Chosen family is the name of the game here, a term that queer people the world over have claimed as their own. In The Mattachine Family, writer Danny Vallentine and director/husband Andy Vallentine explore modern love, the strangeness of queer identity, fatherhood, and the true meaning of family with this charming little dramedy. As a married gay man myself, I definitely related to much of the content here—unlike some LGBTQIA+ films I have seen though, one definitely does not have to be on the gay spectrum to garner enjoyment out of The Mattachine Family‘s simplistic, relatable quirks.
The film is presented in a completely unconventional manner, split up into vignette-style segments that are bookended by lengthy monologue voice interludes to strengthen characterization. At the center of it all is Thomas (Nico Tortorella, Scream 4, Younger), cataloging his life and profiling his memories as only a photographer can. During a series of sporadic, highly emotional asides, Thomas dives deep on his relationship dynamics with former sitcom star Oscar (Juan Pablo Di Pace, Mamma Mia!, Dallas) while trying to power through and make sense of his own views on being a dad.
Chemistry between Tortorella and Di Pace is downright adorable. The duo being believable as a couple only adds to the emotionality when it comes to fostering. Due to Oscar’s history being a child of the foster care system, he is adamant that they take this route as parents rather than explore surrogacy. Thomas also grapples with complicated feelings of his own in this area, especially being very young when his father passed away. Neither anticipate the difficulties of bringing in a kid who would eventually be taken back to their parent. Arthur, an adorable, innocent child whose family lost everything in a fire, has just been re-homed to his mother.
Arthur’s loss affects Oscar and Thomas in completely different ways. Oscar thrusts himself into his work in the hopes of a career rejuvenation whilst Thomas spirals, seeing echoes of Arthur in everything he does. Can the two of them find a way forward in the relationship as Oscar seems to stand firm on the timing being “all wrong” to have another kid right now? Only in reassessing his life does Thomas begin to realize just how much it means to be a father, and how to pay it forward. Supporting Thomas is Lea (Emily Hampshire, Schitt’s Creek, Appendage), his bestie since their freshman year of college, and her wife, Sonia (Cloie Wyatt Taylor), as well as Thomas’s first neighbor in LA. and platonic queer friend, Jamie (Jake Choi). Heather Matarazzo (Scream 3, The Princess Diaries) also appears in a small role as Annie, a cute mommy with her own lifestyle brand and a frumpy hat to boot.
The Mattachine Family is far from perfect—the ending could use some work, and Oscar’s actions in particular are incredibly frustrating. Yet, thanks to the husbandly team-up of the Vallentines, this dramedy spills over with sincerity. A heart firmly in the right place is tricky to perfect, but the Vallentines make it seamless. Between wiping away tears during the interludes and jamming to “Moon River” and Pat Benatar’s “Shadows of the Night,” The Mattachine Family is the delightfully sweet mid-year treat you didn’t know you needed.
The Mattachine Family screened at 2023’s Seattle International Film Festival.