Amanda Kramer’s bold and invigorating Please Baby Please proudly announces its stylish swagger from its opening frame. In a blue lit alley, the “Young Gents” gang stand posed before heading out for an evening of debauchery and crime. Clad in leather jackets and carrying bats and other weapons they move in step with one another, as if performing a dance routine that only they are privy too. They look like a gang straight out of West Side Story had it been directed by John Waters.
The colourful camp one would expect from a Waters film is poured into Kramer’s mixing bowl of styles, but the batter still has her distinct flavour. The gang immediately pounces on a pair of unsuspecting pedestrians, beating them to death in front of stunned couple Suze (Andrea Riseborough) and Arthur (Harry Potter franchise alum Harry Melling). While the Young Gents choose to let them go unharmed, the experience changes the married couple in unexpected ways.
Instead of being horrified by the violence she witnessed, Suze is more taken by the sense of toughness that the men, and non-binary members like Dickey (Ryan Simpkins), exert. Her desire to explore a rougher version of her sexuality is further ignited when she meets her upstairs neighbour Maureen (Demi Moore), a housewife who does not care for the fancy appliances her husband showers her with. Arthur, on the other hand, cannot stop thinking about Teddy (Karl Glusman), the strapping gang member who is sexually free in one regard but stifled by the constraints of the masculine ideals the Young Gents strive to portray.
As fate would have it, Arthur is also feeling pinned under the weight of a type of masculinity that he does not possess. Considered a tender lover by Suze, though they clearly have not been intimate in sometime, Arthur struggles to fit into the archetype of what makes a man in the 1950s. Despite being the perfect-looking couple on paper and living a more bohemian lifestyle where they hang out with poets and musicians, he and Suze’s relationships has been rocky for a while.
Like a pair of sculptors who have quietly embarked on solo projects without telling the other, they are chiselling away at new versions of themselves unsure what their final form will be.
Kramer uses the couple’s growing unhappiness as a gateway to self-discovery and sexual exploration. Characters have various intellectual discussions about everything from the limitations of marriage to the defined gender roles expected of men and women, and Suze begins to routinely drift into sexually-charged fantasies. Kramer often infuses these moments with humour to highlight the characters’ shifting views.
The fluidity of the characters’ viewpoints over the course of the film fits perfectly with its gender-bending aspects. Whether incorporating trans and non-binary characters, or simply playing with societal expectations, Kramer’s film feels refreshingly modern despite its ’50s aesthetics. The campiness of the film’s tone never overshadows the complexity of the characters, many of whom are wearing personas that do not truly fit them.
Kramer captivates with Please Baby Please‘s visuals and the colour palettes used are eye-popping, further accentuating the performative façade many characters endure. The ensemble cast deserves praise too. Andrea Riseborough is sensational as Suze. Like a dancer commanding the stage, her physical movements are precise, calculated and just as important as the dialogue her character speaks. She presents a masterclass on how to shift through several emotions within a scene while delicately juggling the campiness of the overall tone.
Melling shows that he is more than capable of keeping pace with Riseborough. Bringing a level of earnest curiosity to the role, he nicely captures both Arthur’s insecurities and the desires he struggles to keep hidden. Melling also helps to keep the film grounded even when its moments of sensationalism threaten to take it off the rails.
As wild as the film may seem at times, Kramer’s vision is masterfully contained and orchestrated. A pleasant surprise on multiple levels, Please Baby Please is a vibrant and inventive ode to sexual liberation. It is a reminder that we do not need to contort ourselves to fit in other people’s restrictive boxes.
Please Baby Please will be released on VOD and Digital on November 29