'The Ring Thing': Film Review | Outfest 2017

Courtesy of The Ring Thing
You may not want to accept this proposal.

Drama and documentary mix as a couple of actresses and a bunch of real people hash out their views on gay marriage.

Now that gay marriage is legal (at least for the time being), we are starting to see films not about the struggle to get married but about conflicts between couples who must decide whether or not to tie the knot. An engaging if flawed exploration of this theme, The Ring Thing played at Outfest and other gay festivals. Despite the best efforts of two appealing leads and the timeliness of the subject, the film doesn’t have the substance to break out into the larger marketplace.

Sarah (Sarah Wharton) and Kristen (Nicole Pursell) are on the beach in Provincetown when Sarah brings out her divorced parents’ wedding ring, which she discovered while cleaning out some family possessions. Kristen misinterprets this as a proposal, which is not at all what Sarah had in mind. This forces a confrontation between the two women about their future together, and they find that they have divergent views on marriage. Sarah happens to be a documentary filmmaker, so she and her business partner Gary (Matthew Connolly) decide to interview various gay couples who are either married or divorced to try to expand their own personal perspective on the subject.

The film is an ambitious mix of fiction and documentary that doesn’t quite jell. One problem is that the many people interviewed on camera just don’t offer very telling memories or opinions to strengthen the film’s exploration. It also doesn’t help that the conflicts between Sarah and Kristen keep getting reiterated without being deepened. The breakup of Sarah’s parents clearly contributed to her fear of marriage, and Sarah eventually interviews both parents as part of the documentary project, but these scenes aren’t as piercing as they need to be. Another crisis is added when Kristen loses her job and then is offered a new position in Seattle, so the clock is ticking as the two heroines try to determine their romantic destiny.

Wharton and Pursell are both immensely engaging and always believable, so we do find ourselves invested in their dilemma, even when the script (by director William Sullivan and Derek Dodge) seems to be just treading water. Sarah’s partner Gary has recently been through a breakup himself, but this is treated too sketchily to add much clarity to the film’s investigation of gay relationships.

Technical credits are competent, though Sullivan (editor as well as director) lets the pacing flag at times. The New York and Provincetown settings are skillfully utilized. The ambiguous ending is a cop-out and a mistake.

Cast: Sarah Wharton, Nicole Pursell, Matthew Connolly, Peter Jensen, Cheryl Pickett
Director-editor: William Sullivan
Screenwriters: Derek Dodge, William Sullivan
Producers: Jess Weiss, Sarah Wharton
Executive producers: Abraham Brown, Derek Dodge, Jim Stephens, William Sullivan
Director of photography: Derek Dodge
Production designer: Nicole Pursell
Costume designer: Julie Klobusicky

No rating, 112 minutes

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