A Gorgeous Yet Heartbreaking Coming Out Story
“An Outdooring is a traditional Ghanaian ceremony when a baby is introduced to the community that nurture and protect it, similar to a baptism” - from the opening card of Outdooring
Perhaps the greatest task for storytellers, and young filmmakers, is developing a fully-fleshed out narrative world. Explain too much and you risk the possibility of creating an over expository film with no dramatic tension. If you explain too little, however, the lack of sufficient information may result in audiences losing sight of the film’s premise. Great stories, such as Maxwell Addae’s Outdooring, reside somewhere in between developing and expanding the plot whilst also refraining from “spoon feeding” audiences.
Addae, along with the gorgeous cinematography of Samudranil Chatterjee, showcases his skills as a storyteller in the first shot of the film which features two men anxiously waiting in their car . Rather than establish a conventional two-shot of their dialogue, Addae positions the camera in a low angle at the car’s front wheel. A beam of sunlight hits the windshield rendering the two men’s faces unrecognizable. It's a beautiful shot that doesn’t hold any symbolic weight until 6 minutes into the film when we know these two men as runaway couple, Kobby (Keith Machekanyanga) and Don (Malik Cason). Then this first shot, with its awkward displacement from the central characters, is understood as a representation of Kobby and Don’s failure to align with society’s “acceptable” norms of sexuality. Their social ostracization is what prompts Kobby’s attempt to steal money from the Outdooring of his infant nephew, Junior, and flee from L.A. to — as Don’s French radio lessons may suggest— Canada.
Alongside Kobby and Don are a set of nuanced characters, all performed by a great cast, whose greatest downfall is perhaps a line too many of dialogue and a second too early from a great delivery — none of which are enough to take away from this gorgeously crafted and heart-wrenching film.
There’s a great deal of familial tension between the closeted Kobby and Junior’s parents, Aaron (his brother) and Annette, as well as Kobby’s own parents who, despite their short screentime, add a great emotional impact to the film’s ending.
Of the cast list, Kobby’s openly gay Uncle Red (Theodore Mark Martinez) is possibly the most interesting. The subplot oriented around Red, while small, depicts, due to some fantastic editing by Xiaoyao Shen, the subtle mockery of his apparent flamboyant behavior, and, through stellar blocking of the eyes by Machekanyanga, how uncomfortable Kobi is with his family’s general contempt for homosexuality as he sees himself in his uncle.
The greatest feat of Addae’s film is possibly his ability to weave in and out of subplots without convoluting the narrative. These few scenes with Uncle Red, the two small scenes with Kobby and Don in their car, or when Kobby stands within earshot of his sister-in-law saying, “he [refering to Junior] not gon’ be no faggot...we’ll pray it out of you” serve as plot devices which add to the substantial emotional strain, fear and anxiety Kobby endures as closeted man.
Outdooring succeeds in blending narrative elements of a Heist film, Family Drama, and Coming Out Story
Outdooring presents itself as a somewhat of a crime/heist film as Ron anxiously waits in a nearby parking lot for Kobby to steal Junior’s gifted money and flee. Kobby’s attempt to do so is halted by Annette and the film swiftly transforms into a family drama. For a few tense minutes, we endure the awkward tension between Kobby and his family members who’ve lost quite a lot of trust and respect for him. Kobby’s empty-handed return to the parking lot reveals how Ron has been thrust out his home and beat-up by his elder brother— who is still on the hunt to find him. In these moments, Outdooring is a heart-breaking coming out story. Addae, however, avoids oversaturating his film with several genre elements by placing their respective plot details peripheral to the central narrative.
We aren’t told what exactly happened between Kobby and his family, but the character blocking and performances suggest there is definitely a substantial amount of distrust between them. Nor do we know much about the lives of Kobby and Ron but Addae’s script is able to subtly inform us of their urgency in the few minutes of screentime they share together. Even in its final scene, when the genres of ‘Outdooring’ (delicately) collide with one another, the film restricts itself from dumping too much exposition when Kobby and Ron approach the former’s family hand in hand. A harsh cut to black leaves the ensuing reaction of his family members up to the audience’s imagination.
In his very small but beautifully crafted filmography, Addae has successfully established his voice as a director/writer. His ability to build dramatic tension, create multifaceted and relatable characters — all without a single word of dialogue as shown in his earlier short Adrift — is beautifully displayed in Outdooring. Hopefully the young Ghanaian-American filmmaker continues to draw attention and empower the voices of minority groups often left absent in dominant cinema in his next announced (potentially feature-length film) ‘Mean World Theory’.