Movie Review: A Gay Son Confronts a Stepfather about “Velvet Jesus”

“Velvet Jesus” is an indie melodrama that tumbles into the obvious trap, the one symbolized by its title.

It’s so slow it’s static, like watching the paint dry on a paint-by-numbers “velvet Jesus” kit that a little boy, seen in flashback, wanted for Christmas back in the 1960s.

Directors Anthony Bawn and Spencer Collins and screenwriter Charles McWells dreamed up a period piece of reckoning — a wronged gay man confronting an abusive step father in 1986 Watts. But their dream dramatically flatlines from the opening credits onward.

It’s a two-hander,with most of the action confined to a cluttered, run-down house within sight of the Watts Towers. A Watts Chronicle reporter (Jensen Atwood) shows up to interview an old man (Ernest Harden, Jr.) for a story about “Black veterans.”

But “reporter” Carl takes no notes. He wears glasses and an ill-fitting hat sits atop his ’80s Afro. He may ask Vernon about his early life and service. But Carl isn’t here for that. And when the deception fails, out comes a snub-nosed ’38.

Carl wants to have a conversation with the man who called him “Carol” and worse as a sensitive, effeminate “special” child growing up in the ’60s.

The evening-long “debate” is tepidly written and sluggishly filmed and edited. The dialogue is of the “I was a little tough on you growing up. You NEEDED it” variety, with the stepson’s complaints about Vernon’s drinking “bringing out the EVILness in you” and stepdad dissecting the man he wanted to make out of Carl, his idea of the “N-word” and his “side of the story” every time Carl speaks of a wrong done to him nearly 20 years before.

The acting isn’t great, something partly attributable to the tentative editing, not knowing how to cut for maximum engagement with the characters, and pacing.

Some of the “action” — an escape attempt — is off camera. The violent climax, however, is put on screen, and is so amateurishly executed it too should have been kept off camera.

It’s a story with limited aims and ambitions, although perhaps it has personal and heartfelt meaning to those who created it. No matter what its larger aims, “Velvet” seizes up, right from the start, as we’re treated to four lengthy minutes of Carl getting out of the shower, painstakingly getting dressed for this meeting with his past, actions set to a smoky trumpet jazz score.

The pace never picks up from that slow-walk pedestrian opening, making “Velvet Jesus” a half hour movie stretched to 102 tedious, uninvolving minutes.

Rating: unrated, violence, alcohol abuse, profanity

Cast: Ernest Harden Jr., Jensen Atwood.

Credits: Directed by Anthony Bawn and Spencer Collins, scripted by Charles McWells. A Breaking Glass release.

Running time: 1:42


About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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