Ah, the “buddy film”! It’s been a staple genre of the American cinema for decades. Through the years, the big screen has seen Laurel and Hardy, Bill and Ted, Harold and Kumar, et cetera… In what promises to be the most offbeat buddy film of 2019 and beyond (as well as a future classic of LGBTQ independent cinema), actors Tym Moss and Robbie Wayne buddy up for Junk, Michael Penny’s hilarious, clever, and often touching musical comedy/drama. Moss’ Miss Lily and Wayne’s Chris are a LONG way from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (and a short way from Blanche and Baby Jane Hudson…), but they are this year’s most delightful big screen male pairing. Yes, kiddies, Junk is indeed a musical– complete with rhyming couplets, dance numbers, and the characters breaking into adorably absurdist songs at the slightest cue. How could you not love a musical where one of the songs is named, “I Hate Musicals”? That’s just one of the many campy, lyrically over-the-top numbers in Junk. Others include “She Believes in Bran” (!) and the delightful “On That Streetcar Named Desire”. Even the notoriously morose Tennessee Williams would be singing along to that one…
Incredibly inspired by a true story, and clearly influenced by the zany filmmaking sensibilities of Pedro Almodovar and John Waters, Junk introduces us to its two main characters Miss Lily and Chris– two unlikely friends caught in a bad bromance of sorts. Miss Lily is 60-something, prim and proper, and unapologetically flamboyant. Chris is a 35-year old, ruggedly handsome, well-inked flea market manager who passes for straight at his job. We later learn that the two have been friends for 20 years. Chris has just found out that the owner of a decaying, isolated house in rural North Carolina has died, and that he is welcome to take everything in the house for resale– as long as the pair can remove it all. The two enter the house expecting to see lots of potential “green”. But the only green they see is from mold: The house is filled with ashtrays overflowing with cigarette butts, filthy bed linens, and… porn! Lots of porn, from black and white vintage “physique pictorials” to the glossy, full-color, fully tumescent mags of the 1990’s. (Of course, there’s a song for that: “A Man Needs a Hobby”) In the words of Miss Lily, “What a pile of JUNK!” Exactly. As the two wade through seemingly endless piles of the movie’s titular junk, they engage in some catty generational warfare: Miss Lily bemoans the lack of “culture” with the younger gays, while Chris mocks his wannabe mentor for being overly mannered and hopelessly old-fashioned. Still, the two never get to argue for too long. Miss Lily and Chris stop bickering just long enough to sing and dance, making a unlikely cabaret stage from the dilapidated house. Miss Lily, apparently, can still do some impressive moves despite having lost some toes to diabetes. Junk may be the only musical in cinematic history to feature a character, uhm… “pleasuring himself” while singing. The song, before you ask, is “I Like Them Smooth”, an homage to the allure of waxed and shaved men (“skin like a Polynesian stripper; or what’s that fish’s name? Flipper!”) Can these two very different men ever clean out all the junk– without killing each other with fatal finger-snapping bitchery in the process?
Written and directed by Michael Penny, Junk is an impressive film on a technical level, and a delightful experience on all other levels. Aside from an unseen man who dies during the opening credits and a cute but sadly underused possum, Tym Moss and Robbie Wayne are the only characters in the movie, and they are on screen the entire time. Both Moss and Wayne are excellent, with their characters expertly bouncing their endless verbal torpedoes off each other with glee. Their dialogue, particularly Miss Lily’s, make many overt and subtle references to some rare gems of gay culture (including but not limited to the movies of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford ), with some of those references so astutely inserted that even the biggest guru of transgenerational queer sensibility may miss them (This author personally loved the nod to Grey Gardens!). But even with the many moments of comedy and camp, the film pulls at the heartstrings (and tear ducts) in one scene where Miss Lily recalls seeing The Sound of Music in the theater in 1965 as a 10 year old boy. It’s a nakedly candid moment of reflection– a sharing of a precious moment of time trapped in a bottle, from a character who lived a bittersweet life. Tym Moss plays it with award-worthy bravado. For the first time, the well-muscled Chris is left speechless. The audience will be too. And yes, there’s even a happy, albeit interpretive, ending to Junk. Without giving too much away, lets just say that you can expect more of that aforementioned pulling of the heartstrings and tear ducts.
You can see the trailer here.
Junk made its World Premiere as part of the qFLIX Festival in Philadelphia on March 31, 2019. Look for it at film festivals and VOD in the future. The soundtrack is currently available on CD Baby and Amazon.