LOS ANGELES – A talking suit and a transgender character pique more than casual interest in the new movie, “Bob’s New Suit,” making its L.A. premiere on Friday, March 22, at the Arena Cinema.
Alan Howard, a former Columbia Pictures executive and once a film critic at the Hollywood Reporter, makes his debut as a self-described “queer filmmaker” at the tender age of 69.
Howard describes the talking suit, of classic Italian design and speaking English with a charming Italian accent, as the “guide” for viewers. The clever technique also allows Howard, as both screenwriter and director, to swiftly and succinctly “introduce” new characters as the movie unfolds.
The concept came to Howard as he began writing the screenplay about a Southern California working-class family with a lot of secrets that eventually spill out. “The idea grew like a tree,” he said, laughing. “It is unusual, and it lends the movie with an outsider’s point of view.”
Just as fascinating is the character of Stephanie, the family’s adult lesbian daughter, who suddenly announces to everyone that she is transitioning into Steve. The role is played by straight actress Shay Astar (August on “3rd Rock From The Sun,” The Imaginary Friend on “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and Jennifer Fitch in “Jack Ketchum’s The Lost”), and Howard said he knew she was right for the part the instance he saw her in a pool of 25 at the auditions to cast the part.
“Shay builds her characters from the ground up,” Howard said. “She is nothing like Steve, not even remotely. So this is total acting.” No camera tricks, no makeup, nothing but acting. “She bundled her breasts as she became Steve. She changed her body posture. She became more male.”
Howard said Astar noticed how the crew treated her differently as Steve than as Stephanie, which revealed a sexist bias toward females.
For the final scenes, which flash-forward a couple of years, Howard acknowledged that the makeup crew gave Steve a few whiskers to make the character more believable.
The talking suit and the transgender character are metaphors about how our lives and destiny change over time, Howard said.
“The real subject of the movie is identity,” he said, “because everyone gets a new suit.”
One thing to notice in the movie is the performance of Jenny Shimizu as Marlene, who is Stephanie’s girlfriend. The famous fashion model, actress and lesbian “butch” icon plays a girly character for the first time, wearing glamorous clothing. “Yet another transformation,” Howard notes.
The movie starts with the introduction of Bob Goodlow (Hunter S. Bodine), a landscape gardener and handyman. His longtime love is Jenny (Hayley Dumond). Bob proposes and barters with a client to obtain a stylish Italian suit for his wedding.
Along the way, our talking suit introduces us to Stephanie/Steve and the rest of the family. The dad is Buster (John Bennett Perry), a patriotic ex-aerospace worker with a secret past who is now unemployed and suffering from congestive heart failure. The mom is Polly (Suzi Bodine), a worrywart who helps with struggling finances by selling antique dolls on eBay and meddling in everyone’s business.
Things start taking dramatic turns when Bob’s slick younger cousin George proposes a get-rich scheme involving rare orchids.
Look at the end of the movie for an appearance by Jack Larson (Jimmy Olsen in the first “Superman” series on TV) as Edward McIntyre.
Howard, who was born in Baltimore, Md., said the characters aren’t necessarily based on his own upbringing in Muncie, a small town in eastern Indiana near the Ohio border. He was one of those bright kids in school, graduating early and heading off to Yale University at the tail end of his 16th birthday. He studied literature at Yale, and in his free time would sneak off to New York City during the mid-1960s when gay bars were hidden in back alleys or behind locked doors on buildings without signs indicating the nature of their business.
He remembers the constant harassment from NYPD officers, who would raid the gay bars and check IDs almost every night of the year. This kind of intimidation of the gay community would eventually trigger the Stonewall Riots in 1969.
“That world is long gone,” Howard marvels.
After graduating for Yale, Howard headed west to study filmmaking at UCLA Film School, then plunged headlong into a lifetime career in the movie industry.
Although he describes himself a “queer filmmaker” and calls himself gay, Howard openly offers that he has had relationships with both sexes.
“Whoever turns my eye,” he said, chuckling. He says he is single, and “very content” with that status.
Although “Bob’s New Suit” is his first movie as a writer-director, he hopes more are coming down the pipe. He has several scripts that he is pitching and says he is in talks to do a cable TV series. “I’m known in Hollywood,” Howard said. “It doesn’t hurt having a movie in release.”
“Bob’s New Suit” has its L.A. theatrical premiere on Friday, March 22, at the Arena Cinema, 1625 N. Las Palmas Ave. in Hollywood, CA 90028. Tickets to the gala cost $50. The film will be shown through March 29, and tickets to all other showings are $10.
For tickets, click HERE.
The DVD release will be on March 26 and the VOD release will be on April 8. Click HERE to reserve your copy.
Ken Williams is Editor in Chief of SDGLN. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, @KenSanDiego on Twitter, or by calling toll-free to 888-442-9639, ext. 713.
Top left: Shay Astar and John Bennett Perry
Middle left: Hunter S. Bodine and Shay Astar
Bottom left: The film poster