An elderly lesbian couple are separated by Dot’s (Brenda Fricker) meddling and ignorant – but well-meaning – granddaughter. Stella (Olympia Dukakis) breaks her partner of 31 years out of a nursing home and the two set off on a journey to Canada and the altar. Along the way, they pick up a young, male hitchhiker.
Cloudburst is already being billed as Thelma and Louise if they survived the Grand Canyon, and it is easy to draw similarities between the plotlines of the two films. That said, however, it would do Cloudburst a serious disservice to write it of as a lesbian themed, geriatric Thelma and Louise. The film treats Dot and Stella with respect, but also throws the nature of the relationship between the two women into stark relief.
Olympia Dukakis is far from the gentle lady we recently saw her as in Bored to Death. Stella is a foul mouthed, tough old bird who is more than prepared to fight for Dot. Too often we see people of older age sitting back and accepting their lot, but Stella is not willing to give in just yet. The character’s brash exterior conceals a gentle heart that is filled with love for Dot, and the relationship between the two women is gentle and endearing; these people have been together so long that they are completely relaxed in one another’s company. There is no pretence left.
Brenda Fricker plays her character like a typical Irish mammy; she is sweet and loving. In fact, Fricker’s character is the complete opposite of Dukakis’s, but this is what makes their chemistry so natural and strong. Fricker is on great form as Dot and she is the perfect balance to the tenacious and crass Stella. The casting is fantastic and it is obvious that these two actresses got on well together; it is plain to see in their performances.
Some of the supporting cast are under developed and given little reason to be in the film, other than Dot and Stella need them, but the film belongs to the women, so this is a small complaint. There are some incredibly sweet scenes between the two women, but when the other characters are involved, sometimes the jokes go a little too far.
The film touches on the issues faced by same sex couples, but does not indulge in a way that would detract from the flow of the film. In fact, the issues faced by Stella and Dot are discussed and resolved with the women reaching decisions about their future together.
It only seems like a few weeks since last year’s JDIFF, but Cloudburst is the perfect opening to the festival; strong performances from it’s leading ladies and a gentle enough tone to start the festival on a light note.