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AKA is the story of a disaffected youth's search for love, status, and identity in late 1970s Britain. 18-year old Dean is handsome and bright, but feels hampered by his working-class background and by his family. In order to make something of himself, Dean assumes another identity and manages to enter high society. As he navigates this decadent new world, he meets a host of characters, including David, an older gay man who desires him, and Benjamin, a young hustler from Texas who has also managed to find a place among the aristocracy. Can Dean find love while living a lie? How much is he willing to sacrifice in order to pull off his charade? Presented through three simultaneous frames rather than one. Written by
Director Duncan Roy has a most interesting story to tell in this first film of his own late Seventies experiences as an 18-year-old gay working class boy who posed successfully as a lord till he went to jail for fraud. But even if this may all have really happened, it doesn't always work as a movie, nor is the acting at key moments up to par. Though good looking enough to pose as somebody, Matthew Leitch, as Dean Page, the boy who is kicked out of his home by his abusive father (later we learn he was sexually abusive as well), is extremely wooden and timid much of the way through. Toward the end he finally becomes bolder, but by then it's too late. It's hard to believe anyone so backward could con people into thinking anything, least of all that he's a lord. Whether this is inadequacy on the part of the actor or on the part of the director or both is hard to say.
`AKA' is told on triple screens, which provide alternate angles or takes on the scene being shown. Though this may seem novel or elegant to some and to underline the hero's divided personality, it's chiefly just an annoying device that calls undue attention to itself and seems created as a distraction from the movie's occasional amateurish qualities, the haste with which it was made, the low budget, the fact the footage was all shot on video.
First we see young Dean being regaled with tales of the upper class by his ma, who works as a waitress at a chic restaurant and embroiders upon her glimpses of posh people at work by reading gossip magazines. Then Dean runs away and is picked up by a well bred old queen who lives off Eaton Square. Emboldened by this, he approaches someone his mother has spoken of, a certain Lady Gryffoyn, the proprietress of a London art gallery, who momentarily adopts him, which leads to his spending time at the Gryffoyn country house while people are away. Lady Gryffoyn's son Alexander subsequently humiliates Dean and he accepts it as his due, but goes off with their credit cards and winds up in Paris impersonating the son, becoming part of a trio including a wealthy gay man named David Glendemming and his gigolo, a boy from Texas named Benjamin Halim (Peter Youngblood Hills, in the film's best, and only involving, performance: Hills has the intensity, and somewhat the look, of Billy Crudup). One is shocked to encounter Diana Quick, who was so suave and lovely in `Brideshead Revisited,' playing Lady Gryffoyn as a crude and garish harridan. Again one wonders if the actress is in sad decline, or the director misguided, or both. If Roy is settling scores, that's no excuse for such a charmless portrayal.
Part of the clumsiness of `AKA' is that Dean not only doesn't show real self-confidence, but also doesn't really acquire a posh accent until he has been pretending to be young Gryffoyn for some time.
I'm afraid I was unmoved by Lindsay Coulson, beloved in England for her TV roles, as Dean's mother. She seems merely sad and bedraggled. The sleazy credit card investigators who appear and disappear periodically, sometimes interviewing the mother, add little more than confusion.
Whether class matters in England now as it once did is uncertain, but the habits of mind and behavior remain, and in that sense `AKA' touches a nerve. The film is also a bizarre coming of age story in which embracing a gay identity is occasionally considered in rather searching and realistic terms particularly in the perhaps over-long sequence where Benjamin Halim and Dean finally have sex and then talk about it. There's no doubt about the fact that the content of `AKA' is racy and thought provoking. But the treatment is not up to the level of the raw material.
Perhaps Roy, who like his creation Dean was arrested and made to serve ten months of a fifteen-month sentence for `falsification of identity,' was really like the reserved, inert person played by Matthew Leitch and it worked. This seems highly doubtful, though, and reports on Roy himself suggest his is a powerful personality. In any case, what actually may have happened and what succeeds in a movie are two different things. Many of the scenes are raw and crudely emotional, further suggesting that the experiences being conveyed have not been fully digested or welded into an artistic whole. We are watching psychodrama when what was needed was social comedy.
`AKA' is scheduled to be shown at the Sundance Film Festival in 2003. It has been shown and awarded at several North American gay film festivals (the theme of wearing masks appeals to a gay audience) and it has enjoyed a London run at The Other Cinema near Leicester Square. Viewers who saw it there understandably express some disappointment after all the favorable publicity the film has received. The reaction is often, and justifiably: Duncan Roy's life is quite a fascinating story -- why didn't he tell it better? It was told most interestingly in `The Guardian' of September 21, 2002 by Caroline Roux. Too bad it wasn't more effectively told by Roy himself in `AKA.' Perhaps as a born imposter, he can't get his own story straight. Somebody else ought to make a movie out of it.
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