In the superb coming-of-age drama of Closet Monster, the thoughts of high school senior Oscar Madly (Connor Jessup) are never far from Buffy (voiced by Isabella Rossellini), the hamster he’s had since his traumatic boyhood.
Oscar’s mother (Joanne Kelly) walked out when he was nine, and soon after, he witnessed a gay teen being sexually assaulted. Ever since, whenever his distracted father (Aaron Abrams) isn’t around, Oscar talks to Buffy, and she talks back like a “spirit animal” for a lonely kid.
The boy has a rich fantasy life, but writer-director Stephen Dunn, filming his feature debut in his Newfoundland hometown, makes sure his protagonist’s “visions” are always a precise expression of his inner tumult. After receiving a college rejection letter, Oscar runs into his room, where every poster, book, or scribbled note screams the one word that shouted to Oscar from that letter: unfortunately.
Oscar is gay and has a crush on a co-worker (Aliocha Schneider), and though their inevitable moment of truth (is he, or isn’t he?) is memorable, Dunn has a darker, more intense reckoning in mind for Oscar. Related to the sex crime he witnessed as a boy, Oscar’s meltdown moment is thematically daring and a little bit nuts — and it wouldn’t work at all if the filmmaker hadn’t lucked into an actor as gifted as Jessup.
Now twenty-two, the Canadian-born performer was brilliant on ABC’s American Crime last year, and now, with the U.S. release of the earlier-filmed Closet Monster, it’s clear we’re witnessing the emergence of a major talent, one who can makes us believe in talking hamsters and first kisses that disappoint — and transform — all at once.
Distributed by Strand Releasing
Directed by Stephen Dunn
Opens September 23, IFC Center
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 21, 2016