Yoav (Oded Leopold) is a complicated character at the center of the queer drama, 15 Years. Happily coupled to Dan (Udi Persi), his life begins to unravel when nearly everyone around him starts to slip into the phase of life where people are settling down and having children. If this seems like an odd “trigger” to you, then I am right there with you. Writer-director Yuval Hadadi crafts an oftentimes beautiful, nuanced drama that is ultimately hindered by a lack of any detailed exploration of the demons that chase the protagonist.
It starts at an opening night gala for Yoav’s lifetime bestie’s latest exhibit. Alma (Ruti Asarsai) addresses the guests at her event and in a public announcement and lets everyone know that she is expecting. Yoav takes umbrage at this, feeling that he should have been told first, in private. Understandable but hardly a reason to provoke the jealous overreaction from Yoav. This event, in turn, gets everyone in Yoav and Dan’s social circles to start chatting settling down, families, babies, etc. Later, as Dan and Yoav are entertaining guests at their house for dinner, Yoav explodes in a rage after the guests tenaciously talk about Alma, her coming child, and the prospect that he and Dan might finally pro-create.
“We get a real, fully realized queer character that jettisons stereotype and shows a successful gay man dealing with life.”
So Yoav hates kids? Maybe. But Hadadi’s script never specifically shows us what the problem is. In a number of beautifully written scenes, we see Dan and Yoav having breathtakingly honest discussions about the prospect of a family. The dialogue here is beautiful, touching on moments of naked truths laid bare between a couple at the crossroads. In other scenes, Alma and Yoav establish their rich relationship built over years of friendship. Alma tells Yoav that Dan is the best thing to happen to him and tells him not to throw away the 15 years he has spent with him. Still, Yoav’s brooding persists. As hard as everyone around him tries, Yoav refuses to open up. Yes, we learn about Yoav’s deceased mother, his father in a home on the verge of death, but no explanation of his intense dislike of familial connection.
What is most frustrating about 15 Years is just how much it gets right while so narrowly missing the mark. Asarsai gives Alma luminous energy that draws you in. Her performance is full of compassion and moments of truth. Persi’s portrayal of Dan is raw and, at times, fragile. We get a real, fully realized queer character that jettisons stereotype and shows a successful gay man dealing with life. In fact, every performance is above par, but without a clear revelation, Leopold’s Yoav just comes off as a grumpy jerk.
Issues aside, Yuval Hadadi has given us a dignified queer drama that doesn’t treat queerness as a punchline or a precursor of doom. In fact, it’s a mere sidenote to what really matters, the human connection between the characters and the conflict that they must endure and hopefully overcome. 15 Years is a solid drama, beautifully produced, but ultimately an unsatisfying one.
"…Hadadi crafts an oftentimes beautiful, nuanced drama..."