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‘Something You Said Last Night’ Review: This Charming Family Dramedy Embodies Trans Ennui

TIFF: A raucous Canadian-Italian family bumble through vacation in Luis De Filippis' intimate and assured debut.

"Something You Said Last Night"

“Something You Said Last Night”

TIFF

IWCriticsPick

Many people have complicated feelings around family, but queer folks often experience a unique kind of emotional whiplash. Family can be the source of conflict and intimacy; isolation and familiarity; safety and danger. Those who know you best can hurt you most, especially when acute self-knowledge is necessary to your survival. These themes resonate quietly in “Something You Said Last Night,” the visionary feature debut of Canadian-Italian filmmaker Luis De Filippis. Loosely inspired by her own family, the film is an elegant exploration of a young person careening between connection and alienation while on a cramped family getaway.

Intimately tender and boisterously fun, “Something You Said Last Night” announces the arrival of a vital new voice in trans cinema.

Focused and precise, the story takes place over a distinct period of time — a week-long family vacation. The film begins and ends with a car ride, that universal site of familial strife and bonding. Pulling up to the lakeside resort where they go every year, Mona (Ramona Milano) chides her husband Guido (Joe Parro) for not booking a waterfront cabin. Sharing a pull-out in the living room, Renata (Carmen Madonia) and her sister Sienna (Paige Evans) are awoken by the harsh sound of a blender. De Filippis swiftly establishes familial intimacy in these small domestic moments, painting a recognizable family dynamic with little more than a green smoothie.

While Renata is our main window into the film, Mona is the source of its buoyant energy and humor. It’s easy to fall in love with Milano, whose lively performance as the family wrangler and powerhouse Italian matriarch is sure to lead to more work. Heard as often as she’s seen, Mona spends her vacation taking photos and chatting loudly on the phone with absent family members. Rare is the person who won’t recognize a shade of their own mother when she asks: “Hey, did you get the pictures I sent from the sunsets?” or “I have to clean at home, now I have to clean on vacation, too?”

Mona’s relationship with Renata is by far the most poignant in the film. She affectionately calls her daughter “mama,” a sweetly gender affirming pet name, used mostly when she wants Renata to do her hair. When Renata keenly observes a child being teased in the parking lot for playing with a doll, Mona oversteps by stepping in. “I was taking care of it,” Renata shouts, as Mona looks on in bewilderment. Mona is so accustomed to fighting Renata’s battles for her, she doesn’t even realize she’s doing it. Layered with subtle complications, the supportive mother/daughter relationship is a welcome departure from the typical combative portrayal so often seen in queer films.

As lost as most twentysomethings are, Renata is a quiet observer — both in the film and in her own life. Seen hitting her Juul or watching TV inside on a sunny day, we learn about her through relationships and the way she walks in the world. She doesn’t want mom to buy her a hat, but ends up stealing her sister’s anyway. Evading a lecherous stare on the beach, she takes a pedal boat solo to an island, where she finally immerses herself fully in the water. As Sienna ditches her every night for a local boy, she quietly covers for her even as she’s left to clean up the messy hangovers. Tension flares between the sisters as they hang secrets over each other; that Renata lost her job and Sienna wants to drop out of school.

Both Madonia and Evans have an easy onscreen quality, falling into an unspoken sisterly shorthand (and occasional loathing). Reserved but self-assured, she walks through the narrow world of the film with a captivating power. Her discomfort is as palpable as her confidence, often existing side by side in the same moment. We fear for her safety alone in a car surrounded by drunk boys, but she hardly blinks when she grabs Sienna from their clutches.

As she did in her Sundance award-winning short “For Nonna Anna,” De Filippis has an uncanny ability to capture the awkwardness and intimacy of bodies in relation to one another. Whether it’s a girl bathing her aging grandmother or two sisters trying on swimsuits in the mirror, De Filippis finds profundity in the everyday as the trans body onscreen is rendered beautiful, normal, confident, and loved. It’s no wonder “Something You Said Last Night” won TIFF Next Wave’s Change Maker Award, honoring films that elevate voices and issues of social change. With a young visionary behind the camera, trans cinema is finally in the right hands.

Grade: A-

“Something You Said Last Night” premiered at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution. 

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