to deduce themselves.
Dramarama is a well made film let down by its religious themes. The film appears to prioritise the idea of “Jesus saving the queer soul” at the expense of actually accepting and loving your sexuality. It’s a confused film that wants to be a quirky queer 90s nostalgia piece but instead is cripplingly conservative.
Words by Shelby Cooke
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