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Review: Luminous performances elevate trans romance ‘Port Authority’

A young woman and a young man look into each other's eyes.
Leyna Bloom and Fionn Whitehead in the drama “Port Authority.”
(Momentum Pictures)

The Times is committed to reviewing theatrical film releases during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because moviegoing carries risks during this time, we remind readers to follow health and safety guidelines as outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health officials.

Endorsed by Martin Scorsese, in the form of an executive producer title, New York-set troubled romance “Port Authority,” from writer-director Danielle Lessovitz, is drenched in atmospheric soundscapes and kinetic imagery. What it lacks in uniqueness of concept, it makes up for in evocative implementation of the medium.

Fresh off the bus from Pittsburgh, astray young buck Paul (Fionn Whitehead) meets Lee (McCaul Lombardi), a homophobic mentor who offers him shelter and work evicting tenants. As the circles of people in precarious housing situations overlap, Paul comes in contact with a group of Black queer youths and soon begins courting Wye (Leyna Bloom), a striking trans woman.

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The film’s first act hinges on Paul’s ignorance about the diversity of experiences within the LGBTQ+ community. Whitehead (known for his part in “Dunkirk”) plays a gentle macho man wrestling with his ingrained bigotry and a curiosity that draws him to the celebratory and defiant voguing culture. Bloom’s matter-of-fact confidence plays off Whitehead’s childlike angst in a pair of quietly incandescent performances.

Lessovitz’s screenplay traverses a clear-cut binary between the hyper-masculinity of Paul’s white male friends and the chosen family Wye introduces him to. The divide is admittedly convenient for the drama but does patently exhibit Paul’s inner conflict. Wye has already reckoned with the world to defend her existence and wants no part in the deceit Paul strings to hide her truth and love her in half measures. A small but potent scene sees Wye making her voice heard even as a deafening train tries to drown it out.

Rewardingly, Lessovitz favors growth over tragedy, a welcome change as stories about the trans community so often fixate on the brutality perpetrated on them. As such, “Port Authority” fits in the expanded spectrum of trans representation that recent works like Isabel Sandoval’s “Lingua Franca” or the hit series “Pose” have helped forge.

Although centering Paul (a cisgender, straight, white male) might read as a disservice, the filmmaker never puts the responsibility of his self-discovery on the Black individuals around him. His plight is to internalize that he is entering a space that doesn’t belong to him, where his “white boy realness” is a sideshow, not the center stage of Wye’s ball.

‘Port Authority’

Not Rated

Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes

Playing: Starts May 28, Arena Cinelounge, Hollywood; also available at Laemmle Virtual Cinema


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