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Courtesy Calgary International Film Festival

Hunky Dory explores fatherhood for a drag queen

By Rachel Woodward, September 27 2016 —

For his breakout into film, Michael Curtis Johnson wrote and directed the feature Hunky Dory, a modern tale of love, addiction and family. The film was featured at this year’s Calgary International Film Festival.

With a stunning soundtrack, complex characters and an incredible performance by co-writer and star Tomas Pais, the film is nothing short of amazing.

Hunky Dory tells the story of Sydney — a drag queen with a diet of weed, red wine and cigarettes — who lives on tips and the money he makes selling pills stolen from his terminally cancer-ridden friend. Sydney is used to living on his own with little responsibility, until his ex drops off their 11-year-old without notice or idea of when she will return.

Sydney is forced to step into the role of father to George, played by Edouard Holdener with an incredible maturity in the role. The two are faced with hardship as Sydney continues to engage in less-than-fatherly behaviour.

The film is a gritty and utterly honest portrayal of Sydney’s struggles revealing the reality hidden behind an addict’s “hunky dory” exterior.

There is nothing hidden from audiences, with hilarious and devastating moments shown in their purest form. Sydney fills the screen with humour and drama, leaving audiences wanting more from the character. Johnson and Pais present a character that is so easy to latch onto that when the film ends, a real emotional moment of reflection occurs.

While Sydney’s sexuality in the film is demonstrated by his sexual engagements with both men and women, his sexual orientation is never spoken of or labelled. And even though it is clear how he is perceived as a drag queen, it is not a defining aspect of his character. There is a real humanity that occurs when labels are taken away completely.

The soundtrack holds the film in an incredibly supportive way, never overpowering the acting. Instead, it provides an effective method to project Sydney’s emotional state to an audible level. A simple instrumental version of David Bowie’s haunting Nature Boy reoccurs throughout the film, accentuating the more raw moments.

The relationship between Sydney and George is beautiful — a young son who holds no judgment towards his father and sees him as a literal “rock star” — is something truly wonderful to witness.

The film, with its complex characters of prostitutes, cancer patients and drug addicts creates an incredible blend of relatable and fully formed beings. Hunky Dory thrives in character development and finding beauty in flaws, making it one of CIFF’s best on this year’s festival circuit.

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