It can be very difficult to merge live theatre and cinema.
Although there have been countless efforts before, it seems that one must inevitably give way to the other in order for it to be effective. As Spielberg recently recreated the wonder of West Side Story, he had to make the film feel authentic. Even amidst the song and dance numbers, somehow the story felt rooted in the real world. By the same token, films that adapt to live theatre must adjust their style accordingly in order to connect with the audience.
When these concessions don’t occur, the results can be… conflicted.
Directed by Amanda Kramer, Please Baby Please tells the story of Suze (Andrea Riseborough) and Arthur (Henry Melling), a couple in 1950s Manhattan who witness a grisly murder. Shocked by the experience, Arthur also finds himself dangerously attracted to the greaser gang that was guilty, causing tension within his marriage. At the same time, Suze begins her own sexual awakening when she meets a mysterious upstairs neighbor (Demi Moore) whose bedroom is always open for experimentation.
Using bright, basic colours and stage lighting, the film very much feels like an ode to the theatrical experience. Taking cues from other favourites such as West Side Story, Please understands the tropes of live theatre storytelling and then quickly begins to subvert them. Tough guys aren’t so tough and women aren’t sure what they want from men. In this way, Kramer takes the classic storytelling devices of classic musicals and constantly challenges them. Featuring performances that feel better served onstage, Melling, Riseborough and especially Moore do their best to bring this experience to life for the viewer in its heightened environment.
Unfortunately, the film’s style becomes somewhat of a strange experience for the audience. Using a verbal rhythm that’s reminiscent of beatnik poetry of the 60s and 70s at times, the film’s style is fascinating to experience but prevents the viewer from investing authentically in its characters. Although we understand the hyper-reality of the theatrical experience, the translation here creates a gap that simply doesn’t work.
Even so, while jarring in style, one thing that Please does very well is its dissection of gender stereotypes. Struggling with his sexuality in a culture that emphasizes human power and dominance, Arthur is a man lost amongst the expectations of others. He’s married to a woman who wishes to see more ‘masculinity’ from him and conflicted by his feelings for one of the very men who threatened his life. (Though, it’s also worth noting that Suze is wrestling with her own sexual desire in the modern age as well, eventually turning to… a washing machine.) As such, Arthur finds himself drawn to a world that he finds both threatening and alluring.
These unique conversations lead to some fascinating inquiries into our current notions of gender dynamics. Is masculinity something that comes naturally through genetics and physical attributes? Or is it something that is passed down from generation to generation through cultural expectations? With honest inquiry, Please leans into its other-worldly circumstances in order to help dissect and disseminate gender politics in the 21st century. (Again, you’ll never look at your washer quite the same way.)
However, despite the importance of these conversations, the distance between viewer and characters prevents the film from connecting on a deeper level. As a result, Please Baby Please feels more like a philosophical investigation than emotional journey. As a result, while beautiful to see, the film doesn’t allow the viewer to feel the true impact of its arguments.
Having said this, with some intriguing arguments and explorations, Please Baby Please certainly has its positives. However, despite it’s pedigree, I would say Please to another title for a night of viewing.
Please Baby Please is available on VOD now.