‘Cicada’ chronicles the path to healing

“Cicada” (2020). Cast: Matthew Fifer, Sheldon D. Brown, Sandra Bauleo, Cobie Smulders, Jazmin Green Grimaldi, Scott Adsit, Michael Potts, David Burtka, Jason “Freckles” Greene, Beau Curran, Bowen Yang. Directors: Matthew Fifer and Kieran Mulcare. Screenplay: Matthew Fifer and Sheldon D. Brown. Web site. Trailer.

Healing old wounds can be a long and painful process, especially if we’re unclear about the nature or source of the hurt. When we are, though, the path to overcoming trauma can be a seemingly unending one in which the anguish never goes away, leaving us feeling as if there’s no hope for recovery or a future worth looking forward to. But, many times, and often quite unexpectedly, something happens that sets us off in a new direction, a development out of left field that works wonders, serving as a soothing balm for those emotional lacerations. So it is for a pair of injured souls in the profoundly moving new love story, “Cicada.”

The summer of 2013 has been a difficult one for Ben (Matthew Fifer). The twenty-something bisexual Gothamite is confused about his life. Something nebulous is eating away at him, but he’s not sure what.  He escapes by plunging into drunken binges that usually lead to spontaneous sexual encounters with men and women, many of them virtual strangers. But those alleged pain-deadening escapades do little to soothe his distraught feelings, which have come to include both emotional and physical components. The same is true of his visits to see his mother, Debbie (Sandra Bauleo), and sister, Amber (Jazmin Green Grimaldi), at the Long Island home where he grew up; they provide little comfort and sometimes make things worse. In fact, the trilling of cicadas recently emerged from their 17-year underground hibernation cycle in his childhood backyard inexplicably seems to exacerbate his anxiety.

Ben’s state of mind is not lost on his friends, either, such as his emotional, empathetic New Age pal Hudson (Bowen Yang), and co-workers like Theresa (Jason “Freckles” Greene), a flamboyant colleague with whom he has a clandestine tryst. The same is true for Bo (David Burtka), one of the wealthy gay daddy types for whom Ben provides interior restoration work; Bo recognizes that something’s up with Ben, even though that doesn’t stop him from trying to make a play for the handsome young contractor, a gesture that quietly, but decidedly, creeps him out.

Partners Ben (Matthew Fifer, foreground) and Sam (Sheldon D. Brown, background) face a number of challenges in forging their budding relationship in the heartwarming and heart-wrenching new drama, “Cicada.” Photo courtesy of The Film Collaborative.

So how does Ben cope? For starters, he pays frequent visits to his physician, Dr. Dragone (Scott Adsit), who, after countless tests and examinations, constantly tries to reassure him that there’s nothing physically wrong with him, despite the patient’s assertions to the contrary. And, when the answers he seeks aren’t forthcoming, no matter what the source or situation, Ben tries to cover his feelings and deflect the inquiries of others by simply making jokes. His kindreds recognize what he’s doing, and, when they press him on this defense mechanism, he refuses to give them satisfaction by simply cracking more quips. He ends up walling himself off from others, except, of course, when sex or alcohol are involved, diversions that he continues to indulge in with gusto and little restraint. But, when Ben begins hearing recurring news reports about the trial and conviction of former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, a sexual predator accused of the serial abuse of underage boys, bells go off that make him more uncomfortable than ever.

Circumstances begin to change when Ben pays an impromptu visit to a bookstore, arguably more to cruise than to peruse the merchandise. He does find something he likes, though, when he strikes up a conversation with Sam (Sheldon D. Brown), a handsome fellow shopper. Their flirtatious exchange leads to a leisurely stroll and then to a number of subsequent meetings in which they discuss an array of subjects and enjoy one another’s company. There’s considerable chemistry between them, but their relationship is slow to turn physical as Sam reveals that he’s recovering from surgery, a procedure that has infringed upon his ability to engage in sex. Sam assures Ben that the situation is temporary, news that delights them both, since they’re clearly anxious to get busy.

Despite the steamy attraction between them, however, their current circumstances give them an opportunity to get to know one another. This allows Ben, for perhaps the first time in a while (if not ever), to develop a personal rapport with someone before jumping in the sack, something he truly seems to like. And, when the physical component of their relationship finally kicks in, he develops a genuinely strong bond with his new beau. Ben at least is on his way to forging a solid, committed, meaningful relationship.

Sam (Sheldon D. Brown), a gay man struggling to emerge from the closet, wrestles with physical and emotional issues as he seeks to forge a new interracial relationship in writer-director Matthew Fifer’s debut feature, “Cicada.” Photo courtesy of The Film Collaborative.

However, as their bond evolves, it’s apparent that both partners are toting considerable baggage. Ben’s issues should be obvious, especially when he flashes back to his younger self (Beau Curran) and begins to get glimpses about what likely went on in his past. But Sam is troubled as well; he’s reluctant to step forward out of his self-imposed closet, largely because of his strict religious background and the dogmatic preaching of his pastor father, Francis (Michael Potts). Then there’s the mystery surrounding his surgery and the reason that prompted it, something Sam keeps under wraps, though clues emerge when he hears loud unexpected sounds, such as those associated with fireworks or cars backfiring.

On top of all this, there are the challenges associated with the nature of their relationship. As an interracial couple, they have periodic issues with analyzing and understanding the dynamics of what makes them work – or not work – as a pair, both personally and in a larger social context. It’s easy to see how these matters can arise and get blown out of proportion, a situation made worse by the respective traumas they’re each dealing with. To their credit, though, they work at it, because they believe the relationship is worth it. In the process, they not only address their joint issues, but also their individual problems. Ben begins attending counseling sessions with Sophie (Cobie Smulders), a kooky and unconventional but effective therapist. Meanwhile, Sam engages in a series of visits to his father to discuss his circumstances. And, in a tremendously courageous act, he finally confesses what caused the need for his surgery, a painful, heartbreaking incident that nearly cost him his life.

When faced with circumstances as trying as these, it’s hard for many of us to hold up. But, as Ben and Sam come to discover, they each have ample reserves of personal bravery to draw upon, something that’s readily bolstered by the considerable love and support that exists between them. That can prove invaluable to anyone undergoing such hardships, but it can be particularly crucial to individuals like Ben and Sam who are experiencing challenges on multiple fronts. It can help them heal and build a foundation for the future. And that’s heartening to see, especially when it comes to partners who obviously love each other as much as these two do.

But, as Ben and Sam work through these challenges, they must each ask themselves what they make of their circumstances – not an easy task considering what they’ve experienced and what they are now up against. One can’t help but wonder why anyone should have to suffer through such trials and traumas, not only for the harm they inflict, but also for the aftermath that results from them. That’s particularly important in terms of how these incidents affect their views of life and themselves. They shape their beliefs, which, in turn, provide the template for the reality they experience. This is the basis of the conscious creation process, the philosophy that maintains we draw upon the power of these metaphysical tools in manifesting our existence.

When faced with emotional issues that won’t go away, Ben (Matthew Fifer, right) consults Sophie (Cobie Smulders, left), a kooky, unconventional therapist, in “Cicada.” Photo courtesy of The Film Collaborative.

In a scenario like this, Ben and Sam must examine their thoughts, beliefs and intents to determine their views about themselves, both for their present and their future. To do that, though, they must take a hard look at what they believe about their pasts, for those beliefs have come to frame where they are at the moment and, potentially, where they could be headed down the road.

Of course, their reluctance to engage in such an exercise is understandable, considering what they’ve been through. But, if they hope to get past the hurts that come from such experiences, it’s the path they must follow. Confronting the experiences and the beliefs that have come out of them is thus crucial to get past them and move forward. Only then can they have realistic hopes for better days ahead.

A key aspect of this practice is rewriting the beliefs they hold about themselves. For Ben, for example, there appear to be beliefs associated with not being able to get past his troubles, in large part because he either can’t admit to them or, as time passes, can’t bring himself to confide them to others, even his soul mate. It’s as if he’s like one of those cicadas in his childhood backyard, hiding underground for much of his life to protect himself from those who would do him harm, a practice not unlike that of his insectoid counterparts. As for Sam, he’s dealing with constant shaming about the sins of homosexuality that played a key role in his fundamentalist religious upbringing, conditions that haven’t exactly been conducive to coming out of the closet and have subsequently prompted feelings that continually reinforce beliefs perpetuating that outlook.

Thankfully, these situations are far from unalterable. They can be changed, as can the beliefs supporting them. It may not be easy, and help may be required. However, Ben and Sam are fortunate to have been astute enough to draw means of assistance into their respective realities. Ben has Sophie’s guidance, for example, to help him work through his trauma. And both Ben and Sam have each other to lean on, their loving support available whenever needed.

Even though these endeavors may take some effort, the payoff is certainly worth it. If nothing else, it enables Ben and Sam to work through their fears and live heroically. Such a mindset can fill them with a sense of courage that allows them to be themselves and build the lives they want, free of apprehensions and the ghosts that have been chasing them for so long. That’s quite a dividend for changing one’s mind and resolutely deciding to rid themselves of notions that no longer serve them.

This heartwarming and heart-wrenching look at how to resolve past traumas is inspirational for those who find themselves suffering and without hope. It demonstrates how the power of love can help those in pain move through their hurts, regardless of one’s sexual orientation. Writer-actor-director Matthew Fifer’s fact-based love story, augmented with material provided by longtime friend and writing-acting collaborator Sheldon D. Brown, tells a touching tale that’s peppered with inventive and whimsical touches of comic relief and features an excellent ensemble cast. This film will touch viewers deeply, earning every single bit of empathy that it draws out of its audiences, making it easily one of the most endearing and honest love stories I’ve ever seen.

“Cicada” has primarily been playing at gay film festivals and thus may take some effort to find, but it is well worth the effort. I’d like to hope this offering gets a wider release, either in theaters or via streaming outlets. It’s truly that good.

Just when we may be ready to give up on our path to healing, a miracle can come along to help us convalesce. It may not seem like much at first, but, as it settles in and becomes an integral part of our life, we may soon see it begin to work its magic, taking away the hurt and showing us that there is a reason to look forward to tomorrow. Love often fills that role nicely, providing us with what we need just when we need it most. And, with any luck, we won’t have to wait 17 years to see the results.

Copyright © 2020, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

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