'Honeyglue': Newport Beach Review

Sickly sweet.

James Bird's feature about the whirlwind romance of a young woman dying of cancer premiered at the Newport Beach Film Festival.

“Love stories are the only stories worth telling”, intones one of our heroes midway through Honeyglue, a leaden cancer weepie about a girl with three months to live who falls in love with a purse-snatching cross-dresser. As a credo, it’s a fair distillation of the entire film: worthy but more than a little sanctimonious. Writer-director James Bird’s second feature tells an entirely familiar story with a dash of transvestism thrown in, but doesn’t do anything interesting with that twist – and the lumpen screenplay is drag enough. Think A Walk to Remember, only with two sets of veils. 

Jordan (Bordertown’s Zach Villa) and Morgan (Adriana Mather, who featured in the director’s previous Eat Spirit Eat) meet at a club, where Jordan’s black bob and lipstick catch the eye of Morgan’s Super 8 camera. Soon they’re making out in a back alley and slinging lines at each other presumably meant to approximate flirtatious wit: “Don’t be sad if I don’t call. Don’t be mad if I do call”. They return to their homes, only to find the vestiges of twin birthday parties they’ve each ditched; synchronicity is under way.

Jordan ascends to his palatial teepee on the roof, lit up with fairy lights and ringed by production designers Chloe Arbiture and Jonathan Bell with fluttering curtains that look like Cirque offcuts. His living arrangements are the first sign that Jordan doesn’t quite live in the real world. He’s a contrivance whose delinquency, tortured past and artistic talent makes him ripe for redemption through the love of a good woman. The fresh wrinkle here is the character’s sexual ambiguousness, though it feels superficial; a value-add aimed to give the film some distinguishing cred amid a sea of identikit tearjerkers such as last summer’s The Fault in Our Stars.

Meanwhile Morgan is living at home with her white-bread parents, played by Christopher Heyerdahl (Hell on Wheels) and Jessica Tuck (Super 8), and her gratingly fratboyish brother (The Twilight Saga’s Booboo Stewart). A doctor informs the family that Morgan’s cancer is terminal, and recommends a facility in Houston as the best place to make the “transition”.

This scene is the first of many in which the approach to coverage is, to put it kindly, unconventional. Bird and his d.p. (and editor) Stefan Colson pan around the speakers, and for a large chunk of the exchange palm fronds obscure Mom and Dad’s faces. Later on, Morgan’s mother breaks down at home (“I am…I am…I am her mother!”) and Bird plays the first half of that sentence on the kitchen wall. At another point there’s a two-shot in which – distractingly and for no apparent reason – focus is pulled back and forth between Morgan and Jordan. This is camera movement not just without meaning but actively scrambling it.

But the apex of misguided visual flourish comes in the form of several animated sequences, vividly drawn by Kevin Weber. They’re excerpts from Jordan’s book, about a dragonfly boy who falls in love with a princess bee, and must thwart the queen bee who wants to keep them apart. As an opening card informs us, the life span of a dragonfly is three months, like Morgan’s, but these discursions aren’t so much metaphorical as thuddingly literal-minded – and not just unnecessary but inconsistent. “A bee belongs with a bee”, says the queen bee. We know whom Morgan and Jordan represent, but who’s the queen? Late in the piece Amanda Plummer turns up as Jordan’s trailer-park mother and is assigned the crown. But Plummer’s Alice never seems remotely interested in busting up the love fest, so the metaphor is inexact to say the least.

The young lovers spend their wedding night rolling around in their lingerie, and much of their honeymoon is captured on Morgan’s camera, grainy footage from which recurs throughout. For the most part, these home-video fragments are nostalgic idylls: montages of endless Malickian frolicking. Actual scenes involving dialogue tend to be more prosaic. On the beach, the young lovers contemplate the fleeting nature of existence: “The hell with time”, says Jordan, “it’s not real anyway. What’s real is you and me, right here. You’re my fantasy. Which makes you my reality. You’re my realistic fantasy”. Morgan replies: “And you’re my fantastic reality. F*** time!” Fantastic’s the word.

Cast: Adriana Mather, Zach Villa, Christopher Heyerdahl, Jessica Tuck, Booboo Stewart, Amanda Plummer, Fernanda Romero

Production companies: Zombot Pictures

Writer/Director: James Bird

Producers: Anya Remizova, Adriana Mather, James Bird

Director of Photography/Editor: Stefan Colson

Production designer: Chloe Arbiture, Jonathan Bell

Costume designer: Neva Kaya

Composer: Anya Remizova

Casting: Rene Haynes

Sales: RAMO Law PC

No rating, 107 minutes