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'A Very Sordid Wedding' tunes good laughs with a southern pitch

Bonnie Bedelia and Leslie Jordan in "A Very Sordid Wedding."
Photo credit:
Buffalo Gal Pictures

Del Shores made gay movie cult history in 2000, with his Texas toast sized slice of life film “Sordid Lives.” And as he continues this tale in “A Very Sordid Wedding,” we get to revisit these characters once again. And 17 years later they are just as kooky as ever.

In the first film, Winters, Texas, the real-life hometown of Shores, is in the middle of nowhere in particular. It's also home to a population of men and women stuck in an everlasting farce fueled by ignorance and Bible scripture.

People seem to exist not on oxygen, but the breath of other’s gossip and Biblical hearsay.

The characters are preserved from generations past taking their lineage and baggage from the antebellum period where it seems even carpetbaggers dared not tread afterward.

It’s hard to  single out one main character in this parade of craziness, but Latrelle Williamson, clad in pantsuits and over-sized pearls seems to be the anchor in this jetstream of a plotline.

Played by the wonderful Bonnie Bedelia, Latrelle suffered (and still does here) the barbs of the community after her mother dies in the first film from tripping over the wooden legs of a married man in their hotel room. Oh the scandal!

This piece of indiscretion is compounded when Latrelle’s son Ty (Kirk Geiger) contemplates coming out to her. That revelation leads to an anti-climactic denouement in which Latrelle confesses that she already knew.

However Shore’s script in that film, as in this one, isn’t about the main conflict, or even the setup in the title. In fact the “Sordid” universe has many secluded supernovas which explode episodically as he takes the audience on a journey though these people's lives.

In ”A Very Sordid Wedding,” the vacuous space known as Winters suffers the fate of being swallowed by a black hole known as Southside Baptist Church and its very handsome ringleader Reverend Brewton (Levi Kreis). 

To go into all the nuanced characters here would take forever, but there are a few stand-outs which lead the way in this humorous and often touching script.

There is Sissy (Dale Dickey), Latrelle's aunt, in her Gumby-style updo who wears large square glasses and chain smokes her way through non-stop anxiety. Sissy seems to be an unpolished belle; always deceptively gracious and loyal to the faces she is immediately looking into.  

She and Latrelle have always been friends and in “Wedding” they form an alliance that threatens the church’s attempt to make Winters an anti-equality town. Let's just say the church probably wouldn't object to a Kim Davis holiday. 

But this is Leslie Jordan’s movie if you ask me. I don’t think I have ever seen Jordan more captivating in any of his performances until “Wedding.”

He plays Brother Boy, an aging drag queen who draws strength from cos-play. His act, deemed antiquated by today’s RuPaul standards, is becoming extinct. He has built a drag show around Dolly Parton, Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn, but past immoral reparative therapy sessions from a mentally-ill psychoanalyst has left him unstable and suffering from homophobic hallucinations which hinder his confidence on stage. 

Jordan never plays Brother Boy as a joke because the character is just plain funny anyway. We can get into the politics of why we shouldn’t laugh at mental illness, or dispute whether or not the character skirts the line of parody, but in the end Jordan makes the whole thing a latent Bildungsroman and along the way there is much power and emotion involved.

In fact, all of the best scenes in the movie involve either Jordan or the Golden Globe-nominated (Heart Like a Wheel) Bonnie Bedelia. The best scene in the movie in my opinion is when these two stars share the screen. It is a brief moment, but it stuck with me because of the refined chemistry of the players.

I would love to see a film written by Shores with these two characters and actors in mind, perhaps in a road trip movie.

Jordan does get a slight road trip story arc of his own in “Wedding.” He unknowingly tags along with a serial killer played by the handsome Emerson Collins. Collins is a seasoned stage actor who knows how to emote inner-dialogue and suffering, we get to witness that in a heartbreaking monolog.

Yet for all the occasional solemnness the film dapples into the storyline, there is still plenty of comedy and each of the Wikipedia archetypes of southern bravado are explored: The obese corner store cashier who talks down to her Mexican clerk, the church preacher who uses the Bible as a weapon half-cocked, the dementia addled lifelong bar patron who rambles on about trivia in the British Royal family. 

And there are plenty more in this mixed-bag of country allsorts.

Shores is the master of one-liners and shade-infused exchanges. There are several in this movie and I belly-laughed right up to my heart. 

For all that “Sordid Wedding” hopes to say about change, it also says about complaisance and how just one person taking the time to educate themselves in the real world despite the teachings of an ancient one, can make a difference.

Winters, Texas, may be stuck in a time before the Reconstruction era, but that doesn’t mean it has to stay there. And eventually the comical bigoted characters will die out, but the seeds being laid by some will serve as a bumper crop for a whole new generation of craziness, but at least then the spoils will be less sordid and more productive.

Though the weight of its message carried by an immense ensemble can drag the movie down a little. And some of the jokes land a few feet from the mark. Overall  "A Very Sordid Wedding" has enough comedy and insight that it could rank among some of the most mainstream southern comedies such as "Steel Magnolias" or "The Help." 

You can check out "A Very Sordid Wedding" as it makes its Southern California premiere at FilmOut on Friday June 9 at The Observatory - North Park located at 2891 University Ave, San Diego, CA 92104

For tickets click HERE