The Christmas Eve That Almost Wasn’t
This Queer film review is part of my “Queer Holiday Film Reviews for 2020” post.
“Visions of Sugarplums was on my contenders for last year’s Top 5 Queer Christmas Reviews, but it didn’t quite stand out as strong as the films I actually reviewed. But this year I’ve decided to revisit this older film. Between reading over my notes and rewatching it this year, I cannot deny the truth – this film is bad, like a film student’s final project. Well, it turns out that that IS exactly the case with “Visions of Sugarplums! In fact, director Edward J. Fasulo had zero intentions of releasing the film until people started asking. So try to keep that in mind – however my philosophy is to not hold back, but tell it how it is. How about we try to find the good bits of this Queer Christmas film?
Synopsis of “Visions of Sugar Plums”
During the opening song, Joey (Edward J. Fasulo) and Bruce (Mark W. Hardin) spend time together seeing the sights of New York City before finally picking out a live Christmas tree for their apartment. It’s their first Christmas together. They share a kiss while putting up the tree before adding the decorations. Singing “Hallelujah”, their flamboyant neighbour Maurice (Kevin Joseph) barges in and commends them on the fabulous decorations! He stopped by to offer his apartment if they boys need extra space to set up for the Christmas party they’re hosting tomorrow. But Bruce suddenly leaves the room… “I’ve been keeping something from you – but not what you’re thinking.” he tells Joey. Turns out that his parent’s are not in construction: his dad is a a church reverend and his mom is the choir director. They don’t know he’s gay – or know anything about Joey. Worse, Joey just found out that they’re driving up to surprise him for Christmas! Bruce has the audacity to ask Joey to stay with Maurice while they’re here, afraid to tell them. Angry, Joey grabs a bag, says “Don’t I matter to you?” before leaving.
The next morning, Joey hides all the photos of the two of them in the closet. Thinking his parents are early, Joey answer a knock at the door – it’s just Joey who came to see him and ask about the party. Turns out Bruce cancelled it, making up excuses. Joey ends up leaving angry again, and nearly runs into Dorris, the landlady (Eyde Byrde), on the way out. She heard about the party and wanted to make sure it’s kept under control, but ends up trying to console Bruce instead. Meanwhile, Bruce’s parents, Walter (Vincent Wares) and Gloria (MaryJean Feton), are in the taxi cab on their way to his apartment. Taking in the sights , they whisper to each other and mock the Middle Eastern taxi driver (Julio Torres), asking “Is he even speaking English?” They finally arrive at Bruce’s apartment where he welcomes them inside and takes their coats, taking a moment to gaze at the pictures in the closet. Later while Bruce helps his mother cook dinner, his dad chides him for helping saying that’s “woman’s work.” His dad goes out for a walk, but his mom realises she forget cheese so Bruce offers to run to the corner store. While he’s gone though, she discovers the photo in the closet and breaks down into tears. Hearing Bruce return, she hides the photo in her suitcase. Bruce’s dad returns shortly afterward, after running into Maurice in the hallway: “Did you know you have “homosexuals” in your apartment?” he asks, before ranting on about how they’re sinners and freaks of nature.
Downstairs in Maurice’s apartment, Joey is drinking while Maurice tries to cheer him up, telling him to come to his cabaret show later tonight. “That wasn’t a question!” Joey ends up going to Maurice’s show, but heads out to a gay bar afterwards. Initially refusing the advances of a couple guys, Joey ends up going home with a sexy stud. But once inside the guy’s apartment and when they’re both just in their underwear, Joey gets cold feet and bolts. Back at Bruce’s apartment after dinner, Bruce heads off to bed while Walter asks Gloria if she brought his scriptures to read. “I’ll get it”, he tells her – but instead finds the photograph she hid earlier. “What’s this?” he asks her, which quickly escalates to Bruce being called back into the room. His mom breaks down hysterically crying while Bruce’s dad goes on about how he became “one of them queers” and ranting how they’re all sick. Suddenly, his dad is hitting him with the bible yelling “Repent!” Maurice bursts into the apartment, breaking it up. But Walter has had enough, he grabs their coats and tells Gloria they’re leaving, while Bruce lays on the floor sobbing. Hearing the commotion, Dorris enters and offers to call the police, but Bruce says he’s ok. Finally, Joey runs in after hearing what happened. Joey is heartbroken, apologising to Bruce. But all Bruce can think about is how his parent’s will never accept him. But they have each other, and that’s what matters.
The next morning, Joey brings Bruce a tray of breakfast in bed – complete with wearing only an apron and Santa hat. Pulling out the mistletoe, they kiss and tell each other “Merry Christmas”. Bruce mentions how he had a horrible dream that his parent’s showed up, found out about him, et all – and realises that it was all real, starting to break down and cry again. Hearing the church bells ringing, Joey tells him, “Come on, get dressed!” They head off to Christmas Day mass together. While the gospel choir sings a rousing version of “Joy To The World”, Bruce’s voice recalls how even years afterwards, his parents never accepted him. But it’s gotten easier with Joey, and he’s learned to appreciate what he’s been given. The camera closes in on Bruce & Joey holding hands in church, wearing matching rings.
Oy vey! – where to begin… let’s start with the second most obvious issue: the acting. Or rather, the lack of decent acting! Sometimes it feels like the actors are just reading their lines rather than attempting to act; and there are only a handful of actual interactions that feel real. Gloria, Bruce’s mother, is so over-the-top, she makes a soap opera seem like an award-winning film! But Walter, Bruce’s dad is just as melodramatic. One of my original notes is that Maurice, the drag queen neighbour, is one of the better actors – and even that’s a stretch because it’s even hard to justify Kevin Joseph’s bad acting as camp.
The problems continue because the characters are horribly written, and are thrown into a storyline that is a bit dated and equally stereotypical. Sure, there is bound to be drama when you’re the gay son of a Southern Preacher – especially when they find out their son is gay and confront him with an impromptu exorcism. But I nearly seethe with rage during the horrendous xenophobic scene in the taxi when Bruce’s parent’s pretend they can’t understand what the taxi driver is saying. Even later on when Joey decides to go looking for fun since he’s “suddenly single”, even that falls flat because what should be a rather erotic scene of seduction just falls flat. And the night club scene where Maurice performs is just cringeworthy. It feels out of place within the overall story between Joey and Bruce. Overall, there certainly is conflict between the characters, but the writing to make the story actually interesting – that’s what is missing! It’s too melodramatic and without any balance; it becomes a monotonous drone to the point you just want to turn off the film.
But the worst part about “Visions of Sugarplums” is the cinematography – or again, the lack of. Most of the scenes are shot with a single camera view, wide lens to capture all the action but lacking any depth or even focus.The sound design is non-existent; everything just echoes and can actually be tricky to understand in some scenes. And I cannot even talk about the soundtrack – it’s all electronic synthesized music that dates the film older than it actually is. There is absolutely no blending; half the time it overpowers the dialogue, adding to the cacophony of issues. Quite simply – it’s a mess!
Usually, I have more positive things to say about a film and feel the need to find one or two faults. This time it was flipped around, I had to struggle to find good bits! I decided to give half a star rating for the plot because underneath the bad acting and crappy production values, the heart of the story isn’t actually that bad. A gay man who was raised in a very religious home feels forced to hide his true self out of fear that his parents will disown him if they know he’s gay. But it’s also not a novel concept; if this were released today in 2020 – it’d be brushed aside as “been there, done that”. But back in 2001 when Edward J. Fasulo created “Visions of Sugarplums”, there were very few queer films so the story was still relatively new and untold cinematically. There’s also something about accepting yourself after a disastrous coming out during the holidays. It could’ve been great; it unfortunately wasn’t.
I actually have to wonder if this weren’t a student film but instead a production with an adequate budget and in the hands of people with a bit more experience under their belt, would it be better? I think it could be salvaged and turned into something better. As such, I have not only given it half a star for the plot, but another half a star because I actually still enjoy watching the film. Sure, I cringe while I watch it – but I usually watch it at least once every Christmas.
Have you seen “Visions of Sugarplums”? It’s actually a bit hard to find. (Though I’d argue that that might be for a good reason!) While it is certainly a Queer Christmas film, the poor production values, bad acting, and weird synthesised music make it difficult to enjoy. And if you want a cute, happy queer holiday romance – definitely avoid this dramatic flop. But if you can find a copy of this distributed student film, certainly give it a watch – but be warned, do not expect a masterpiece.
Queer Relevance of “Visions of Sugar Plums”
Our main couple are a monogamous gay couple who live together in their apartment in New York City. Throw in a stereotypical flamboyant drag queen as their neighbour, “Visions of Sugarplums” is definitely a queer film!
But there’s another aspect of why you might want to give this student film a watch, despite the crappy production values: it has heart. We watch as Joey goes back into the closet when his Southern Preacher father and choir director mother come for a visit. Rather than going for comedy and a happy ending of acceptance, this film deals with the dark reality that many face – being shunned and shamed by those who are supposed to love them unconditionally. Thankfully it’s not all dreary, for his boyfriend and friends accept him. It’s that bright light shining in the darkness.