“Saturday Church” is the tender story of 14-year-old Ulysses (a wonderful Luka Kain), whose voyage of self-discovery takes him from his constrained, homophobic Bronx home life to the more welcoming streets of Manhattan’s West Village and a makeshift family of young gay and transgender castoffs.
Away from his hard-working, widowed mother (Margot Bingham), officious, religious aunt (Regina Taylor) and alarmist little brother (Jaylin Fletcher), what the shy Ulysses finds through Saturday Church, a community program for LGBTQ youth, is not only emotional acceptance and a bit of first romance but also a place where he can explore his gender identity. Let’s just say test-running his mom’s red velvet heels doesn’t exactly fly in his Bronx ‘hood.
Through his eclectic new friends (Mj Rodriguez, Indya Moore, Alexia Garcia, Marquis Rodriguez), Ulysses is also introduced to New York’s vibrant ballroom culture and vogueing contests (notably seen in such documentaries as 1990’s “Paris Is Burning” and 2017’s “Kiki”), which further opens Ulysses’ eyes to new choices and freedoms.
Sensitively written and directed by Damon Cardasis, the movie is punctuated by an affecting string of musical numbers (Cardasis co-wrote the film’s song lyrics with composer Nathan Larson) that deepen and enliven this lovely, vital tale.
Given its compact running time, the film proves a surprisingly rich experience, one that effectively balances hope and possibility with some of the harsher realities of disenfranchised LGBTQ youth.
Running time: 1 hour, 22 minutes
Playing: Arena Sunset Cinelounge, Hollywood; also on VOD