Andrea Riseborough, Karl Glusman, Ryan Simpkins, Jake Choi, Karim Saleh, Jake Sidney Cohen, and Matt D'Elia in PLEASE BABY PLEASE. Courtesy of Music Box FIlms

Director Amanda Kramer delivers a high-camp, surreal production that explores gender politics through an absurdist lens. Please Baby Please follows newlyweds Suze (Andrea Riseborough) and Arthur (Harry Melling) living a Beatnik lifestyle on the Lower East Side in the Eisenhower era. Their lives are forever changed by a run-in with a greaser gang, The Young Gents, who kill a man right in front of their apartment building.

Harry Melling and Andrea Riseborough standing on the street at the beginning of the film watching The Young Gents kill a person on their stoop.
Harry Melling and Andrea Riseborough in PLEASE BABY PLEASE. Courtesy of Music Box Films.

The Young Gents come onto the screen before Suze and Arthur, performing a hypermasculine, homoerotic ode to West Side Story as they bounce and snap through alleys to the couple’s front stoop. When Young Gent Teddy (Karl Glusman) and Arthur make eye contact, it’s lust at first sight. The leather-clad pretty boy rouses the meek husband to a brash wife, and the brash wife to the meek husband is affronted with gender envy.

Doused in the queer media’s famous bisexual lighting, these old Hollywood-inspired sets create a highly stylized backdrop for the manicured dialogue, paced and performed like Beat literature or poetry. Although at points, the dialogue may have felt overwritten or patched together, contributing to an underlying theme of slight confusion, artful delivery glamoured the words making these conversations a delight to watch.

Demi Moore looking glamourous yet ragid and stunned.
Demi Moore in Please Baby Please. Courtesy of Music Box FIlms

Kramer’s direction produces a mindboggling state of awe when venturing into the fantasy sequences of Suze’s character. Progressively these musical, hypersexual moments aid Riseborough’s character through discovering her desires and true gender performing identity. Most take place in housewife Maureen’s (Demi Moore) highly commercialized apartment. Suze and Arthur’s apartment is almost empty; there’s barely any furniture or amenities, but Maureen’s apartment is full of top-of-the-line appliances, which Maureen refers to as her “sex toys.” This apartment acts as the chamber of self-discovery for Suze, from playing the housewife who wants a dishwasher to a full-throttle leather daddy surrounded by the beta male versions of The Young Gents.

Karl Glusman and Andrea Riseborough in one of Suze's fantasies. Plenty of bisexual lighting and leather daddy imagery
Karl Glusman and Andrea Riseborough in PLEASE BABY PLEASE. Courtesy of Music Box Films

Andrea Riseborough from Birdman, The Death of Stalin, The Battle of the Sexes, and many more iconic and critically acclaimed roles performs a master class in Please Baby Please. Movement. Emotion. Diction. At first jarring compared to the other players, Riseborough emerges as the centrepiece drawing out boldness from every other actor. It’s incredible how her petite frame can dominate the screen, filling it with her assertive presence.

Gradually becoming more dominated by his wife, Arthur ventures into the world, looking for Teddy and reveling in every opportunity they get to be near one another. Their connection intertwines The Young Gents and the newlyweds throughout the avant-garde storytelling.

Harry Melling holding the telephone in his apartment after just monologuing to his father
Harry Melling in PLEASE BABY PLEASE. Courtesy of Music Box Films

Harry Melling, whom you may recognize from Netflix’s smash hit limited series The Queen’s Gambit completes a pairing with Glusman which teases the senses but never climaxes on screen – their performances are much subtler than Riseborough’s. The juxtaposition mirrors the jagged edges of each scene stapled together. Though Riseborough and Melling mix well, balancing each other’s performances, they also appear to understand their journey through differing genres.

Ryan Simpkins and Jaz Sinclair holding onto one another in a Beat lounge
Ryan Simpkins and Jaz Sinclair in PLEASE BABY PLEASE. Courtesy of Music Box Films.

Not only do we watch the transformation of Arthur and Suze, but we watch Young Gent Dickie (Ryan Simpkins) confront their masculinity and grapple between rage and desire to be more than they appear to be. Coaxed by Dickie’s short-term girlfriend Joanne (Jaz Sinclair), Teddy breaks down The Young Gents’ confidence by inciting a gender performance conversation within the gang. It goes horribly wrong, pushing the band of greasers deeper into their hole of hypermasculinity and toxic gender expression through violence and crime.

Karl Glusman lit entirely in blue.
Karl Glusman in PLEASE BABY PLEASE. Courtesy of Music Bos Films.

Please Baby Please bounces from scene to scene in a linear fashion but in a chaotic combustion of the viewer’s sense of time. How long does it take the Beatnik newlyweds to fully emerge as their authentic selves? We don’t know. What we do know is that their metamorphosis all takes place due to a confrontation with a contradicting version of heteronormativity to their own. Two forms of straight society crash together and manifest an explosion of queerness on the streets of the Lower East Side.

Amanda Kramer’s Please Baby Please is an absurd, surreal, high-camp spectacle for the eye, but if you want to understand its nuances and underlying truths, I recommend watching it more than once.

Written by Isobel Grieve

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