Damon Cardasis’s excellent feature debut, Saturday Church, is a sensitive look at a young man’s exploration of his identity and sexuality. Ulysses is a black, genderqueer fourteen-year-old whose father recently died. His loving but overworked mother enlists strict Aunt Rose to help care for Ulysses and his little brother. But Rose, a devout Christian, scolds Ulysses for trying on his mother’s clothes. His mother, too, pleads with Ulysses to stop stealing her panty hose, failing to understand the yearnings of the young aesthete.
Ulysses flees this homophobic Bronx home life to a queer haven of vogue balls in the West Village. Near Christopher Street, Ulysses finds kindred spirits who invite him to Saturday Church, a community program for queer youth. His new, chosen family accepts him quickly, but not everything is rosy for Ulysses. After being kicked out of his house, he has a chance encounter that evolves into a heartbreaking dose of reality.
Amid the film’s despair is a whimsical element that feels a little out of place: musical numbers that pop up when Ulysses has a surfeit of emotion. They’re beautiful swells of mental escapism within the mind of a teen who’s all too eager for acceptance, but these numbers appear so suddenly after dramatic moments that they can be jarring.
Actor Luka Kain deftly carries Ulysses’s pain on his slim shoulders, perpetually hunched until Ulysses receives his first swipe of glittery pink lip gloss. Then, Kain and Ulysses positively glow — and so does the rest of the cast, a talented and LGBTQ-inclusive group of performers. With Saturday Church, Cardasis has crafted a beautiful story about young, queer people of color championing one another and finding themselves.
Written and directed by Damon Cardasis
Samuel Goldwyn Mayer
Opens today, Village East Cinema