VOD film review: Cicada
New York love story7.5
Romance vs trauma7.5
Direction and performances7.5
Matthew Turner | On 21, Jan 2022
Director: Matthew Fifer, Kieran Mulcare
Cast: Matthew Fifer, Sheldon D Brown, Sandra Bauleo, Jazmin Grace Grimaldi, Cobie Smulders, Scott Adsit, Michael Potts
This engaging indie romance marks a promising debut feature for writer-producer-editor-star Matthew Fifer, who co-directs with Kieran Mulcare. While not strictly autobiographical, it’s closely based on his own experience and that of co-star Sheldon D Brown, which gives the film a powerful, cathartic emotional centre.
Fifer plays 20-something New Yorker Ben, who’s recently come out to his supportive friends and family, but is still haunted by a traumatic incident of abuse in his past. When he begins a relationship with still-closeted Sam (Brown), he discovers that his new boyfriend has his own trauma to deal with, and the pair gradually help each other to heal.
Fifer handles the material with touching sensitivity, most notably when Sam, lying in bed with Ben, quietly explains how he got the scarily big scar across his body (all the more powerful once you realise it actually happened – Brown is thanked for his candour in the credits). Throughout the film, Fifer creates a strong sense of romance, painting a moving portrait of love that serves as a powerful source of both support and healing. The film also takes an often painful look at the mental and physical damage inflicted by trauma.
The tensions within Ben and Sam’s interracial relationship are explored in ways that feel entirely authentic and relatable, whether it’s Sam feeling uncomfortable around Ben’s white friends or Ben’s increasing frustration with Sam for not wanting to be affectionate in public.
Fifer and Brown are both superb, delivering relaxed, naturalistic performances and sparking strong chemistry in their multiple love scenes. One particular highlight has the sounds of their nocturnal activities spilling out into the street, to the bemusement – or perhaps cool detachment – of passers-by. Fifer is particularly good at conveying crippling anxiety, which manifests differently in both Ben and Sam.
There’s also strong support from Sandra Bauleo (as Ben’s mother) and Michael Potts (as Sam’s father), as well as a drily comic turn from Scott Adsit as Ben’s evidently long-suffering doctor. Less successful is an unexpected cameo from Cobie Smulders as Ben’s unconventional therapist, partly because her comic energy seems to come from another film and partly because her high profile presence is weirdly jarring in a film filled with relative unknowns. That said, she does get the film’s biggest laugh, in a brilliant throwaway moment involving the name of her dog.
The film is heightened by Eric Schleicher’s superb cinematography, which makes strong use of some authentic New York locations, particularly in an early date sequence set in Washington Square Park. The camera follows Ben and Sam’s reflections in a gently rippling water surface, giving it a charmingly hazy feel that perfectly reflects their summer of love and the ripples that could turn into bigger waves.