Directed by: Stephen Cone
Written by: Stephen Cone
Runtime: 87 minutes
Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party (2015)
In Stephen Cone’s Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party, the performances are very naturalistic, which is why I fell so very much in love with it from the opening scene.
Two teenage boys, preacher’s kid Henry Gamble (Cole Doman) and his friend Gabe (Joe Keery), have a sleepover the night before Henry’s seventeenth birthday pool party. Henry and Gabe speak directly at the camera, and very intimately and sexually, and it is silently implied that Henry, on a search for identity, has a crush on Gabe. This opening scene is just one of many intimately powerful moments, where Cone engages his audience into a personal turmoil on a broad scale.
The same morning, Henry’s mum Kat (Elizabeth Laidlaw) wakes in a state of limbo, middle-aged, with a secret. Later that afternoon, as guests arrive – both from the church, as well as Henry’s own “secular” friends – and day turns to night, and every character brings a gift for Henry as well as a secret to conceal.
The horrific closing scenes suggest a harmful exclusivity to religion, which have a profound effect upon our young protagonist, as well as some of the rest of the characters in the film, and by the end of the movie, some have made some live changing decisions. From the moment Ricky shows up at the party, misery tinged with a desperate hope drowns his face. Ricky has been unwell, and has made mistakes in the past which still need to be dealt with in the community. Unfortunately these sins are left unspoken about and tensions rise.
I stumbled upon this accidentally; having grown up in a Christian community myself, I was amazed at how well Cone has achieved the stereotypes so empathetically (I now know that he also grew up a Christian). He also portrays the tensions so well: both teenagers and adults desperate to conform and desperate for love:
If you let out the truth about your sexuality, your purity ring, your doubts, your depression, you will be shut out of that warm and enveloping group. The pressure to conform is subtle but enormous. The characters were taught that life was simple. Life turned out to be complex. Some will go with that flow, others won’t.