Take the title Guys Reading Poems quite literally, please. The vast majority of the movie consists of a rotating lot of about five men reading various poems, against a backdrop of black and white sequences about a family being torn apart by Mother’s (Patricia Velasquez) mental illness when she turns Boy (Luke Judy) into a piece for her latest performance art installation. To get the emotional truth of each section of Boy’s life, the movie is broken into chapters with titles such as Love and Death, and each poem relates to that overarching theme.
Since the inception and creation of movies, dialogue has been a part of them. Silent movies had intertitles to deliver their conversations and movies recorded with sound have well, sound. But some dialogue is poorly written or not very believable. Expertly written lines can be read to sound inauthentic by the actors saying them. But, sometimes, a movie is ruined by dialogue by merely having dialogue at all. That isn’t to say the dialogue present is bad, just so pointless, so mundane, so antithetical to the rest of the movie that by its mere inclusion the movie shoots itself in the foot.
“…the sumptuous imagery of the words…aligns perfectly with the onscreen action…”
Guys Reading Poems is a movie in which any time dialogue is utilized it drains the momentum from the proceedings so abruptly it causes whiplash. For roughly the first hour there is at most only four lines of dialogue, and the famous poems being read by humans of the male persuasion. The first time a real line is spoken is a bit jarring, as the only spoken words were the poems, followed by long orchestral interludes. But it can be ascertained that the dialogue is there purely to fill in the gaps the poems are literally unable to. Take for instance the moment when Father is about to take Boy away from Mother. A friend convincing him not to doesn’t exactly have a two-line poem in which the same thought can be expressed.
However, for reasons that never become apparent, writer-director Hunter Lee Hughes has the climax of the movie when The Kid (Jerod Meagher, playing the young adult version of Boy) confronts his mom about what happened all those years ago play out with nary a poem around; just scripted lines. The scene has between twelve and fifteen lines, which isn’t a lot, but for this movie, is an eternity. The switchover to the few dialogue moments was already slightly awkward, but this, this is painful. Beforehand, the movie had an odd, ballet-like grace in how the images and the poems resonate with each other, a few standout moments even becoming powerfully intense. But the dialogue doesn’t have the same kind of sensuous beauty to it, failing to illuminate as brightly, causing the climax of the movie to not only feel like a letdown but also stop the film dead in its tracks, as it never recovers from this disruption. The editing is a very mixed bag here. Patrick Kennelly does craft some beautiful moments wherein the sumptuous imagery of the words being spoken aligns perfectly with the onscreen action, but, just as often, there appears to be a random shot of someone or a French New Wave style edit seemingly to be opaque for no reason whatsoever.
“…Velasquez has to emote so much with just body language and her eyes it is mesmerizing.”
The acting is all top-notch, especially from Velasquez, who has to emote so much with just body language and her eyes it is mesmerizing. Luke Judy proves to be an exciting presence, even if he only looks startled at most news. The rest of the cast is okay, with all of the poets (or at least, the ones reading the poems aloud) delivering in the same dry style as each other, as they each represent a trait of Boy’s while he is trapped in the art project.
Guys Reading Poems has a lot to admire- it is an original story, being told in an original way, with good acting, and jaw-dropping cinematography. But due to the heavily stylized presentation, whenever the movie abandons its experimental trajectory and tries to deliver information in a more user-friendly manner, it does not work at all. Since the movie hinges the crux of its emotional weight onto such a dull, uninspired sequence, it seems pointless. A maddening, inane affair that is pretty to look at.
Guys Reading Poems (2017) Directed by Hunter Lee Hughes. Written by Hunter Lee Hughes, Steven Reigns. Starring Patricia Velasquez, Luke Judy, Alexander Dreymon, Lydia Hearst, Rex Lee, Blake Sheldon, Justin Schwan.