[This week, Jenika and Alex are covering select films from the Los Angeles Film Festival. For complete coverage of the festival, make sure to check out the page for the tag “Los Angeles Film Festival.” Keep watching throughout the week as we bring you more reviews!]
I feel like pretty much every movie I watched at the Los Angeles Film Festival involved sex in some way, and Christopher and His Kind is no exception. One might normally overlook a small, gay biopic from the UK, but not when it involves the current incarnation of the Doctor as he has graphic sex with other men. There’s more to it than that, of course, but judging by some of the crowd reactions, there were plenty of people in the audience hoping that the main character would leave Germany in a TARDIS.
Christopher and His Kind follows budding author Christopher Isherwood (Matt Smith) during his stay in Berlin in the early 1930s. While Christopher admits that he came to Berlin for the boys, he meets plenty of people along the way, including the outspoken Jean Ross (Imogen Poots), the basis for his later character of Sally Bowles. He also finds love in droves, but with the Nazi party coming to power, Christopher’s kind of love isn’t exactly easy.
I’d like to tell you about all the characters in Christopher and His Kind, but there are more of them than I can count. I imagine that the movie is trying to stay close to the autobiography it’s based on, but there’s a point where they really needed to pick and choose. Christopher’s friends all seem like they could be very interesting, but there are so many of them that we never really get to know any of them. There are a few that the movie tries to focus on, but they’re so rushed that it’s hard to feel sad when they go.
This is a particular problem with Christopher’s boyfriends. His main squeeze in the film is Hans (Douglas Booth), but we don’t meet him until halfway through the film. There would still be the chance of getting to know him in that time if he weren’t written so blandly, but as it is, he can be summed up as “that young, quiet dude that Christopher loved.” It also doesn’t help that all of the sex scenes are between Christopher and an earlier boyfriend, making it feel a bit like he got sex from one and love from another.
The pacing in the movie is odd. The earlier sections where he’s befriending Jean and getting to know the city are paced very well, and are quite engrossing. This changes once the Nazis start coming into the picture. The scenes alternate between going far too quickly or dragging on forever, and it’s hard to feel immersed in the world. This is made even more difficult with the story, as Christopher flees Berlin and is removed from most of the action. There must be a way to experience the events happening, but both the Nazis and Christopher’s actual career are overlooked in favor of tying up loose ends with some characters that were a bit hard to care about.
While there are some major issues with the dramatic aspects of the story, Christopher and His Kind is, for the most part, very funny. What the characters lack in emotional depth, they make up for in clever dialogue. Pretty much every section that does not actively involve the Nazis is stuffed full of wonderful lines, and the acting is all spot-on. Matt Smith is perfectly charming, and while the rest of the cast is not particularly memorable, it wasn’t from lack of talent.
Overall, Christopher and His Kind is a decent watch, but it might be better to turn on in the background while you’re working on something else. If you ignore the poor pacing and drama in the latter half of the movie, it’s easy enough to enjoy the laughs and the pretty cinematography. If nothing else, this movie will make catching up on Doctor Who very interesting.
Alex Katz: I knew Matt Smith was a young actor to be noticed, thanks to his current tenure as The Doctor on Doctor Who, and Christopher and His Kind just proves his versatility. Smith as author Christopher Isherwood is an absolute delight, as he moves from fanciful, lighthearted writer to the more political, serious-minded man Isherwood would become in his later years. Smith’s performance aside, the film does have some serious issues. The pacing takes a nosedive once the Nazis really take over (damn Nazis ruin everything, don’t they?), and there’s some flat characterization, outside of Christopher and his gal pal Jean, played by the hilariously-named Imogen Poots. It’s a solid film that takes some big stumbles in the last two acts, but it is generally worth seeing, especially for fans of Isherwood’s novels. 60 – Okay.