In a risky endeavour to showcase his range in an indie drama that hits close to home, Elliot Page stars alongside Hillary Baack and Wendy Crewson in Close to You…
“They say your kids will teach you about life and mine has.”
A fitting environment for actor Elliot Page to debut the new Canadian drama Close to You, the performer took the film’s world premiere to the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival. Bolstered by talented director Dominic Savage, who worked on the outline for the movie along with Page, the film is a testament to family subtleties and long-lost love. It never hits the soaring heights it strives for, but the lessons learned by the time the credits roll are lasting impressions of modern trans love.
Close to You stars Elliot Page as Sam, a trans man living in Toronto who travels by train to his hometown of Cobourg to celebrate his father’s birthday. Sam has been away for several years since he transitioned and chose to live in a big city rather than the confines of what he deems a constrained small town. On his way, he bumps into his old friend Katherine (Baack), a deaf former high school classmate with whom Sam once shared a romantic history. Now married with children, Katherine is unsure how she feels about seeing Sam after all these years, especially now that he’s transitioned.
Sam’s arrival at his parents’ home is welcomed by his mother (Crewson) and understanding father (Peter Outerbridge), but there is an elephant in the room that goes unspoken for some time. After gifts are passed out and wine is consumed, Sam’s family drama slowly boils to the surface by way of his siblings, their significant others, and his parents. Hostility, secrets, accidental dead naming, and confusing speeches confound the situation, leading to Sam constantly defending his choices and life.
Though the family birthday celebration could cause Sam enough grief for a lifetime, his reunion with Katherine occupies his mind more than anything else. The two see one another several times while he is in town, and their connection is undeniable. Katherine slowly gets comfortable being around Sam, who hasn’t lost interest in his first love.
Close to You associates family and love in a boisterous way but often fails to uncover many pieces of the complicated puzzle. Dominic Savage and Elliot Page construct the film’s script in a mostly improvisational manner where the cast is given some notes about where a scene will go, and they take it from there when it comes to the dialogue. It’s an engaging tactic for what should be an invasive subject matter for a private actor like Page, whose coming out and transition journey has been front-page news for quite some time. Though his memoir Pageboy has become a bestseller for its tell-all nature, Close to You really just scrapes the surface of an otherwise personal story.
Yes, Sam’s story isn’t entirely Page’s, though elements are clearly shared in both journeys. The sequences between Sam and Katherine are heartfelt but leave many more questions than answers, especially when Katherine makes oddly placed choices toward the film’s end. There is also a lot to be desired for the family that Sam left and chose to return to, as many of these family members feel helpless in trying to help him years ago and now feel empathetic in their attempts to support him where need be. Sam is strong-willed and a bit stubborn, so opening those doors to his family is challenging.
Elliot Page and Hillary Baack are excellent in their respective roles, but it’s Wendy Crewson who shines brightest in moments of harsh reality. Playing Sam’s mother is no easy task, whereas the Canadian actor does it with grace and humility. The entire ensemble is worthy of their roles, as characters are viewed through a flawed lens of despair and miscommunication.
Close to You doesn’t assemble the most remarkable story ever told, nor does it enrich its characters with depth beyond the stereotypical family dynamics. It does, however, beg the question: Can someone ever truly go home?
Page’s memoir might best answer that question rather than a fictionalized account on the big screen.