Peter Paige's "Say Uncle" opens on a cheerful note with a gay Portland man (Paige) playing happily with his beloved 2-year-old godson but quickly grows darker even as it remains essentially comic, no matter how disturbing and provocative the film becomes. The ending is a little too neat and smacks of wishful thinking, but Paige has created an engaging and insightful entertainment with considerably more substance than most small-budget, independent gay films.
The joyful relationship between Paul and his godson comes to an abrupt halt when the child's parents break the news that they are moving to Japan, where the father has received a job offer he cannot afford to refuse. Paul, an aspiring, daydreaming artist supporting himself as a less-than-dedicated telemarketer, is devastated, and it emerges that Paul, because of a family tragedy in his childhood, suffers from arrested emotional development and identifies with children as a way of reconnecting with the happy times before catastrophe struck.
Paul teeters on the brink of a nervous breakdown until his friend and coworker Russell (Anthony Clark), while strolling in the park, urges Paul not merely to observe the children at a playground but to join them in the fun.
Paul quickly starts pulling himself together, and neighborhood mothers nod approvingly that a man is taking the trouble to play with children -- until they realize that Paul has no child of his own among the playmates.
When Paul freely admits this and that he is gay to one mother, Maggie (Kathy Najimy), he inadvertently sets off a four-alarm fire. To Maggie this automatically means he has got to be a child molester, and she's convinced that Paul fits the profile of such a predator. In no time Maggie is organizing an increasingly paranoid and hysterical campaign against Paul, of whom it is soon whispered that he is facing charges of child molestation in six states.
Paige has said Paul and Maggie are both people who go through life with blinders on and are thus bound to collide. So eager is Paul to play with children that he is unaware that adults might get the wrong idea.
Meanwhile, Maggie, consumed with fear over the potential danger that Paul represents to the neighborhood children, rushes to judgment without an iota of evidence.
Conflict and hysteria escalate all too credibly and disturbingly in what becomes a comedy of the darkly absurd. Indeed, Najimy is at once hilarious and scary. To his credit Paige acknowledges that Maggie's parental concerns are legitimate but that she distorts them all out of proportion.
Tall, thin and somewhat effeminate, Paul fits a familiar gay stereotype and, unfortunately for him, is a veritable Peter Pan. Adversity and injustice engulf the naive Paul, yet they also propel him into growing up.
Best known as Emmett Honeycutt in Showtime's "Queer as Folk," Peter Paige reveals that he is not only a fearless actor but a skilled and thoughtful writer and director. "Say Uncle" is a notably risk-taking first feature.
MPAA rating: R, for some language.
A TLA Releasing presentation. Writer-director-producer Peter Paige. Producer Christopher Racster. Cinematographer David A. Makin. Editor Wendy Hallam Martin. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.
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