The film means well, but ‘Port Authority’ struggles with a loose story and a botched climax
By Craig Allan, Staff Writer
Over the last few years, the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) has evolved into one of the most diverse film lineups around. It has achieved this by showcasing not just big budget films, or strictly Canadian films—but instead, by focusing on ethnic and orientation genre films. The festival features anything from Asian films, to European films, and LGBTQ+ films. The LGBTQ+ genre is particularly special because the festival allows them to flourish outside of the smaller market of strictly LGBTQ+ film festivals like the Vancouver Queer Film Festival. Port Authority is one such film.
Port Authority, directed and written by Danielle Lessovitz, stars Fionn Whitehead (Dunkirk, Black Mirror: Bandersnatch) as Paul—an on probation loner, who after being fraudulently told that he could stay with his step sister Sara (Louisa Krause, The Babysitters, The Girlfriend Experience), finds himself alone in New York City. After almost getting mugged, he is rescued by Lee (McCaul Lombardi, American Honey) and brought into Lee’s shady world which can be best be described as a freelance repo business for unscrupulous landlords. While venturing in the Harlem neighbourhoods, Paul comes across a group of people hosting a kiki ballroom gathering. There he falls into a relationship with Wye, a transgender dancer played by ground-breaking transgender model Leyna Bloom. Conflicted by the pull of his relationship between Wye and his homophobic friend Lee, Paul tries to juggle both and hope his new life does not come crashing down.
The films’ strength comes from its lead actors, as Whitehead and Bloom both give great performances—with particular praise to Bloom, who plays the role with passion and believability. A real feat considering that this is her first acting job ever. While Whitehead is exceptional in the role, one wonders how much better the story would have been from Wye’s point of view. The film also does a good job at ingratiating the audience into the literal dark and mysterious world of kiki ballroom culture.
While the performances and settings are great, the movie overall has some glaring flaws. One is the title; Port Authority refers to the New York City bus station. If you are unfamiliar with the New York City transit system, then this title makes no sense besides being the first location of the movie… which has almost nothing to do with the movie. There are many other titles that could have been used; Kiki Ballroom, White Boy Real, Repo—all better titles.
Another problem is Paul’s friendship with Lee. The film never makes it clear whether Paul is friends with Lee because he genuinely likes him, or if the friendship is out of necessity since Lee is giving Paul a place to stay and a well-paying job. These issues could be overlooked if it wasn’t for the films’ most glaring problem. The story sets us up for a climactic showdown between Paul’s two worlds, and it does end up happening, but director Lessovitz botches this by giving Paul a cop out that deflates what the film was working towards.
The biggest loss comes at the end of the film. Paul is about to make a big declaration of love that involves a Kiki ballroom routine which Wye tells him would be under the category of “white boy real.” As Paul is just about to start dancing, the movie cuts to credits. This is especially disappointing considering actor Whitehead once really aspired to be a break-dancer, so he probably has some skills. It was an opportunity for the movie to have an iconic unconventional dance scene like Pulp Fiction or Napoleon Dynamite, and it was wasted.
While the film does not feel boring, and the performances keep you engaged for the entirety of the film—the problems the film suffers from are glaring. The loss of such a potentially iconic ending is such a disappointment. It’s obvious that everyone who made this film was passionate about the subject matter and what they were trying to do, but in the end it’s a film that will likely be forgotten the farther one gets from the cinema.