Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Morgan (2012)

Written by: Sandon Berg and Michael Akers
Directed by: Michael Akers
Film Distributor: United Gay Network
Leo Minaya as Morgan Oliver
Jack Kesy as Dean Kagen
Supporting Cast:
Madalyn McKay as Peg Oliver
Darra ‘Like Dat’ Boyd as Lane Williams
Benjamin Budd as Wesley Blake
Theodore Bouloukos as Dr. Thomas
Dane Anton as Physical Therapist

Official Film Trailer:

Morgan Oliver is recently paraplegic, T-10 incomplete, as a result of a bicycle accident during a race he was competing in. He has recently returned home from rehab and he’s now unemployed and living on disability, adjusting to his new life and the new adaptive setup in his apartment. His preferred way to pass the time is drinking beer and watching television, and the main events of the film begin when he runs out of beer and neither his mother, Peg, nor his best friend, Lane, will enable him any further. They refuse to buy him more beer, forcing him to leave the house on his own. It is during his trip out to replenish his beer supplies that he meets Dean Kagen, which is where our romance begins.  The dialogue seems a bit forced at first, but it gets more natural as the film progresses. 
The drama unfolds once Morgan decides he wants to compete in the wheelchair division of the very same race that cost him his ability to walk, where Morgan, because of his hyper-competitive nature, caused an accident involving himself and two other competitors on a very dangerous part of the course. This same hyper-competitive nature leads to his doing things he ought not to be doing and refusing to listen to reason from Dean, his doctor, or anyone else.
This film is a journey for Morgan where he must confront his past and his present, and he must find a way to learn from his mistakes and move forward. This is also, to a lesser extent, a journey for Dean in finding a new way to live following the death of his mother. But most of all, it is a romance featuring a paraplegic romantic lead, which is something that is very rare to find. And better yet, it is a romance that delves into the issue of disabled sexuality, which we almost never see on film. And Morgan is pretty cute, too, so that helps.
Fanvid by JJstrikesback1:

So how does it fare with regard to portrayal of a disabled character and disabled sexuality?
This is a male/male romance, but it is not a coming out story; rather, the central focus of the story is Morgan’s disability. The film addresses both the disability and the romance from a variety of angles and is, I think, one of the most comprehensive films I’ve seen with regard to disability and romance. It’s a low budget film with acting that could be better, but the writing/directing/production team of Michael Akers and Sandon Berg, as well as Leo Minaya, who played the title character, Morgan, did quite a lot of research in preparation for this film (though there are certainly some important gaps). Leo Minaya is not paraplegic himself, and this was a deliberate casting decision on behalf of the filmmakers because the film originally was going to contain scenes of Morgan before his accident which ended up being cut from the final version of the film. I think that things like Photoshop and body doubles could get around the reasons they cited for hiring a non-disabled actor instead of a disabled one, but the actor they cast was very dedicated to portraying the reality of Morgan’s paralysis. There was a scene early on in the film where Dean helps Morgan with his leg exercises, and the director had instructed Leo Minaya to keep his leg up during the scene after Dean let go of it, and Mr. Minaya insisted that this would be impossible for Morgan to do and he made sure that the film reflected this. There was another particular scene that was very physically intense, and in the commentary, the filmmakers point out multiple times that Leo Minaya refused to use his legs to help him with this very difficult scene, insisting on pulling himself back up and over the wall using only his arms. A lot of actors, particularly in low budget indie films, might not have this kind of dedication to the role they were playing, and so although I think a paraplegic actor would have been preferable, Leo MInaya did a great job of being Morgan. Leo Minaya and Jack Kesy are not gay in real life, either, but they managed to do a great job with that aspect of their roles, as well.
There are three areas where I think the film suffered from the decision not to use a paraplegic actor –
· First, in simple physical realism. Morgan had a lot of muscle tone, and even for a guy less than a year post injury who is still actively doing physical therapy, there are just some things you can’t fake, and the appearance of a paraplegic’s legs and abdomen is one of them. There were two scenes in particular where abdominal strength and control were slightly unrealistic. The first is a scene where he’s in the shower on a shower chair and not using either of his arms to maintain his balance or keep from falling or sliding down. The second is that there are a couple of scenes where he’s doing sit-ups, and I just don’t think that a T-10 paraplegic would be able to move the specific muscle combination necessary to do those particular exercises.
· The second area the film suffered from not casting a paraplegic actor is, of course, realism regarding bladder and bowel issues. That’s something that is not touched on even one single time in the film, and Morgan doesn’t seem to use a catheter or go to the bathroom for anything other than a shower, ever. Men I’ve known with SCI have always gone to the bathroom to sort everything that needs to be sorted before coming to the bed and being intimate, and I think it’s pretty standard to have at least one conversation about bladder and bowel issues at some point in the relationship. This just wasn’t a feature in the film, but it’s something that really can’t be ignored in an intimate relationship with someone who is paraplegic. I think this would have been very different had they used a paraplegic actor in the role.
· And following from that, the third area where I think the film suffered from not using a paraplegic actor was that, although they did significantly address Morgan’s erectile dysfunction, one thing they forgot about was making sure he took his little blue pills before having sex with Dean, and also, for that matter, addressing whether and how much he could feel, as an incomplete paraplegic, when having sex. Also, sex with a paraplegic guy is not a spontaneous act. It requires preparation. And also, I would have been really curious to see how they actually figured out the right positions and the best way to do things for both of them, which wasn’t really spelled out. There were one or two great conversations before they became sexually active that addressed Morgan’s erectile dysfunction and Dean’s openness to figuring things out as they went along, but nothing at the time they finally did have sex for the first time or any time after that. Also, there is a single scene in the film where, during sex, they show the scar as Dean runs his arm down Morgan’s back, and it’s not quite the Joel Brown “Personal Rockstar” video, but it is sensual and shows that they are making an effort to show this aspect of Morgan’s disability. However, I think that the film would have been more realistic in this regard if the actor playing Morgan had been paraplegic himself.
Other than these areas, though, I think that the research the writers did paid off, and you really can tell that they did their homework. Also, they made Morgan and Dean both into well-rounded characters with flaws and quirks and issues that are not related to Morgan’s disability. Morgan is hyper-competitive, afraid of public displays of affection, bad with money, and drinks a bit too much. The writers say that the overarching theme for understanding Morgan’s issues is his issue with his own masculinity that dates back to when he was about 12 years old and his father left the family not long after finding out that Morgan was gay. Dean has just gone through a long period of caring for an ailing mother who has recently died, and he never came out to her when she was alive and is still getting the hang of being an out gay man. Their conflicts come not from Morgan’s disability but from his character flaws, and Dean is quite comfortable with Morgan’s disability from the very beginning. This is also not a coming out film, although Dean is more recently out than Morgan. This is a romance between two men whose major conflict is over Morgan’s hyper-competitiveness rather than his disability. The romance is complex and grows organically, and their relationship is multi-faceted and fairly realistic. Having watched not only the film, but also the deleted scenes, the Behind the Scenes Featurette, and the commentary, I’ve gotten to be quite familiar with the filmmakers’ thought processes as well as with the characters and the film itself, and I really think the filmmakers and the cast did an outstanding job at accomplishing this, despite my continued belief that the role would have been even better with a paraplegic actor.
Ironically, the writers got the idea for the film itself from a paraplegic actor who auditioned for another film they did together, who was kind enough to sit down with them and really talk about issues of being gay and paraplegic and dating, sex, etc. During their conversation, they even touched on the topic of guys who wanted to be with someone who they perceived as “needing” them and guys with a “wheelchair fetish”. Later on during the preparation for the film, they went to a disabled dating site and talked with two paraplegic men they connected with on there about their experiences and preferences when dating and their issues with sexuality. Perhaps this is why I have such an issue with the fact that they went with a non-paraplegic actor, but really, they did do their research, and Leo Minaya did work very hard to ensure as much authenticity as possible in his portrayal of Morgan Oliver.

1 comment:

  1. wow, that was an oustanding, well drawn review, it actually made me go and watch the movie , which i found very enjoyable

    so, thank you!