Lena Hall unravels heartbreak through song in ‘Becks’

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Editor’s Note: The arts and entertainment department is adjusting its grading scale from a letter-grade system to a numeric score out of 5. This change is intended to increase accuracy and consistency between reviews.

Lena Hall making out with Hayley Kiyoko is one of the gayest opening scenes in modern cinematic history. That’s not an understatement.

In “Becks,” Hall, an LGBTQ+ icon from her Tony-winning role in the 2014 Broadway revival of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” plays the titular Becks. Kiyoko (of queer anthem “Girls Like Girls” fame) is Lucy, Becks’ obnoxious, popstar girlfriend. Not long into the film, the pair breaks up, leading Becks to move back in with her former Catholic nun mother (Christine Lahti).

The film was screened in San Francisco’s iconic Castro Theatre on June 21 to a nearly sold-out audience. Composed of mainly female same-gender couples over the age of 30, the audience did not appear to recognize the film’s young queer icon: Kiyoko’s name received limited, if any, applause in the closing credits. Yet this was undeniably based more so on a lack of recognition than an evaluation of her performance, as Kiyoko’s fan base is predominantly queer women under 25.

Nevertheless, the queer women-majority audience of “Becks” not only saw themselves reflected by the on-screen stories and characters, they reacted — loudly — to every painstakingly relatable scene. While “Becks” possesses many comedic moments, none received as many laughs as when Becks is paired with the only other lesbian at a barbecue, a quintessential gay experience.

“Becks” contains a fair share of drama, but it wisely strays from verging on the melodramatic. Its moments of comedy are much less comedic relief than naturally occurring from its dramatic scenes. The film’s witty, sharp dialogue aids these transitions, especially in scenes between Hall and Lahti, whose sublime chemistry forms the backbone of their mother-daughter relationship.

In a Q&A after the screening, co-director and co-writer Elizabeth Rohrbaugh shared that the character of Becks is based on Alyssa Robbins, the film’s composer. Robbins, a singer-songwriter herself, drew from her own breakup to provide the poignant acoustic songs of “Becks.”

Though not a traditional musical, music is undeniably the cornerstone of “Becks.” The film boasts an original soundtrack with a myriad of affecting songs performed by Becks in her ex-boyfriend’s bar. Utilized as far more than atmospheric background noise, the music of “Becks” becomes a character itself, bringing together Becks and her high school nemesis’ wife Kimmy (Isabella Farrell) and helping decipher Becks’ heartbreak with each song.

With its wonderfully crafted and effective story, “Becks” is an undeniable addition to the lesbian movie canon. More than that, “Becks” is a sign of what queer women-focused movies should be: heartfelt, well-acted and deserving of the big screen.

Contact Caroline Smith at [email protected].