In one of the most touching films of the year, Jesus (Maximillian Davis), a LGBT support line rep, is diagnosed with HIV after cheating on his partner. The film unfolds around Jesus coping with his illness but the story’s spine is the new relationships he makes while trying to rekindle old ones. From the compassionate AIDS counselor who breaks the news to the self-proclaimed “Glitter Nun” who lives next door, Jesus finds strength in Seattle’s queer community.
Director Billie Rain’s debut feature has been deservedly earning praise on the festival circuit. Its reserved tone and taut editing showcase terrific performances from all of the actors. Even the smaller roles, like the counselor (expertly played by Luiz Viquez), get top-notch performances.
Davis’ performance is the best of the bunch. He carries the film as the common link between all of the other characters. But what appears to be Jesus’ world quickly transforms into something much bigger. Brian Peters plays Michael/Sister Alysa (in one of my favorite performances of the year), Jesus’ caring neighbor and self-proclaimed “Glitter Nun” who serves as a guardian angel and mentor for the protagonist. He brings him into his group of supporters and commiserators where the sense of community is really highlighted. But as he finds more and more people willing to help him, he begins to feel even more alone.
Heart Breaks Open is a thought-provoking procedural that deserves to make end-of-the-year lists. With films like Weekend and Beginners catching the public’s eye this award season, there’s no reason why Rain’s film shouldn’t be brought up in the same discussions. It’s courageous and unapologetic and fantastic.
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