Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s homophobic conceptualization of his country has no place in Mauro Carvalho and Thiago Cazado’s “Cousins,” a gay teen romance that blossoms within the walls of a hyper-religious household. Corny to its core but with enough charisma to avert total insufferableness, it’s a bubbly counteraction of a movie boasting a progressive conclusion.
Closeted young man Lucas (Paulo Sousa) abides by his devout Aunt Lourdes’ (Juliana Zancanaro) moral parameters while fencing off a persistent girl’s advances. However, a few hormone-filled days with distant cousin Mario (Cazado), fresh-out-of-prison gallant with little modesty, yank the musically inclined Lucas out into the open fields of homoerotic exploration. No explicit sexual acts contaminate the purity maintained by the filmmakers, but there’s no shortage of full-frontal male nudity.
Effervescent chemistry between the secret lovers, who exude winsome soft-heartedness, as opposed to ravenous desire, lifts the liaison above the forced levity that plagues the writing. If nothing else, their attraction sizzles with credibility. To conceal the flat pedestrian lighting and bargain-software score, though, would call for a major aesthetic refurbishing. As a package, “Cousins” induces you to both swoon and roll your eyes.
Donning multiple creative caps as co-director, costar and sole screenwriter, Cazado, playing a character half his real age, at least aces the in-front-of-the-camera portion with a heart-melting turn excelling in a production cluttered with mawkish theatrics. Deeply flawed yet encouraging, this sophomore outing evinces that hefty finessing could launch Cazado as a defter, much needed, pro-LGBTQ artistic voice at home.
Running time: 1 hour, 22 minutes
Playing: Starts Nov. 1, Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills