Stud Life – film review.
The tag line for Stud Life, a film by writer/director Campbell X, is “Who did you wake up with today? Your lover or your best friend?” Some might argue that these can be one and the same person, but not when the story is about a stud whose best friend is a gay man. The opening scene of the film shows JJ, the title stud, waking up next to her bestie, Seb. And so begins the classic tale of a black butch dyke and a white fag supporting each other through the trials and tribulations of finding love in urban London. Wait . . . what?
Yeah, that’s right. Campbell X presents us with a world many of us recognize but one we rarely see reflected on screen. Her London is queer, young and multicultural. The diversity of culture peppers the language, the music, the entire aesthetic of the film. And yes, the two main characters are a stud and a fag.
JJ defends her choice of best friends in a MySpace video blog, explaining why she couldn’t be best mates with a femme (“complicated”), a stud (“competition”) or a straight man (“Yeah, right . . . whatever”). JJ’s videos occur throughout the film in soliloquies, in which she ponders questions of love and sex in the modern world. All of the issues are in there: gender, race, sex, violence and how they all interrelate. It makes the film current and topical but not in a preachy or pedantic way. JJ does not tell us how to feel; instead, she tells us how she feels and asks us for our opinion.
When JJ meets Elle we are treated to scenes in a butch-femme courtship. She struts in her butch jeans and adorable cardigans. She’s all confidence and swagger in the bar when she meets Elle, but the smile of sheer delight when she actually lands a date is sweet and totally charming. In a performance that I imagine to be modelled on Campbell X herself [editor: Campbell X has let us know that art does not imitate life here], T’Nia Miller gives a convincing and entirely swoon-worthy performance as JJ.
In casting the part of JJ, Campbell X knew that if she couldn’t find a black stud actress, she needed to find someone as committed to an authentic portrayal as Hilary Swank was when she played Brandon Teena in Boys Don’t Cry. A femme in real life, Miller spent a couple of weeks prior to the shoot passing as a stud. She was amazed at how differently she was treated by the strangers around her, whom she said either ignored her or reacted to her with fear. Even though her experiment lasted only two weeks, it gave her an appreciation for how much is changed by presentation.
The film is a bit ambitious with the number of issues it tackles. The ending comes rather quickly and is a bit too neat for my liking, but the main performances are nuanced and authentic (in particular, Kyle Treslove as Seb is really lovely), the dialogue is natural, and the writing is strong and truthful. Campbell X brings us a world she understands, and she knows how to translate it to the screen.
My only real disappointment is that I didn’t get to see this film in a theatre, swooning and sighing along with all of you.
Stud Life makes its Canadian premiere at The Inside Out Film Festival Monday, May 21 at 9:15pm.
Stud Life trailer: