‘Close to You’ Review: Elliot Page Delivers a Deeply Felt Lead Turn in a Well-Intentioned but Clunky Drama

‘Close to You’ Review: Elliot Page Delivers a Deeply Felt Lead Turn in a Well-Intentioned but Clunky Drama

The problems with Close to You aren’t immediately apparent. It’s a quiet film about Sam (Elliot Page), a trans man, living in Toronto. He’s trying to decide whether or not to return home for his father’s birthday party. Sam comes from a family whose uneasiness with his transition sometimes manifests as an aggressive insistence on their progressive values. He considers whether he can endure their performance. 

Written and directed by Dominic Savage, Close to You focuses on the drama of Sam’s homecoming. Returning to his small town near Lake Ontario forces him to confront long-buried feelings about his family and an old friend (Hillary Baack). The film yearns to capture the stages of this emotional exhumation, but a clunky screenplay makes for a less affecting watch. 

Close to You

The Bottom Line

An assured Page half-saves an underbaked drama.

Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (Special Presentations)
Cast: Elliot Page, Hillary Baack, Janet Porter, Alex Paxton-Beesley, Daniel Maslany
Director-screenwriter: Dominic Savage

1 hour 40 minutes

The film’s visual grammar is built on intimate close-ups that try to capture the imperceptible awkwardness of the past and present colliding. On the train to his hometown, Sam spots Katherine (Baack), his once-closest friend. Working with DP Catherine Lutes, Savage approaches this reunion with a loving gaze. Sam and Katherine catch each other’s eyes and exchange faint smiles that invoke versions of themselves they used to know. The two friends met in high school, where they found safety and validation in each other, and there’s a childlike playfulness to these early scenes. 

The set-up leads to a conversation of the vaguest sort. Sam and Katherine communicate mostly through burdened stares and regretful glances, which suggest the depth of the pair’s intimacy. But Savage’s skeletal dialogue drains subsequent scenes of their powers. In fact, the weakest thread of Close to You is Sam’s relationship to Katherine. The duo talk a lot about the stakes of their reunion, and Savage capitalizes on a faint will-they-or-won’t-they sexual tension. But even their strongest moments lack a convincing vitality. 

The most energetic scenes are between Sam and his family members, because there, the screenplay is anchored in a precise tension instead of a cloudy sense of desire. When the youngest sibling arrives at the house for his father’s birthday party, a strained politeness and trepidation creep into the space. “I’m just a disappointment to them,” Sam told a friend early in the film. The weight of that anxiety hangs in the air as Sam greets his parents (Wendy Crewson and Peter Outerbridge) and siblings Kate (Janet Porter), Megan (Alex Paxton-Beesley) and Michael (Daniel Maslany). They express genuine enthusiasm when Sam walks through their door, but their later interactions are built on accusations. “Are you happy?” they all inquire at separate times. When Sam says yes, there’s a sense they find it hard to believe. 

Savage portrays the painfulness of these moments well, but it’s Page’s performance that makes them persuasive. He plays Sam as a person whose homecoming rocks a meticulously built self-assuredness. When he enters the house, he rounds his shoulders slightly and keeps his hand close to his body. Gone is the playful smile from the interaction with Katherine on the train.

Sam’s interactions with his family are a minefield of projection and misplaced responsibility. When his mother uses the incorrect pronouns, her dramatic self-flagellation reorients the situation so Sam must comfort her. Later, when Paul (David Reale), his sister’s husband, accuses Sam of ruining the congenial vibe, the family’s attempts at intervention again make Sam responsible. The strain of these interactions can be heard in Sam’s voice, which gradually rises with his rage. When he, at his breaking point, finally yells, “You weren’t worried about me when I was actually not okay!” years of hurt come to the surface.

Even when this dialogue edges too close to cliché, it’s still anchored by specificity and fueled by passion that’s lacking in other parts of the film. The family scenes also gesture toward truths that Sam, and perhaps by extension Page, are working through. The actor’s role in Close to You is his first lead part in a film since coming out as trans in 2020, and the best parts of the movie echo his memoir Pageboy in their honesty. If Page’s book reflects on the journey to self-acceptance then Close to You points toward a future where staying free means insisting, again and again, on your own happiness.

Full credits

Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (Special Presentations)
Production companies: Me + You Productions, Good Question Media, Page Boy Productions
Cast: Elliot Page, Hillary Baack, Janet Porter, Alex Paxton-Beesley, Daniel Maslany, Sook-Yin Lee, Andrew Bushell, David Reale, Peter Outerbridge, Wendy Crewson
Director: Dominic Savage
Screenwriter: Dominic Savage, Elliot Page (story by)
Producers: Krishnendu Majumdar, Richard Yee, Daniel Bekerman, Chris Yurkovich, Dominic Savage, Elliot Page
Executive producers: Anita Gou, Sam Intili, Nia Vazirani, Francine Maisler, Matt Jordan Smith, Andrew Frank
Cinematographer: Catherine Lutes
Production designer: Joseph Kabbach
Costume designer: Cameron Lee
Editor: David Charap
Composer: Dominic Savage, Oliver Coates
Casting director:
Sales: UTA

1 hour 40 minutes

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