Friday, June 4, 2021
A foray into a New York subculture
Manhattan can be a peculiar place, a teeming impersonal hunk of urban landscape that's conducive to the formation of what can seem like thousands of subcultures. That was true when I lived there in the '60s and '70s and it's evidently still true, at least judging by Port Authority. Set partly in the Kiki ballroom scene, the movie features a notable performance from Lenya Bloom, a model and actress who became the first trans woman to star in a movie at a major festival when Port Authority had its debut at Cannes in 2019. Bloom portrays Wye, a trans woman who's part of the Kiki ballroom scene, which seems to consist primarily of LGBTQ+ young people who create family structures for themselves. Paul (Fionn Whitehead) stumbles into this world after arriving in New York from Pittsburgh. He’s supposed to be met at the Port Authority Bus Terminal by his half-sister. When she doesn’t show, Paul falls in with Lee (McCaul Lombardi), who earns a meager living doing less-than-honorable work for landlords. Wye treats Paul with concern that he badly needs and romance looms. Director Danielle Lessovitz doesn't dot every "i" or cross every "t" but her story immerses us in a scene that most of us only know from documentaries about vogue dancing. The central relationship between Paul and Wye feels a bit undercooked and it takes an improbably long time for Paul to realize that Wye is transgender. But Lessovitz strikes a strong note by reminding us that people the larger society tends to marginalize often find one another, building sheltering worlds in the bargain -- in other words, Port Authority qualifies as a real New York story.