Directed by: Andrea Kramer
Distributed by: Music Box Films
Written by Anna Harrison
If you take “West Side Story” and Kenneth Anger, put them together in an enclosure for long enough and let them get to know each other super well, a stork will one day deposit “Please Baby Please” at your front door: it opens with a balletic (and horny) dance which soon spirals into destruction as the dancing gang, the Young Gents, murder an unwitting couple outside of their apartment building. “Scorpio Rising” by way of “West Side Story.”
The crime is witnessed by another young couple, Arthur and Suze (Harry Melling and Andrea Riseborough), but instead of being repulsed, they find themselves oddly drawn to the Young Gents, especially the charismatic Teddy (Karl Glusman). As the two are seduced by the Young Gents, a gang which combines the power of leather, homoeroticism, and murder, Arthur and Suze’s own relationship with sex and gender shift, but for different reasons. Arthur wants to be with Teddy and laments his status as man, which automatically assigns to him a brutishness he wants no part of, and so it falls on Suze to take up that mantle as she becomes more and more like the members of the gang that fascinate and repulse her so. If Arthur doesn’t feel masculine enough is he even a man? Why would he want to be one?
The narrative of “Please Baby Please” is light, and purposely so; it works better as an intellectual exercise than a story, but its performances and neon aesthetics are too captivating to entirely resist, even if there’s not much narrative thrust. The dialogue feels like it comes from an avant-garde play (“I will not be terrorized into acting like a savage just because I was born male,” Arthur says—a line that would be cloyingly performative were it delivered in a film that didn’t keep its audience at bay), and the sets are simple and static, as if made for the theater, yet it’s hard to imagine “Please Baby Please” as anything but a film. Kramer makes full use of the filmic medium with her dazzling array of visuals and some stellar editing and cinematography, conveying something with the camera that might be lost in a theater. The colors and staging are precise, from the coolly blue apartment of Demi Moore’s femme fatale to the red-tinged hue of Suze’s BDSM-lite daydreams; the Young Gents moved with a swagger achieved only through precision.
As an exploration of gender and sexuality, it’s not exactly subtle (“Well, Arthur, if you’re not a man, what are you?” a man at a bar asks) but is no less multifaceted for the fact—camp at its finest, in other words. Kramer follows a long tradition, but she—helped by strong performances across the board and especially from Riseborough—but carves her own place with ease; it’s hard to forget the shot of Andrea Riseborough with a hot iron on her derriere, after all.
“Please Baby Please” Clip