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Connor Jessup seals the deal in fantastical gay drama 'Closet Monster'

Connor Jessup seals the deal in fantastical gay drama 'Closet Monster'
Connor Jessup in the movie "Closet Monster." (Duncan de Young / Strand Releasing)

There have been no shortage of gay coming-of-age films, but few have been as singular and dazzling as "Closet Monster," Canadian writer-director Stephen Dunn's semi-autobiographical fever dream of a feature debut. It's nothing less than an emotional exorcism.

The movie opens as 9-year-old Oscar (Jack Fulton) deals with the breakup of his parents (Aaron Abrams, Joanne Kelly) as well as with witnessing a ghastly hate crime against a local gay teen — two events that will shape and haunt Oscar.

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Flash-forward eight years and Oscar (Connor Jessup of TV's "American Crime") is now an art-college-bound, high school senior with a knowing gal pal (Sofia Banzhaf), a crush on an alluring male co-worker (Aliocha Schneider) and a "talking" pet hamster (voiced by, of all people, Isabella Rossellini). Meanwhile, Oscar alternates living with his jaunty jerk of a dad and me-first mom and her new family.

How Oscar navigates his parents, his sexuality, past trauma and his inevitable exit from his native Newfoundland makes for a propulsive, often harrowing journey. It's one filled with such painfully real, profoundly felt moments and observations most anyone who's survived a rocky childhood — of any kind — should relate.

Dunn juggles the story's vital, at times fantastical narrative, eclectic imagery, and wellspring of human fears, flaws and desires with vision and confidence. But Jessup's powerfully empathetic performance really seals the deal.

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'Closet Monster'

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Playing: Sundance Sunset Cinemas, West Hollywood; Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena

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