Winning Dad

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Thursday October 8, 2015

Chuck Sigars and Arthur Allen in 'Winning Dad'
Chuck Sigars and Arthur Allen in 'Winning Dad'  

Arthur Allen writes, directs, and stars in "Winning Dad," a coming out story that's not about a young man emerging from the closet, but rather a middle-aged man escaping the shadow of ingrained prejudice that threatens to derail his gay son's life.

Mike Clarke (Chuck Sigars) is a typical white American male -- a bluff, good-natured sort, socially conservative and religious, the sort who is a genuinely nice guy but also -- and this is the hard, perplexing twist -- genuinely disgusted by gays... or, rather, by gay sex. "What you people do disgusts me," he tells his son's boyfriend, Rusty (Allen), an adorable, impetuous fellow with whom Mike has gone on a hiking trip. What happens next precipitates a crisis on multiple fronts, not least of which is Mike's own closely-held beliefs and certainties.

If treated as a comedy, the basic premise would still be sound: Mike's son, Colby (Jake Street), in collusion with Mike's wife Lisa (Ellen McLain) and daughter Jamie (Megan Jackson), has arranged the hiking trip as a means of getting his father to get to know, and like, his boyfriend. Engineering some alone time with the two takes a couple of lies, the biggest whopper being that Rusty is straight. (You'd have to be a clueless middle aged dude to believe that one.) After Mike warms to Rusty, the reasoning goes, he'll drop his bigotry and accept Rusty as a de facto son-in-law.

Needless to say, things don't quite work out that way. But "Winning Dad" isn't presented as a comedy, even though it has some funny moments (including the most spirited re-telling of a scene from the novel "Moby Dick" ever to be committed to film). Rather, this is a drama that takes its viewer on a hike of a very different sort: Along a Via Dolorosa of strained relationships and conflicted convictions. The result is a smartly crafted story about a father and son, or rather a father and two sons: One of them biological, the other a son by marriage -- if, that is, Mike can learn to pull his disapproval back enough to let Colby breathe and mature enough that he becomes a man in his own right. Until then, Mike's intransigence risks stunting Corey's emotional growth.

Allen and his cast bring lots of heart to the film, with the standout performance belonging to Sigars: He draws a portrait for us of a man coming to grips with a lifetime of assumptions he doesn't want to have to challenge. The film leads to a too-neatly contrived family gathering and convenient moment of catharsis, but it's easy to forgive: The ending still sounds a truthful note, and the journey to that moment has been well worth taking.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.