Dir: Todd Stephens
Cert: 15 • US: 94 min • TLA Releasing • DVD
Todd Stephens is infatuated with Stevie Nicks. His autobiographical screenplay Edge of Seventeen (1998) took its name from the third single from Nicks’ first solo album Bella Donna… then, three years later, his directorial debut Gypsy 83 begins with the promise that the story will climax at the legendary “A Night of a Thousand Stevies”, an annual event populated by obsessive fans who pay homage to the ‘High Priestess of Rock’.
Gypsy 83 is reportedly the second of Todd Stephens’ Sandusky Trilogy, and like Edge of Seventeen which came before, the protagonists inhabit the apparently dreary Sandusky, Ohio (Stephen’s home town). Their home town is not the only thing they have in common with their creator, for Gypsy and Clive (Sara Rue and Kett Turton) also share Stephens’ obsession with Stevie Nicks.
Gypsy is in her mid twenties and is coasting through life working in a dead-end job with unfulfilled dreams of being a rock star like her idol. Like the Foto Hut (sic) she works in, she is a solitary figure in a small town who perceives and treats this voluptuous goth creature as an outcast. Her best friend Clive – a skinny gay high-schooler sporting Robert Smith’s make-up and wardrobe – shares her boredom of small town life and when they’re not dancing in graveyards and upsetting the locals they hang out in Clive’s basement. Here they fantasize about the world beyond the city limits, something which suddenly becomes more tangible when Clive discovers a special event is taking place in New York and suggests that they take a road trip to the Big Apple so that Gypsy can audition and perform live on stage at ‘A Night of a Thousand Stevies’!
This is, like the inherent metaphor of all ‘road trip’ movies, a story of self discovery which is set in motion as the two pack their black nail varnish and climb into Gypsy’s vintage Trans Am to head for the bright lights of New York. Along the way they meet an (inevitable) array of characters from Amish runaways to frat boys on a pledge weekend and a washed up (but fabulous) lounge singer. Each encounter serves to challenge the two best friends, bringing repressed fears and painful memories to the surface, memories which have been holding Gypsy back. As these revelations manifest, they not only threaten her friendship with Clive but they threaten to keep them from completing their pilgrimage to New York where Gypsy desperately needs to free her voice which has been strangled by fear for years.
Todd Stephens cites John Hughes as an important influence in his work and whilst you can see that influence in Gypsy 83, it‘s masked enough (fortunately) to allow the film to have its own identity. Gypsy 83 does however follow an extremely well trod path of teen angst and sexual discovery, but what sets it apart is that it’s main protagonist is not a teenager. In Gypsy we have a person who is still young enough to chase her dreams, but has lived enough for them to already feel jaded. This is what makes Gypsy an interesting character because she understands that it’s not just about making the choice to follow her dreams, it’s also about understanding that choices don’t have arbitrary singular outcomes. This point is beautifully illustrated when we encounter Bambi LeBleau (Karen Black), the weary lounge singer and karaoke host who gives Gypsy and Clive a glimpse into her glamourous past but ultimately cannot disguise her tragic present. Bambi represents what Gypsy already understands; a chased dream that fails, is more painful than never chasing the dream in the first place.
Even though at times the film gets rather clumsy, jumping from one encounter to the next with often predictable results, it is an engaging film due to some very good performances from the central and supporting cast particularly from Sara Rue in the eponymous role whose closing scenes are beautifully and painfully delivered. Karen Black’s wilted Bambi LeBleau is an exquisite portrayal of loss and regret masked behind a veil of false confidence. Also, her rendition of “When Sunny Gets Blue” is a real treat.
The tag line for Gypsy 83 is “Some of us were never meant to fit in”, and at my most cynical I would say Stephens doesn’t want his characters to fit in, they are on the fringes because they chose to be there, despite the resistance they know they will meet. And in many ways the film itself sits on the fringes of gay cinema insomuch that the focus of the story revolves around the woman, not her gay friend, and that the action is played out against a soundscape of the likes of The Cure & Bauhaus as opposed to hi-energy or diva classics. It doesn’t hurt to remind ourselves that there are alternatives to the dominant subculture of the gay scene and that there are people who will suffer as much prejudice at the hands of its own as they will from people outside of the scene.
I would like to dedicate this one to the redneck beer-gut pig-fucker up on stage… Yeah, you bitch! Why don’t you come down here and suck my fucking cock!