This will probably come off like a backhanded compliment, but few filmmakers today have a knack for creating such intensely unlikeable characters as Jordan Firstman. I realize that sounds like a turn-off (and it will be for some viewers), but Firstman also has the remarkable ability to make these despicable people interesting.
Call Your Father feels very much on brand for Firstman. As he displayed in the popular short The Disgustings and as a staff writer on the TBS series Search Party, when it comes to self absorbed, bitchy gay comedy, he’s practically an auteur. He’s a talented triple threat—a writer, director, and actor who has a very distinct voice. Having featured his previous film, Sold., here on Short of the Week we’re obviously big admirers of his work.
When I first watched Call Your Father, I didn’t know what to make of it. I found the lead character Josh (played by Firstman) so insufferable that I was actually getting genuinely angry…my own self loathing and hatred of millennial selfishness rearing its head. But, the fact that it instilled such a strong reaction in me…that a fictional character was able to stir me up so effortlessly just showcases Firstman’s talent. You may hate Josh, but he’s endlessly fascinating.
On the converse, you have Greg: the older, “too nice” gay man who lacks the confidence to stand-up to his date/bully. At times, Greg acts as a stand-in for the audience. How far would you be willing to tolerate a person like Josh before reaching your breaking point? Is this kid just an asshole? Or, is he really damaged? Maybe both?
Essentially, Firstman is critiquing these two archetypes: the young, self-centered millennial who thinks he knows everything and the overly polite gay man who uses his kindness as a way to avoid confrontation. After all, what’s worse? The person who has no sensor? Or, the person who is too afraid to say what he’s really thinking?
This taps into a larger point—this divide between two very different generations of gay men, and the misguided societal belief that two gay men will always magically relate to one another strictly because they both happen to be homosexual. In a great interview with Out Magazine, Firstman expands in more detail:
“I had written both the characters as versions of myself. I’d just turned 25 and felt like I was over the phase of my life where I was a young, impulsive asshole making bad decisions all the time. But I wasn’t ready to be old and boring yet. so I wrote both characters as the worst case scenario of both those things.
I dated a lot of older guys in my twenties. And I began thinking that the way gay people are perceived—that we’re supposed to be a community, but there’s an ocean of difference between people who lived through AIDS and people who didn’t. We’re all expected to understand each other, but with straight people there isn’t that expectation—old and young straight people aren’t expected to get each other.”
Call Your Father is a film that will frustrate you as much as it entertains you, skittering from moments of black comedy straight into serious character work. It’s a deft and satirical tonal balancing act and shows how Firstman is both staying true to what interests him thematically, while also expanding his visual bravura.