You Can’t Take It with You… ‘Naked As We Came’

[18 March 2014]

By J.C. Macek III

It’s always a bad idea to judge a book (or, in this case, a DVD) by its cover, but judging from this cover, featuring a shirtless muscular young man just above the film’s title of Naked as we Came, and one might be forgiven for jumping to a conclusion or two. In truth, this multiple award-winning film does have two gay male characters as co-leads (in a cast count of four actors total), but it would be inaccurate (not to mention audience-limiting) to think of Naked As We Came as simply a “gay film”.

Naked As We Came focuses around two adult children of a terminally ill woman who has become a recluse on her family estate in the days leading to her imminent death. Elliot (Ryan Vigilant) and Laura (Karmine Alers) are business partners in their late father’s dry cleaning business and put their lives on hold to spend time with their long-Estranged mother Lilly (Lue McWilliams). Upon arrival, they are greeted by a young stranger named Ted (Benjamin Weaver) who has stepped in as Lilly’s caretaker.

Laura’s immediate question is whether their ailing mother is sleeping with Ted, although it’s obvious that Ted has eyes for Elliot as opposed to Lilly (or any other woman, for that matter). And, of course, Ted has some secrets of his own, or else we wouldn’t really have a movie.

The film is at its best when it’s at its most relaxed. A quiet scene at dinner serves not only to allow Lilly to get to know her adult children better (and vice-versa), but also to sadly illustrate how much they have changed—and given up. Elliot proves to still be a great chef, while Laura has a fantastic singing voice, worthy of going pro. Another interesting scene revolves around the sharing of Lilly’s medicinal marijuana, while others involve Lilly and one of her children as she is tended in bed.

However, Naked As We Came doesn’t stand up well to naked intensity in any real form here. There is a great deal of conflict in the screenplay of Richard LeMay (who also directed), but the tension that translates to the screen is not always terribly… tense. McWilliams is very good in her role as Lilly, showing her stubbornness and acceptance of fate in one look, but her character is so resigned to her fate that she easily eludes conflict.

Conversely, Laura and Elliot have unresolved issues both with Lilly and with each other. To see them unloading on Lilly, who remains mostly passive, should be frustrating, but it feels much more by-the-numbers due to the delivery. An argument between Elliot and Laura should be purging, but doesn’t quite make it. This is also true for most scenes involving Ted, because Weaver is not much of an actor here, instead delivering lines flatly as if they are being read. His silent acting is fine, but often falls apart when he speaks.

The McGuffin that brings Ted into this family is alluded to briefly at the very beginning of the film and makes one more appearance toward the end, explaining a few things, however, this plot point is never truly explored. In fact, it feels almost contradictory to the main family storyline. This strange element alludes to a politically intriguing potential news story worthy of an episode of Scandal, however, the adult family drama that is Naked As We Came neither is, nor should be, political or intrigue laden.

On the other hand, when LeMay focuses on family drama and lets the calmer moments (albeit with roiling emotions just under the surface) rule the movie. LeMay has a talent for dialogue (even if it doesn’t always transfer perfectly to the screen) and no matter what one might think of the characters (it’s clear that LeMay wants to present poor, misunderstood Elliot as put upon by both his older sister and mother), most everyone will want to know how their storylines turn out in the end.

The 2014 DVD’s extras include interesting cast and crew interviews and the film’s trailer and feature commentary. The feature itself is nothing if not independent (with all of the good and the bad that comes with that description), but both Naked As We Came’s title and tagline of “It’s never too late” both come to make a great deal of sense in ways that will surprise most anyone who judged this film by its DVD cover.

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