Will (Brian W. Seibert) and Mateo (Ricardo Valdez) are a seemingly perfect couple preparing to host a 30th birthday party for Will in their shared Brooklyn home. The day gets a bit of a jarring start, however, when Will’s sister Molly (Jeanne Slater) unexpectedly drops by with her husband and kid and in the process Will gets abruptly outed. This emotionally complex scene is in stark contrast to the rest of the film, a weaving together of the everyday lives and the everyday lies that couples from all walks of life tell themselves and each other as a matter of routine.
What’s refreshing about Turtle Hill, Brooklyn is that it’s that rare LGBT drama that’s comfortable enough in its own skin to welcome in the rest of the world. The friends who gather with Will and Mateo are gay and straight, young and old, male and female and beyond.
The common factor? Will, Mateo and the masks that we all wear in our daily lives.
Director Ryan Gielen shoots the film with a sort of breezy and relaxed self-assurance that perfectly complements the film’s mixture of deep, revealing truths and casual conversations. It makes sense, perhaps, that the film feels so authentic given that it’s penned by its two co-leads, Seibert and Valdez. Amidst the discovery of hidden secrets and big and little lies, this group of friends has the conversations that we all have when we get together – politics, drugs, sex, relationships, getting old, staying thin and more. So often in this type of film, we get histrionic revelations and hyped up dramas, but Seibert and Valdez have crafted a story that’s compelling because it feels so incredibly normal.
The film takes place over the course of a day, and Gielen wisely confines the action to Will and Mateo’s home and outdoor patio area. While such an approach could feel restricting or staged, instead it gives the film an intimacy that makes the revelations that follow have that much more impact. Andrew Rivara’s lensing feels as intimate as the film’s dialogue, an approach that gives the film an occasional “home movie” feeling.
For the record, that’s a compliment.
To top everything off, both Seibert and Valdez are absolutely terrific as Will and Mateo. There’s never a moment where this doesn’t feel like a real relationship with all its intimacies, niceties, half-truths and moments of raw vulnerability. To their credit, both Seibert and Valdez present authentic and well-rounded characters who are neither all good nor all bad – they are simply human beings living out their lives amongst all the dramas, conflicts, lies and pinatas that life can offer. The best compliment I can give a film that centers around a relationship is that I can’t imagine this film without either Seibert or Valdez – While only time will tell if Will and Mateo belong together, there’s no question that the performances of these two actors belong in this film.
It’s also a rare film that cares enough about the supporting characters to give them moments to shine and develop as well, but such is the case with Turtle Hill, Brooklyn. While there isn’t a weak link among the ensemble, particularly strong turns are offered by Joie Bauer, Maryll Botula, Jeanne Slater, Deidre MacNamara and others.
Turtle Hill, Brooklyn is a special film that exudes an honesty, authenticity and transparency that is rare even among the more transparent indie fare. There will be times you laugh, times you think, perhaps times you shed a tear and even times you reflect upon your own life wherever you’re at in that life. That’s special, and that’s why one can only hope that Turtle Hill, Brooklyn gets the attention it deserves in theatrical release. (Richard Propes, TheIndipendentCritic.com)
A bunch of assorted friends — male and female, gay and straight, American and Hispanic — drop by a Brooklyn house to wish its owner a happy 30th birthday in Ryan Gielen’s engaging, well-scripted, dynamically shot no-budgeter “Turtle Hill, Brooklyn.” Like Jennifer Jason Leigh and Alan Cumming’s “The Anniversary Party,” but less psychologically layered, pic is structured around the joys and tensions of its central couple: birthday boy Will (writer-producer Brian W. Seibert) and his live-in Latino lover Mateo (writer-producer Ricardo Valdez). Audience award winner at NewFest could score within and beyond gay-targeted venues with further fest exposure.
The day begins inauspiciously with the unannounced visit of Will’s sister Molly (Jeanne Slater), whose impromptu drop-in results in her horrified discovery of her brother’s homosexuality and Mateo’s realization that Will lied about having come out to his family. A rare inconsistent note in a film that otherwise flows with unstudied ease, Molly’s hysterical incomprehension feels like a bit of unfiltered reality that breaks through the script’s carefully crafted casualness.
The scene does, however, function as a contrast to Will’s matter-of-fact aura of acceptance and hangs a question mark over the couple’s reciprocal honesty. That doubt deepens as hidden secrets and infidelities threaten to undermine their seemingly solid relationship.
The friends steadily pouring in to Will’s birthday bash bear little resemblance to mumblecore slackers; they are doctors, community activists, CPAs and artists who have fashioned an existence more or less in their own image. They discuss politics, gay rights and aging with the ease of fellow travelers, an uninvited Republican in their midst briefly disrupting their equilibrium. But a truer cultural divide opens up with the arrival of Mateo’s friend Luis (Ariel Bonilla), who announces he is returning to Mexico, tired of restaurant jobs and being treated like a second-class citizen — a frustration Mateo shares, and of which Will seems largely unaware. Within the multicultural bubble of the couple’s close amigos, no such ethnic discrimination exists.
The film’s action spans several hours in the confines of Will’s house and the small garden just outside. Yet despite these time and space constraints, things never feel claustrophobic or static. Andrew Rivara’s handheld camera tracks characters kinetically (but not nervously) as they navigate the garden, group and regroup, underscoring the unique sense of communal exchange. Private dramatic confrontations in private corners of the house gain pressure by dint of being cut off from the free flow of the party.
Helmer Gielen also brings in a second camera, Mateo’s gift to Will. This is commandeered by one of the guests, who abruptly points it in the faces of fellow celebrants in mock-guerrilla contrast to the casual inclusiveness of the rest of the film. (Ronnie Scheib, Variety)