PORT AUTHORITY is a Modern Queer Romance That Boldly Affirms The Power Of Love and Community
On the steps outside New York City’s dizzying central bus station, Port Authority, a girl named Wye vogues with her siblings. Paul, a young drifter, watches her, transfixed by her beauty. After he seeks her out, an intense love soon blossoms. Wye introduces him to the ballroom community, an underground LGBTQ subculture, and to her house, a self-selected chosen family. But when Paul realizes Wye is trans, he is forced to confront his feelings for her and the social forces that seek to rupture their bond.
Director: Danielle Lessovitz
Cast: Fionn Whitehead, Leyna Bloom, McCaul Lombardi, Louisa Krause
Country: United States, France
Runtime: 94 minutes
Oozing with flair, Port Authority, writer-director Danielle Lessovitz’s debut, is a deeply sensuous love story between two youths in New York – and it happens that one of them is a transgender woman. This will be a key talking point surrounding the film. Yet, I feel that even pointing it out would defeat the entire spirit of the film. It is a celebration of the fiery resolve of the queer community while showing that love can – and perhaps, will – transcend societal boundaries in the modern age.
Port Authority begins with young runaway Paul (Fionn Whitehead) arriving at the titular bus terminal in New York. Under the impression that he will be moving in with his half-sister, Sara (Louisa Krause), and that she is at the terminal waiting for him, Paul starts looking for her but she is nowhere to be seen. With nowhere to go, he decides to spend the night in a subway and ends up in a fight with harassing strangers.
He is saved by Lee (McCaul Lombardi), who gives Paul a place to stay in a shelter, in return for work as part of his bailiff crew removing the possessions of those late on rent around the city. It is through the shelter where Paul eventually meets and almost immediately falls for the sultry Wye (Leyna Bloom) and the New York Kiki ballroom scene she is a part of.
The scene is a youth-oriented subculture which serves as a safe haven for queers of colour, with members belonging to different ‘houses’. These ‘houses’ organise balls, where youths are given the chance to express and compete amongst themselves through their dance – the vogue. This dance, perhaps most well-known for its prominence in the music video for Madonna’s ‘Vogue’, is characterised by its sharp flamboyant movements; of sashaying hips and wild flailing limbs.
Port Authority gracefully captures the energy of this community. Produced by Martin Scorsese, it is no surprise that the modern streets of New York feel suitably grimy and unforgiving. This serves as the perfect contrast to the blue hues of the world inhabited by the queer community.
With the camera always kept close, blue light gorgeously wraps the face and body of its characters whenever and wherever they break out into dance, lending a deeply magnetic and sensual quality to the film. The warm neons work doubly well for the intimate scenes shared by both leads as their romance patiently blossoms on screen. In all, its technical aspects are a clear high point of the film that I thoroughly enjoyed.
The overall product, however, suffers from its spotty script. Perhaps its most frustrating plot hole lies in its main conflict, with Paul realising that Wye is transgender at the film’s halfway mark. This is supposed to challenge their budding romance. But the weight of Paul’s choices is undermined by how he has spent half of the film actively acknowledging that he has been hanging out with members of the queer community.
One example would be how – before the reveal – Paul actively makes an effort to hide his relationship with Wye and her family from the bigoted Lee, suggesting that Paul is at least somewhat aware of Wye’s supposed secret. His shock and initial repulsion to the reveal does not quite tally up.
Its slow pace does not do the film any favours, with the leads taking their time navigating the plot points of what is essentially a stock movie romance. This is slightly eased by the performances of the cast.
Bloom, as the first transgender lead actress of colour to star in a film at the Cannes Film Festival, makes a strong debut as the fiercely confident Wye as she sashays around the city with bravado. She is paired with the boyish charms of Whitehead, who does a fine job showcasing the confusion of a youth lost both in the foreign city and within himself, and his relief when he finally finds a family to call his own. Their chemistry together is convincing enough and could have been bolstered by a sharper script.
Perhaps like Paul, there is a need to take a leap of faith to appreciate the beauty of Port Authority. Where the script falters, the film’s astounding cinematography fortunately does most of the heavy-lifting. Port Authority has a lot to say, and even more to feel.
Port Authority will be screened as part of Golden Village’s Love & Pride Film Festival on Friday, 11 October, at GV Great World City, and on Thursday, 17 October, at GV Suntec City.
In the meantime, check out its trailer here:
About Love & Pride Film Festival
Golden Village’s celebrated Love & Pride Film Festival returns for the 11th year this October and will once again feature an impressive lineup of internationally acclaimed foreign titles.
Curated by the Singapore Film Society (SFS), the highly regarded festival, which takes place from 10th to 20th October 2019, will showcase a slew of LGBTQ-focused independent titles connected with the theme of ‘Sparking Change’. The theme seeks to spark productive conversations on issues faced by the LGBTQ community and encourage a societal change in attitudes.