Port Authority, written and directed by Danielle Lessovitz, is a powerful and emotional feature debut. For this viewer, it provides a fascinating contrasting viewpoint to Ryan Murphy’s Pose; it examines the LGBTQ world of ballroom culture through the lens of 20-year-old midwesterner Paul (Fionn Whitehead). After being turned away by his sister upon arriving in New York City, Paul is forced to sleep at a homeless shelter full of hyper-masculine personalities. He takes a temporary job as a furniture-mover. Paul takes notice of a cute girl voguing in the streets and quietly pursues her.
A chance encounter at a party finally puts Paul in her crosshairs. The friendly dancer introduces herself as Wye (a stunning Leyna Bloom in her feature film debut), and a love blossoms between the two. Getting a taste of Wye’s tightly-knit chosen family only puts further pressure on Paul and his seemingly hopeless situation. After discovering Wye is transgender, Paul is forced to reassess his own sexuality. He must form an identity of his own and find where he belongs in the erratic bustle of the city.
Using Paul’s viewpoint to tell the story rather than centering on Wye, or members of her house, is sure to anger some. However, I found it to be refreshing. Trans stories where the trans experience isn’t central to the unfolding action are hard to come by. The aim of this film seemed to reframe the reaction we typically see when characters reveal themselves to be transgender.
Paul is desperately trying to break out from the chains of his toxic friends, and he is still coping with past trauma about his mother. When Wye show Paul where she lives with her ‘house,’ and they begin discussing ballroom categories, it all felt very much like Pose. After Paul discovers Wye is trans, he doesn’t react favorably at first. He goes so far as to ask what she has between her legs. The duo becomes a full-fledged couple shortly after this, but I found Paul’s behavior very interesting. He seems judgmental and upset that Wye didn’t share this detail with him, but Paul isn’t willing to share the truth about his living situation either. The fact that Wye can be so forthcoming about her status, whereas Paul seems to have much less to hide yet still refuses to be honest, is troubling indeed.
The budding love between Paul and Wye is too cute, punctuated by a passionate and intense love scene. Fionn Whitehead and Leyna Bloom share chemistry that sizzles and pops. I adored when Wye put glitter on Paul’s cheeks—it’s the polar opposite of an earlier scene where Paul gets beaten on the subway, and his face is caked in blood. Wye is like the glittery beacon of love that Paul needed all along.
Toxic masculinity, homophobia and transphobia run rampant throughout, mainly from Paul’s unfortunate circle of friends. Catchy ballroom mixes, the vibrance of young love and the darkness of an in-depth character study prove that Port Authority is well worth your time. Category is: White Boy Realness!
Port Authority takes it to the runway via limited release theaters on May 28th, then struts its stuff on streaming June 1st.