‘Something You Said Last Night’ review: Trans Ennui on family vacation

TIFF: A rough-and-tumble Canadian-Italian family stumbles through vacation in Luis De Filippis’ intimate and confident debut.

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Many people have complicated feelings about family, but queer people often experience a unique type of emotional whiplash. The family can be the source of conflict and intimacy; isolation and familiarity; safety and danger. Those who know you best can hurt you the most, especially when acute self-knowledge is necessary for your survival. These themes resonate softly in Something You Said Last Night, Canadian-Italian filmmaker Luis De Filippis’ visionary debut feature film. Loosely inspired by her own family, the film is an elegant exploration of a young person oscillating between connection and alienation during a cramped family vacation.

Deeply tender and wildly funny, “Something You Said Last Night” heralds the arrival of a vital new voice at Transkino.

Focused and precise, the story takes place over a specific period of time – a week-long family vacation. The film begins and ends with a car ride, that universal site of family struggles and bonds. Mona (Ramona Milano) stops at the lakefront where they go every year and chides her husband Guido (Joe Parro) for not booking a waterfront cabin. Renata (Carmen Madonia) and her sister Sienna (Paige Evans) are sharing a pullout couch in the living room when they are woken up by the harsh noise of a blender. De Filippis quickly establishes familial intimacy in these small domestic moments, painting a recognizable family dynamic with little more than a green smoothie.

While Renata is our main window into the film, Mona is the source of his lively energy and humor. It’s easy to fall in love with Milano, whose feisty performance as a family brawler and vigorous Italian matriarch will surely lead to more work. As often heard as seen, Mona spends her holidays taking photos and making loud phone calls to absent family members. There are rarely people who don’t recognize their own mother when she asks, “Hey, did you get the sunset pictures I sent you?” or “I have to clean at home, now I have to clean on vacation too ?

Mona’s relationship with Renata is by far the most poignant in the film. She affectionately calls her daughter “Mama,” a cute, gender-specific pet name that’s mostly used when she wants Renata to do her hair. As Renata watches keenly as a child is teased in the parking lot for playing with a doll, Mona goes too far and enters. “I took care of it,” Renata yells while Mona looks on, confused. Mona is so used to doing Renata’s fights for her that she doesn’t even realize she’s doing it. The supportive mother-daughter relationship is riddled with subtle complications and is a welcome departure from the typical combative portrayal so often seen in queer films.

As lost as most twenty-somethings, Renata is a silent observer – both in the film and in her own life. Spotted on a sunny day banging her Juul or watching TV indoors, we get to know her through relationships and the way she navigates the world. She doesn’t want mom to buy her a hat, but she ends up stealing her sister’s hat anyway. On the beach, she avoids a lustful look and takes a pedal boat alone to an island, where she finally dives completely into the water. Since Sienna deserts her every night for a local boy, she quietly covers for her even when she has to clean up the messy hangover. Tensions rise between the sisters as they pin secrets on each other; that Renata has lost her job and Sienna wants to drop out of school.

Both Madonia and Evans have a simple onscreen quality, falling into an unspoken sisterly shorthand (and occasional disgust). Reserved but self-confident, she strides through the narrow world of the film with captivating power. Her uneasiness is palpable, as is her confidence, which often coexists at the same moment. We fear for her safety alone in a car surrounded by drunk boys, but she barely blinks as she snatches Sienna from her clutches.

As in her award-winning Sundance short For Nonna Anna, De Filippis has an uncanny ability to capture the awkwardness and intimacy of bodies in relation to one another. Whether it’s a girl bathing her aging grandmother or two sisters trying on swimsuits in the mirror, De Filippis finds depth in the mundane when the trans body is portrayed on screen as beautiful, normal, confident and loved. No wonder Something You Said Last Night won TIFF Next Wave’s Change Maker Award, which recognizes films that raise voices and address issues of social change. With a young visionary behind the camera, Transkino is finally in the right hands.

Grade: A-

Something You Said Last Night premiered at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival. It is currently looking for distribution.

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https://www.indiewire.com/2022/09/something-you-said-last-night-review-trans-family-1234764269/ ‘Something You Said Last Night’ review: Trans Ennui on family vacation

Lindsay Lowe

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