Given how authentic this “based on real events” tale proves to be, it’s safe to assume that writer/director/actor Matthew Fifer is baring a healthy portion of his soul and experiences in Cicada. Likely to ring true with queer audiences – especially gay men – the film tackles uncomfortable subjects and presents promiscuous sex in an organic, understated manner that lends it a near-documentary like quality.
Set in New York, but thankfully not over-selling the dream by having his character work in an average day job and renting out a bedroom – as opposed to the usual unattainable apartments New York-based characters tend to “afford” – Fifer plays twenty-something Ben, recently single and clearly on the prowl. A conversation with his sister informs us that Ben was engaged to a woman but evidently has a penchant for the same sex, with the film’s first 10 minutes heavy on sexual imagery of his many trysts with men (and the occasional woman); “So, you’re back on the dick?”, he’s so graciously asked.
Ben has issues, the root of which has manifested into hypochondria, and it’s testing the patience of his prescribing doctor (Scott Adsit) and providing his practicing therapist (a quirky Colbie Smulders) with an agenda to push her own views rather than assist Ben through his. With the running arc throughout of a news story constantly updating the public regarding a molestation case, it doesn’t take much to deduce that Ben is a victim of abuse himself, and his seemingly unhealthy relationship with sex and his own “late blooming” into accepting his homosexuality is clearly tied to past trauma he hasn’t properly addressed.
Whilst Cicada doesn’t shy away from the topics that are unfortunately all too common in the LGBTQ community, Fifer’s film isn’t all gloom as there’s a tender, relatable love story at its core between Ben and Sam (Sheldon D. Brown), a casual dalliance that quickly grows to a relationship of both understanding and evaluation. Sam has his own demons to battle, something he seems unsure how to navigate with the more confident Ben. As the only black and gay man at his workplace (though he’s keeping his sexuality disclosed) he’s uncomfortable with public displays of affection, he’s weary of opening up to his God-loving, church pastor father, and his abdomen scar serves as a constant reminder of the bullet that struck him as a result of a hate crime.
Though both troubled, Sam and Ben prove as easily relatable characters, both individually and as a collective unit. The chemistry between Fifer and Brown lends their relationship a warmth and naturality that almost feels invasive to view, and as much as the two clearly adore each other, Cicada often feels like a story that won’t necessarily cater to the expected. We want them to be together, to support each other, and to hopefully overcome their trauma, but at the same time we prepare for heartbreak and the decision that their love for each other won’t be enough.
How people define their sexuality and deal with their own anguish can’t be placed on anyone else, and Fifer has the smarts to acknowledge throughout Cicada that as much support as you’re fortunate to receive, it starts and ends with your own personal reflection. This is a beautiful and tragic film that doesn’t preach to its audience, rather invites them in to reaffirm that however fragile you feel, you won’t break from the pain.
FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Cicada is screening as part of the 2020 Queer Screen Film Fest, running from 17th – 27th September. Check the official site for further screening details and ticket information.