For the first time, Autostraddle is at the Toronto International Film Festival! Drew Gregory is coming to you for the next two weeks with all the LGBTQ+ movies at one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world. Follow her on Twitter for more.
When we first meet Renatta, she’s frantically looking for a vape cartridge. She’ll spend the rest of Luis De Filippis’ debut feature Something You Said Last Night sucking on her vape like it’s an oxygen tank. It’s not a want — it’s a need. The only thing keeping her alive.
Renatta isn’t your usual trans protagonist. Maybe that’s because unlike the vast majority of people who have told and are telling our stories, Luis De Filippis is actually trans. De Filippis has joined a small — but ever-growing! — list of trans people who have managed to bring the nuance of their lived experience to writing and directing a feature. And transness is only the start of what De Filippis brings to this distinct, at times deliciously low-key, tale of family and arrested development.
The film takes place over a week-long vacation that 20-something struggling writer Renatta takes with her family. There’s her mom Mona, a dominating personality, her dad Guido, a bumbling bastion of soft masculinity, and her sister Sienna, a college student eager for rebellion. Renatta’s brother Anthony isn’t on the trip, but his presence hangs over the whole film.
Much will be made of what the film is not. For example, this is not a film about Renatta’s family learning to accept her transness — that acceptance has long been established. It’s also not a film that traffics in the trans traumas we usually see on-screen both big and small. But while these absences are exciting, what exists in their place is even more enthralling. These specificities are the real display of what happens when talented trans filmmakers are trusted to tell their own stories.
Due to the impeccable casting and sharp writing, Renatta’s family feels like a real family. There are inside jokes we don’t get. Past hurt we’ll never see. Decades of history only hinted at in overreactions to the daily annoyances of a beach vacation with people you know too well and love more than like.
Carmen Madonia is stellar as Ren, charming and self-assured despite her not-so-teenage angst. Ramona Milano as Mona, Joe Parro as Guido, and Paige Evans as Sienna give equally specific and lived-in performances. These actors deserve praise, but so does casting director Marjorie Lecker, as well as De Filippis themself. “Great directing” has become synonymous with interesting mis-en-scene, but when a cast is this good and has this much chemistry, that is a sign of excellent direction.
By telling a story that takes place long after the learning of trans acceptance, De Filippis has made room for the small intimacies that exist within this Italian American family. The gentle, loving way they touch one another even when they’ve just been fighting. Mona’s habit of calling her oldest daughter “mama.” It’s all so real and compelling, and it allows the film to work without needing overly dramatic turns in the plot.
But just because the film isn’t about transness in the ways we’re used to seeing, that doesn’t mean Renatta’s transness isn’t present. In one especially shrewd scene, Renatta casually puts on a bikini unconcerned with her bulge. Meanwhile, her sister is the one feeling insecure, throwing a big t-shirt over her own bathing suit. Later, when Renatta is being leered at, she takes that same t-shirt and covers herself. It’s not that Renatta doesn’t experience dysphoria or transphobia, it’s just shown as a variation of cis people’s own insecurities and social pressures. The solution is the same big t-shirt.
There’s also an understanding that a parent implying you’re more challenging because of your transness is painful enough, a man expressing interest only to be dismissive in front of his friends is painful enough. These daily microaggressions we’ve been taught to accept as “not so bad” are this film’s most dramatic takes on transness. Ultimately, Renatta’s problems aren’t all that different from other wayward 20-somethings. Sure, her transness may factor into her stunted maturity and struggle to remain employed, but it’s probably not the sole cause. Renatta is stressed because she doesn’t know how she’ll pay rent. Renatta is annoyed with her family because they’re her family and that annoys her.
One of the wisest touches De Filippis makes with the film is to have Renatta constantly buried in her phone. Not only is it realistic — who amongst us isn’t buried in our phones — it grounds Renatta in a life we never see. We don’t know who she’s texting, and that keeps her isolated with her family in this contained story. But it hints at the world Renatta usually inhabits where even the love and acceptance we’re witnessing is surpassed. The possibility of having to move back home haunts the film, and every time Renatta ignored her family to be on her phone, I imagined the trans friends on the other end. Sure, to a lot of us this portrait of family feels enviable, but that doesn’t mean it’s the same as the family Renatta has found with her friends.
Something You Said Last Night not only insists we should ask for more from our cinema — it insists we should ask for more from our lives. Transness may change the specificities of our challenges, but it doesn’t change our needs, our wants, our angsts, our desires. This is a film for the difficult trans sisters who aren’t so difficult. This is a film for every trans person with a vape and a dream.
Believe we deserve more, and maybe we can get it. We shouldn’t settle for less.
Thanks for such a great review, Drew!
I’ve got tickets to a screening on Tuesday evening and now I’m even more excited to see the movie.
Thanks for the review, Drew. I’ll add this to my watch list
this is such a gorgeous review <3 thank you Drew
also SO EXCITING yall are OHficially at Toronto Film Festival!!! Autostraddle deserves free passes & all expenses paid to ALLLL THE FILM FESTIVALSS!
but for film festival reviews, I'm always deeply confused about: is there a way to see this movie if we're not at the festival? if not now, is there any info about how to see it in the future? or is distribution unknown at the time of the film festival?
^I have the same questions!!
So excited to read all Drew’s TIFF coverage!!! 🤩
RT! I’d like to watch this movie and wondering when it will be available to purchase online!
Unfortunately this hasn’t found distribution yet! It won an award yesterday so hopefully that helps and we know release info soon.