There was a news item from 13 or 14 years ago that happened in Newfoundland when I still lived there that always stuck with me over the years. I couldn’t help but think maybe Stephen Dunn recalled that same incident when writing a similar account into the beginning of Closet Monster, a coming-of-age story set also in Newfoundland.
8-year-old Oscar (Jack Fulton) witnesses a violent hate-crime by a group of teenagers on another kid they believe is gay. Seeing this has a profound affect on his own development and perspective as he grows up, fearing retaliation for what might happen to him if he himself were gay.
Coupled with comments made by his newly divorced father (Aaron Abrams), Oscar retreats into self-denial that results in avoidance of that part of his life as he grows. Ten years later, Oscar (now played by Connor Jessup) is about to finish high school and has his sights set on New York City, where he plans to accompany his best friend Gemma (Sofia Banzhaf) and attend a make-up design school.
Oh, and of course there’s the talking hampster.
Oscar’s pet Buffy (voiced by Isabella Rossellini) is often the voice of reason for Oscar, and sometimes the only voice he has to rely on. Their back-and-forth banter keeps the film light, humourous and at a good pace. From convincing him that she can clean out her own cage to being an ear for Oscar’s thoughts, she earns the title of Oscar’s “spirit animal.”
There are parts that feel rushed or not as explored as they could have been in this 90-minute film. Oscar’s relationship with Gemma and his mother (Joanne Kelly), for example, feel slighted, and his developing crush on a co-worker (Aliocha Schneider) seems to go from 0 to 80 with little indication. And of course, his manager (Mary Walsh) provides delightful and expected comic relief.
Closet Monster takes a story written many times before in many different ways and keeps it interesting to those who are familiar with the oft-told coming-of-age coming-out tale. And it does so while managing to avoid approaching cliche territory when doing so would have been such an easy way out. It’s imaginative, but also feels personal, even if the realizations and experiences are familiar to many of us who have gone through nearly all of the stages Oscar does in this film.