A late arrival that stands high among the best films of 2018.


Reviews of this very fine film by Yen Tan have not held back in disclosing that it tells the story of a young man, Adrian played by Cory Michael Smith, who has concealed from his parents the fact that he is gay. Revealing that is in one way beneficial since it alerts gay audiences to 1985 as being a film that they will want to see. On the other hand, the film itself holds back on definitely confirming Adrian’s sexuality for a long time and it would be a pity if, given the width of its appeal, 1985 failed to draw a wider audience, including those who rarely choose to see films touching on homosexuality.


Yen Tan may be Malaysian but he is now based in America, in Austin, and his admirably judged screenplay is a portrait of a Texan community: this is the kind of environment from which youngsters seek to escape. They do so in order to find more opportunities in life and often as here with the additional aim of freeing themselves from the dominance of that kind of religious outlook that emphasises traditional values and questions the more liberal attitudes found in modern times. Adrian is seen at the very start of 1985. He is returning home after an absence of three years but, by not stressing his sexuality, the film only lets us know quite late on that that had been his prime motive in breaking away to live in New York. He is welcomed back by his loving mother (Virginia Madsen), finds that his father (Michael Chiklis) is as hidebound and grouchy as ever and wins over his much younger brother (Aidan Langford) who, being quite ignorant of its cause, has resented the way in which Adrian has distanced himself. Not dissimilarly, Adrian’s friend from childhood, Carly (Jamie Chung), cannot understand why Adrian has ignored her advances despite being so close to her. 


Even if the sexuality issue were not involved, 1985 would be a telling and highly persuasive tale of the tensions that can exist within families - be it the generational differences of outlook or the inability of those brought up within a strongly traditional church to understand and accept youngsters who reject that viewpoint. The impact here is all the greater because all of the characters are so persuasively drawn and so convincingly acted (in a very fine cast Smith and Madsen stand out).


I do have a few reservations about the concluding scenes, not least the last one showing Adrian and his father together which carries an ambiguity probably not intended. But that’s a minor point because Yen Tan’s film has another great virtue too: it totally avoids any sense of melodrama, its unforced tone re-enforced by the decision to shoot it as a period piece in black and white. Yen Tan’s comments in the press notes show him to be aware of the extent to which a gay film set in the period when Aids was at its most deadly may now seem old hat and overfamiliar, but he regards 1985 as a timely reiteration now that liberals views in America are increasingly under threat. Beyond that, it is the retrospective element born of our awareness of the scale of the Aids tragedy that renders 1985 so heartbreaking: Smith’s portrait of Adrian is not sentimentalised but has the rare distinction of making us believe completely in someone who emerges as a truly good man.




Cast: Cory Michael Smith, Virginia Madsen, Michael Chiklis, Jamie Chung, Aidan Langford, Ryan Piers Williams, Michael Darby, Bryan Massey, Tina Parker, Bill Heck.


Dir Yen Tan, Pro HutcH and Ash Christian, Screenplay Yen Tan, from a story by Yen Tan and HutcH, Ph HutcH, Pro Des Brittany Ingram, Ed HutcH and Yen Tan, Music Curtis Heath and Dutch Rail, Costumes Nichole Hull.


MuseLessMime Productions/Cranium Entertainment/Floren Shieh Productions/Rainmaker Films-Peccadillo Pictures.
86 mins. USA. 2018. Rel: 20 December 2018. Cert. 15.