“Love stories are the only stories worth telling,” asserts Adriana Mather in the new Zombot Pictures film “Honeyglue,” a thoughtful and heartbreaking film about love that refuses the constraint of labels. Though perhaps a little sanctimonious at times, “Honeyglue” deals with matters of sickness, death and gender identity in novel, unique and touching ways.
In the same way that all great love stories begin, Morgan (Adriana Mather) and Jordan (Zach Villa) meet at a club. Morgan, a fiery young woman armed with a Super 8 camera, strikes up a conversation with the gender fluid Jordan under the blaring beat of house music. Though they are clearly drawn to one another, Morgan refuses to allow the relationship to continue, offering no explanation why. It is only after Jordan doggedly pursues Morgan does she reveal that she has a metastatic brain tumor and about three months left to live.
The two begin a frenzied, passionate and joyful love affair even as death strikes at Morgan’s heels. Jordan helps Morgan, now in the final throes of illness, experience life outside her sheltered, suburban upbringing. They rob a convenience store, sleep on a beach and reconnect with Jordan’s estranged mother.
Their love blooms as Morgan’s health declines, a painful-to-watch inverse relationship. But there’s a poetic beauty to it all: Jordan helps Morgan find joy even as death creeps toward her. Morgan, in dying, shows Jordan that the world — as bigoted and unaccepting as it can be — is worth living for.
“Honeyglue” is an ode to difference. Morgan and Jordan’s love story fiercely rejects conventional romantic tropes, opting instead to embrace their individual unconventionality. Morgan is hardly the image we imagine upon hearing the words “a woman in love.” She is dying — painfully and un-glamorously — losing her speech and physical ability as the illness progresses. Meanwhile, Jordan rejects the gender binary, identifying as a “girl-boy.”
“We wanted to make a love story, and we wanted to not care about the fact that they were different,” said producer and composer Anya Remizova. “That’s why they say, you know, ‘No labels, just love.’”
Indeed, “Honeyglue” truly refuses labels in the pursuit of love. Save a scene where Morgan’s father confronts Jordan over a skirt he’s wearing, the film barely discusses Jordan’s gender fluidity. Adriana Mather, who plays Morgan and also produced the film, says the decision was entirely intentional. “We do that on purpose because these are just people, and gender is on a spectrum,” she explained. “We want to show … that people change and they’re not always one way and that it’s all beautiful and it’s all love.”
Nowhere is this commitment to personal evolution more evident than in Mather’s character. By the end of the film, Morgan, too, has embraced an alternate gender identity. “Morgan and Jordan, throughout the love story, start to merge,” says Mather. “Where one starts and where the other one begins becomes harder to tell as we go on. You can see, like, he shaves his head to look like me, and I start wearing his clothes, and we’re sort of becoming one entity.”
Morgan and Jordan, however, are not one entity. Their attempt at perfect union can never succeed, and the difference between them is painfully apparent: Morgan is dying, and Jordan is not.
Illness is inescapable in “Honeyglue.” This is not “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” which dresses up the main character’s cancer as little more than an illness that makes you lose your hair and miss school. Mather is bone-thin by the film’s end. Her speech becomes stilted: Her brain tumor has grown so large that her body can no longer accommodate bodily functions once typical for her. In one of the film’s most powerful and most heartbreaking scenes, her parents (played by Christopher Heyerdahl and Jessica Tuck) sob over their daughter’s illness. Overcome with grief, Morgan’s father pleads, “Take me,” as if he could barter his own life for his child’s.
Death, too, hangs over “Honeyglue.” The film intermittently switches back and forth between Jordan and Morgan’s love story narrative and a video of their planned suicide pact at the end of Morgan’s illness. It’s a persistent and startling memento mori, forcing viewers to attempt reconciliation between incompatible forces: overwhelming love, which seems to transcend time and space, and the brutal, inexorable reality of death.
In the end, “Honeyglue” is just a love story. For Morgan and Jordan, illness does not matter. Their feelings for one another aren’t changed by it. Morgan’s failing body only serves as a reminder, beating like a drum, that the plot must crescendo to an inevitable end. Nor does gender identity change anything. James Bird, the film’s director, writer and producer, says that love is what holds the story — and the world — together. “I think the love story is the one thing where no matter who you are, no matter where you are, what you look like, how you grew up, that’s the one thing that’s gonna connect us all.”
Contact Sarah Coduto at [email protected].