Directed by Ryan Barton-Grimley
Starring Ari Schneider, Ryan Barton-Grimley, Christinna Chauncey, Toni Charline
Indie Film Review by Chris Olson
LGBTQ comedy Elijah's Ashes is an unabashed exploration of family, sexuality and acceptance within the confines of a road trip setting.
Half-brothers Lawrence (Ari Schneider) and Kevin (Ryan Barton-Grimley) are set the challenge by their recently departed father to embark on a journey to bury his ashes in a distant town where his first wife has been buried. With little love for their father, or each other, years of pent up frustration and sibling rivalry reveal themselves alongside the chaotic calamity of their trip.
We meet Lawrence at the beginning of the Elijah's Ashes as a semi-successful advertising type who manages to secure a big company account with a beer company whilst having to hide the fact that he is gay to the clients. Because, as everyone knows, being gay is not "on brand" for beer. This closeted approach to his sexuality is an important touchstone in the movie, co-written by Schneider and Barton-Grimley. Another factor is Kevin's monumental homophobia, which is so creatively offensive that audiences will wonder which century this character is meant to have been plucked from. As uncomfortable as Kevin's slurs are, they provide two key elements which make Elijah's Ashes a very successful comedy: firstly, the lines are powerfully indelicate and serve as a backdrop to Lawrence's obvious suffering in society. Secondly, Kevin's gay-bashing is pushing the limits of acceptability which is an arena where some of the best comedies operate in.
The central performances are superb throughout. Schneider tackles a smorgasbord of emotions during the opening third of the movie which would unseat most indie film actors. His penchant for subtle, physical movements means his performance becomes understated and far more sympathetic. Barton-Grimley, conversely, is an archaic piece of slapstick caricature which sounds like a criticism but this is actually the perfect accompaniment to the film. His line delivery is pitch perfect, even if the lines are grotesquely insulting.
For a film that could have taken so many missteps trying to tackle this story in this way, Elijah's Ashes is incredibly tight in terms of storytelling, pacing, performances and filmmaking. It doesn't suffer from the midway lag that so many comedies endure, instead keeping a jaunty pace throughout that delivers consistent laughs. One sequence which threatened to overturn the apple cart was where Lawrence questions his sexuality, which seems to emerge out of nowhere. However this ended up being a crucial part of what was to come in terms of character arcs and enriched the story brilliantly.
Attempting to tackle male sexuality using a comedy movie is always going to be fraught with peril. But the filmmakers here have approached the subject with raw honesty and unrelenting skill from those in front and behind the camera. The end result is a road trip journey that will make you laugh, cry and wince with embarrassment whilst you consider both these excellent characters with sympathetic eyes.
Watch the official Movie Trailer for Elijah's Ashes below...