September 24th, 2022
MOVIE: CHRISSY JUDY
STARRING: TODD FLAHERTY, WYATT FENNER, JOEY TARANTO, JAMES TISON
DIRECTED BY: TODD FLAHERTY
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
There is something about the East Coast that always looks so beautiful in black and white. Todd Flaherty’s new film Chrissy Judy is a heartfelt gay love story that earns its lack of color as it focuses on a deep friendship between two drag performers: Chrissy and Judy. They’re both in their early 30s struggling to make a living in clubs and cabaret bars. Fortunately, they have each other to frolic with and share a physical intimacy that only certain types of good friends can share. Then Chrissy announces that he is moving to Philadelphia to establish a new life with his boyfriend Shaun. The separation catapults both characters into new and uncertain directions. Can their friendship survive this geographical gap?
Flaherty wrote and directed the film and stars as Judy. As an actor Flaherty is a must see. In drag he can be a sexy, yet sad torch singer with a powerful and emotional voice. As James, the man, he captures the tiredness and strain of a new life performing and being alone. He also has movie star good looks and a strong screen presence that can be subtle and dramatic without ever pushing too far. He is (listen up producers) a performer I wholeheartedly want to see again in a film or television series.
As a director, Flaherty knows how to capture the joys of friendship and love. Early scenes reminded me of great Woody Allen films like Annie Hall and Manhattan featuring joyous montages. Also present is the Dixieland jazz found in Allen’s comedies such as Bananas and Sleeper. The title, Chrissy Judy, also calls to mind Vicky Cristina Barcelona which is referenced early in the film. Flaherty then takes us into the deep character studies found in not only Allen’s films but also the work of Noah Baumbach, such as Greenberg and particularly Frances Ha. Like the latter film, Flaherty develops an arc that becomes a very poignant portrait of a character that is emotionally devastated by the loss of a good friend.
With references to other seminal works such as Andrew Holleran’s Dancer from the Dance, Judy Blume’s novels, and even Sex and the City, it is clear that Flaherty is a product of gay inflected pop culture. Even the music Judy chooses to sing follows older cabaret traditions that can easily break one’s heart. None of this is to suggest that Flaherty has not attempted something original here for he definitely has. It’s rare to find such a heartfelt film about two drag performers and their strong friendship. That they have excelled at working together as partners on stage is far from who they are as people which is much more complex.
The film takes place in New York City, Fire Island, and Provincetown. The second of these made a big splash earlier this year in the film Fire Island, but while that project emphasized the plastic and hollow aspects of the town and its many visitors, this film reflects a side that is less flamboyant (surprisingly) and sexually charged. While Flaherty does a great job staging the drag performances, he really shows his skill at capturing a much more real and darker side of each of these towns. If I had any quibbles with the film it is that some of the night scenes are a bit too grainy and miss out on the beauty referenced to by the characters when they stare out into the stars during one of the film’s later scenes.
In the end though, Chrissy Judy is a film about friendship and love. It’s also an exploration of the decision many gay men make in their thirties (sometimes younger, sometimes older) to settle down into a life which is much more secure and stable. What happens to the friends met along the way? How does life move ahead? These are the questions you will be left to ponder.
CHRISSY JUDY PLAYS SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 25TH AS PART OF REELING: CHICAGO’S LGBTQ+ FILM FESTIVAL AT THE LANDMARK CENTURY CENTRE CINEMA. BOTH TODD FLAHERTY AND HIS CO-STAR WYATT FENNER WILL APPEAR FOR A POST-SCREENING Q&A.
3 ½ STARS
Written by: Dan Pal