A film that takes pride in its conversational awareness of both the LGBTIQA+ and deaf and/or hard of hearing communities, Unsound may not always hit the right notes but there’s plenty of charm in the melody along the way.
Centred around deaf Sydney-sider Finn (Yiana Pandelis), a transgender man navigating the complexities of being trans and the complications of running a nightclub and community area dedicated to deaf people, the film’s narrative manages to stay alarmingly afloat despite its melodramatic tendencies. This mentality extends to the character of Noah (Reece Noi) too, a gay, British musician who desires for more out of his life than his current career path, opting to leave his current touring gig of playing guitar to a 90’s pop star (Christine Anu‘s Moniqua) and return to Sydney to see his mother (Paula Duncan) and contemplate his next move.
A romance of sorts plays out quite quickly between the two when they meet, though thanks to Ally Burnham‘s script it’s a union not doused in the type of tragedy or trauma that so many stories centred around these types of characters often are. Both Finn and Noah are quite nuanced characters, created in a manner that sees them presented as so much more than just their identifying features. As much as they have their own hardships, it’s ironically their understanding parents that drive more of the thematically typical tropes we’d expect; Noah’s mother still grieving over the man that left her and her son, and Finn’s father (Todd McKenney, unfortunately tapping into his stage theatrics more than playing to a more subtle cinema temperament) trying to let Finn have his freedom as a trans man, whilst also hovering as a presence that’s a little too overprotective.
The narrative isn’t exactly breaking any new ground, but Unsound‘s strengths lie in its representation and evident respect for trans navigation and how Finn’s lack of hearing isn’t a disability. There’s a normalisation here that is truly quite effective in how communication can be achieved, and it’s through this directive that Unsound really finds its voice.
The biggest criticism for Unsound comes in the form of the foundation behind Finn and Noah’s relationship and the more political ingredients of casting. Finn and Noah make for a fine couple, and both Pandelis and Noi deliver fine, charismatic performances (the two sharing a very organic chemistry), but cis-gay men and trans men aren’t as likely to pair up as quickly as depicted here, and certainly not without a conversation exploring such dynamics. As a gay man myself I’m aware of such standings within the community, and though Unsound deserves to be commended on normalising Finn’s being – the character not necessarily conforming to the typical masculine level required – there’s a fairytale sheen glossed over their relationship, something that doesn’t feel entirely natural.
Similarly, the casting of Pandelis opens up a potential avenue of criticism, where the aspects of the actress herself being deaf and identifying as queer are organic and respectful to the character, but there’s an underlying message of potential toxicity in that a trans-man is ultimately being portrayed by someone who identifies as a cis woman. There’s no ill will on the film’s side clearly – it has been stated that someone who identified as queer, was hearing impaired or deaf, and knew of or was willing to learn Auslan (Australian sign language) were requirements for the role of Finn – as the characters are all lovingly portrayed and it makes a point of not marginalising characters who could so often be branded as token to a story.
Politics and melodrama aside, Unsound is a mostly winning affair that overcomes some of its simplicities with an authenticity that is thankfully starting to become a more normal aspect of queer stories. Its final set piece is a little too clean and “Hollywood” – musical performances always seem to work in that aspect – but there’s also an unresolved element that manages to not feel vacant, further adding a sense of realism to a film that may not always balance its elements but earns merit for trying so.
THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Unsound is screening exclusively through Dendy Cinemas in Sydney, Brisbane and Canberra from March 18th to 24th, 2021. It will also be screening in limited sessions through Cinema Nova in Melbourne, Wallis Cinema in Adelaide, and The Backlot in Perth.