Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Almost Adults Delights at the ClexaCon Film Festival

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As I’m sure you’ve heard by now (more than once), I and my fellow editor/contributor Elizabeth went to ClexaCon this past weekend. We gushed about fanart, cosplay, and the amazing guests and celebrities on Ladies First on Wednesday. So today, I want to talk about one of the less publicized gems of the con: the film festival. That’s right, there was a festival of films dedicated to queer ladies that went on all weekend. I didn’t get to go to many of the films given how full my schedule was. Fine, I only made it to one. But the one I did go to was wonderful and that’s what I want to talk about today.

Almost Adults stars Carmilla alums Natasha Negovanlis (Carmilla) and Elise Bauman (Laura Hollis) as college best friends and roommates Cassie (played by Negovanlis) and Mack (played by Bauman), short for Mackenzie. The film opens on a scene establishing the bff nature of this friendship of opposites as the titles roll. Cue awkward family dinners times two, and I’m already sold. Mack has recently figured out she’s a lesbian, and Cassie recently broke up with her long-time boyfriend. Each character must find a way to tell their parents the ‘truth’ about their lives and, surprise, surprise, it’s Cassie’s parent’s who are less accepting. Mack actually calls her gay best friend Levi to complain about how accepting her parents were because she feels she missed out on a queer right of passage.

The rest of the film follows the pair as they navigate what life throws at them next. Mack learns how to ‘be a lesbian’, including getting a Tumblr account and ‘Tumblr girlfriend’, a real girlfriend, and then losing real girlfriend over her ‘Tumblr girlfriend’. Cassie faces life post Matthew, including struggling with her grades and losing a potentially career making internship. They’re learning how to be adults and how to be friends through the ups and downs of life.

And they’re adorable about it.

If you’ve watched Carmilla, you’ll be unsurprised to hear how hilarious the film is. I’m not all that familiar with LGBT+ focused films, so maybe this is par for the course for LGBT+ comedies. But I, for one, loved the curve ball nature of the humor. Negovanlis jokes about how she wants to live up life now that she’s broken up with Matthew, like, for example, staying out late or getting HPV. Mack replies, “Your standards are too low. Go crazy! Get the clap!”

A huge part of what I enjoyed about the comedy is that it takes injects humor into the female and LGBT+ experience. Making fun of unsatisfying male lovers is not new to comedy (just see shows like Sex and the City), but doing it in the context of being a queer woman is. At least to me. And I loved seeing Mack get to be awkward and ridiculous about being a newly out wlw. She utterly fails at her first attempt at sex, and we get to laugh with her about it. It’s Brooklyn 99 levels of ‘laugh with, not at the LGBT+ character’.

Elise Bauman continues her love affair with eating (and spitting out) food on screen, much to my delight. And even though their characters in Almost Adults are completely different from their characters in Carmilla, Bauman and Negovanlis are utterly convincing. The conflict in their relationship feels real and not overly melodramatic. We can see the tiny little steps along the way that lead to the bigger arguments without them feeling forced. Neither character is 100% in the right all the time, either. The audience can sympathize with both sides of the issues regardless of whether Cassie or Mack is feeling more hurt by the other’s behavior.

And that’s one of the film’s greatest successes. By creating space for both protagonists to be self-absorbed, the film avoids falling into the trap of being a stereotypical ‘friend of queer woman learns how to be kind about her coming out’ story. The point is that they’re both selfish and self-absorbed at different points. They’re both ‘almost adults’ in that they’re learning how to care about more than their own personal sorrows and frustrations. Both Cassie and Mack are flawed human beings and flawed friends.

And that’s what I love most. By making it a story about friendship rather than coming out, Almost Adults becomes a human story that everyone can relate to. We’ve all had shitty friends, and been the shitty friend. Being an adult means moving past yourself to care for others while making space for forgiveness instead of relying on demonizing and cutting ties with people who hurt you. By building up the rift in the friendship so naturally, the ending (which I won’t spoil) feels both cathartic and earned.

For an independent film, the cinematography and camera work felt more what you’d expect from a bigger studio dramedy. It was intimate, but professional looking. The leitmotif of the statue in the park worked really well to broadcast where Cassie and Mack’s friendship is at any given moment. Whether it be them together taking adorable pictures with it, Cassie leaning against it alone at night, or Mack by herself, double fisting her ice cream cones while dripping all over it. That statue says it all.

The script was well done, with lots of visual and experiential echoes to parallel the protagonists’ experiences. But it didn’t feel hackneyed or in your face obvious either. The dialogue was both funny and rich, and I really enjoyed the use of silence/on-screen texting of characters off screen. It was painfully true to life.

At the end of the day Almost Adults, is a funny, warm, and insightful film about learning how to grow up and grow with your friends even if they hurt you. While it may at times rely on LGBT+ stereotypes a bit too much for my comfort level, it still manages to be hilarious without making queer characters the butt of all the jokes. Bauman and Negovanlis absolutely nail their roles. They prove once again that they have some of the best comedic timing of any young female pair of actors, hands down. I can’t wait to see more work from each or both of them in the future!

I’m always here for more Elise x food. She could give Kara Danvers a run for her money.

All in all, one of the best ways to close out an amazing weekend at ClexaCon! The Q&A after the film was interesting as well. I learned first hand that Natasha Negovanlis was much shorter than I expected after having watched Carmilla.

Almost Adults was released in the US earlier this year. It is available for rent or purchase on YouTube, Amazon Video, iTunes, Vimeo, Microsoft, Vudu, and Google Play.

Images Courtesy of Unsolicited Pictures


  • Gretchen

    Bi/pan, they/them. Gretchen is a Managing Editor for the Fandomentals. An unabashed academic book nerd and aspiring sci/fi and fantasy author, they have about things like media, representation, and ethics in storytelling.

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