abrupt decision dvd box

Abrupt Decision

Waterbearer Films, 2011

Paul Bright

Steve Callahan,
David LaDuca,
Cynthia Schiebel,
Jacquelyn Lies,
Paul Bright,
Peggy Mae Binn,
Matthew Burnett

Unrated, 90 minutes

Mid-Life Crisis
by Michael D. Klemm
Posted online March, 2012

abrupt decision pic

Is it just me, or are most major Hollywood studio releases really only exercises in marketing? These movies, often devoid of content, exist for one reason - to make money. Art seems to take a back seat to the bottom line. Am I being cynical? Maybe, but what other reason was there to remake The Omen in 2006 besides their massive ad campaign that trumpeted its release date on "6-6-6?" Is it any wonder that I tend to gravitate towards independent cinema for the personal film - labors of love crafted by people who just enjoy making movies.  When I recently screened Abrupt Decision, the fifth effort from indie auteur Paul Bright, I was struck by its family atmosphere and found that refreshing. Many of the actors were familiar from his prior films and I also recognized an extra or two in the pool party scene.

steve callahan abrupt decisionA new addition to the family is Steve Callahan, who shared the screen last year with his real-life partner Matthew Montgomery in role/play. He stars in Abrupt Decision, the timely story of a 40-something gay man who suddenly finds himself out of a job. Denis (Callahan) was an IT tech while Milosz (David LaDuca), his longtime partner, works from home as a blogger. There has been tension in their marriage for some time and the change in Denis' employment status isn't helping matters. This is a mid-life crisis that none of us are ready for - I know this from personal experience. Denis learns that he is "old" and that most employers are looking for younger hires. Needless to say, he doesn't deal with this very well… as the groovy, technicolor dream sequences attest.

cynthia scibel abrupt decisionDenis' loving, but sometimes overbearing, mother (Cynthia Schiebel) suggests that he get a dog since they can't give her grandchildren and so he visits an animal shelter. When he returns the next day, to adopt the mutt he liked, he discovers that the dog has been put down. Denis is shocked to learn that older dogs are routinely euthanized because most people only want to adopt puppies and the shelter needs the space. Perhaps because he senses a situation similar to his own, he adopts two dogs whose time is almost up. And then irritates his partner by going back for a few more. By saving these dogs, Denis eventually learns how to save himself. To say how would give away the movie's ending.

steve callahan abrupt decisionAbrupt Decision is the kind of film that Vito Russo longed to see when he wrote The Celluloid Closet during the 1980s. It is a queer film that features gay characters without any gay-specific themes. Nobody is coming out, no one has AIDS, no one is gay-bashed, there are no fabulous partying club kids. Instead, Bright explores middle aged unemployment, loss, and (a topic that is close to the writer/dierctor's heart) the need for no-kill animal shelters. And it's all framed within the story of a crumbling couple and the drama that brings them together again.
steve callahan abrupt decisionTo the film's credit, the plot involving the dogs doesn't turn into a Disney cute-fest. There are a couple of "who peed on the rug" jokes, but the dogs do not trash the house, cause mischief, or stare at the camera with big adorable eyes. This could have turned into a very sappy movie and I am forever indebted to Bright for not falling into the easy trap. There is also a crisis that fits in beautifully with the themes of "obsolete" people and pets and, again, it is explored without turning the film into a shameless tearjerker. A potentially maudlin moment is broken when Milosz says "One more trite saying and I'm going to gag." After a pause, Denis mutters "In every life some rain must fall" and the two men crack up laughing.
steve callahan david laduca abrupt decisionCallahan and LaDuca are believable as a longtime couple whose marriage has gone stale. I would liked to have known a little more about why things were on the rocks before Denis lost his job but, even so, the portrait of their deteriorating marriage held my attention. It is depicted with subtlety and usually without histrionics. The scenes where Denis and Milosz snipe at each other are priceless. Milosz isn't used to having Denis underfoot every minute and this leads to sublime comic tension.  To be quite honest, Denis isn't always likable at first. He will get his chance at redemption but, until then, he is often a jerk to his partner. Milosz, an activist involved in a number of green causes, at one point has an affair in the park with a fellow demonstrator. (Look for Matthew Charles Burnett from two of Bright's earlier films, Theft and Aaron... Albeit a Sex Hero, in a cameo as Milosz's tryst.) We forgive his indiscretion because we know that it has been months since the last time he and Denis had sex.
matthew charles  burnett, david laduca abrupt decisionThe director has assembled a good cast. Steve Callahan enjoys his meaty role as Denis without overly chewing the scenery. David LaDuca, understated as a drag queen in Theft, plays a bear this time around and also delivers a winning performance. Cynthia Schiebel, who has appeared in all of Bright's films,  is colorful but not over-the-top annoying as Denis' mother. One doesn't need egomaniac mega-stars to make a good film; each of the leads touch us while seeming genuine and natural. 
david laduca steve callahan abrupt decisionBright's movies were always quirky in a good way and his unconventional plots made me forgive the more awkward moments. With each new film, however, there is visible growth in both the writing and the cinematography. The camera placement in Abrupt Decision often emphasizes the distance between the two estranged men. Look at the wonderful early scene where Denis and Milosz argue from separate rooms, framed by the doorways to illustrate their separation. During another scene, captured in one take, the two men annoy each other while sitting at opposite ends of a long table with their respective laptops. Their big reconciliation scene, also captured in one take, is passionate, sexy and heartfelt. There is very little manipulative background music in the movie and this is also a good thing. Yes, there is a hospital room that looks nothing like a hospital room and yes, the animal shelter worker's lines sound more like speeches than dialogue, but these are small flaws in what is otherwise a very polished film.

I enjoyed Abrupt Decision. I've always liked the way that Bright's films think outside of the box. This one is a little more conventional than his earlier efforts but his former irreverence is still in evidence. Look no further than the boys' next door neighbor who wakes them up every morning when she raises a tattered flag and then fires a shotgun. I also liked when Denis went to a job interview with two dog biscuits sticking out of his shirt pocket. I confess the last minutes of the movie are actually a little on the "feel good" side for my taste but, thankfully, it doesn't end with a freeze-frame of Callahan covered by dozens of cute canines. Good move there. And then to crack me up, Bright left me with this title card at the end of the credits:

"All characters and incidents are fictitious and have no resemblance  to anyone living or dead, except several of the filmmaker's boy friends, who expected this when they got in a relationship with a filmmaker and won't sue him because he doesn't make any money from his films because the economy crashed and, oh, never mind…"


More On Paul Bright:
Aaron...Albeit A Sex Hero
Altitude Falling

Goliad Uprising

Steve Callahan also appears in:
East Side Story
Make The Yuletide Gay
Pornography: A Thriller

David LaDuca also appears in:

Altitude Falling

Cynthia Schiebel also appears in:

Aaron...Albeit A Sex Hero
Altitude Falling
Goliad Uprising

Matthew Charles Burnett also appears in:
Aaron...Albeit A Sex Hero

Goliad Uprising