Review: Meet-cute in a bookstore leads to joy, pain and self-discovery in romance ‘Cicada’

A young man sits on a washing machine.
Sheldon D. Brown in the 2020 drama “Cicada.”
(Strand Releasing)

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The absorbing romantic drama “Cicada” feels as real as it gets. That it was inspired by true events seems less the reason for its authentic vibe than the skillfully gentle, naturalistic approach Matthew Fifer — the film’s star, producer, writer, co-director (with Kieran Mulcare) and co-editor — and his team take in telling this tender and intimate love story.

The 2013-set tale finds two queer men — playful but haunted office worker and apartment painter Ben (Fifer) and closeted, more circumspect data analyst Sam (Sheldon D. Brown) — meeting “cute” at Manhattan’s Strand Books and embarking on a relationship filled with joy, pain and self-discovery.


It’s as simple — and complicated — as that, as Ben, who identifies as bisexual and is plagued by nausea and panic attacks, and Sam, who grew up “in the church” and must square being Black, gay and often “other,” get to know each other in slow, steady, sexy beats. But, over time, as they peel away each other’s defenses and histories, their romance both deepens and frays as they find their way to possible catharsis.

Fifer and Brown are terrific in their heartfelt roles; appealing and relatable, with instinctive knacks for quiet expression and checked emotions. They make for a thoroughly credible, root-worthy pair of complementary forces.

The always welcome Cobie Smulders (TV’s “How I Met Your Mother” and “Stumptown”) has a few lively if overly broad scenes as Ben’s freewheeling shrink (with a dog named Klonopin, no less); while Michael Potts and Sandra Bauleo are fine as Sam’s jovial dad and Ben’s supportive mom, respectively.

Location shooting in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Long Island by Eric Schleicher is moody and evocative and proves an ideal match to the film’s immersive pace.

As for the title, it refers to the insect that noisily appears every 17 years. It will make sense by the movie’s end.


Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes

Playing: Laemmle Royal Theatre, West Los Angeles; Laemmle Glendale; also on premium VOD