Honeyglue does its best to take a dying trope and breathe some life into it.
The cinematic equation of young lovers plus terminal cancer equals greenlighted film has not yet run its course. While audiences may be getting tired of watching beautiful young people find love and then inevitably die, filmmakers are still trying to find ways to make their terminally ill characters noteworthy. Honeyglue makes a blatant effort to stray from the now-clichéd path and does so with equal measures of success and failure.
Honeyglue tells the story of Morgan (Adriana Mather), a young woman with a brain tumor who learns she has three months to live. This is not entirely Morgan’s story. It is also Jordan’s (Zach Villa), a boy she meets (and is pickpocketed by) at a nightclub on her birthday. We know almost nothing of Morgan before Jordan enters her life. We don’t know much about what her relationships were like with her family members (with whom she still lives), we don’t know how long she has been sick and we never see any of her friends, if she has any. Jordan is given much more of a backstory and personality; when Morgan meets him on the dance floor, she is drawn to his wig and dress, and when she calls him a boy-girl, he corrects her with “girl-boy.” This is where the film finds its distinct perspective on the dying-girl romance plot. Said dying-girl falls in love with someone who defies gender. Of course when Jordan appears at Morgan’s house, her vanilla, suburban family has a hard time getting comfortable with Morgan’s new lover. As the camera circles around the dinner table and Morgan’s father starts to grill Jordan, the dialogue falls into ABC Family drama mode. “How are you ever going to finance a house,” the father asks curtly, as if because a man wears a skirt he would be unable to “provide for his family.”
Once the film moves past Jordan winning over the family (and arguably the audience), it starts to find its footing. The relationship between Morgan and Jordan is a striking one, both visually and emotionally. When Morgan loses her hair, Jordan has her shave his head. While there isn’t anything particularly novel about that gesture, the fact that it is an erotic moment for the couple is. “Make it so no one can tell us apart,” Jordan tells her. There is a desire in each of them to be the other, a trait that makes their intensity genuine. Morgan gets her turn to become Jordan later when they rob a convenience store and get tattoos together. The moments shared between the young lovers both on the run and in each other’s arms are captivating and keep the viewer an involved, willing observer to this time-constrained love story.
The chemistry of the main characters is enough to save the film from being banal enough to be marketed to a Lifetime channel audience, though writer and director James Bird might not have trusted the relationship alone to carry the film. Animation is used throughout to bring to life the graphic novel Jordan is writing about their relationship, and each time the cartoons pop up the story is slowed and the metaphors attached to the drawings hit the audience so hard over the head it’s tough not to start to develop a dull headache. The camerawork, too, is not very consistent, playing with focus and movement in ways that feel more experimental than honed. Worse are the forces of evil at work in the script. For a story about a young woman with cancer falling for a homeless youth, it would seem that a villain isn’t needed; life itself can be the bad guy here. Yet the film introduces a druggy, Latina ex-girlfriend and her henchmen whose stereotypical portrayals and poor performances are cringe-worthy.
Honeyglue does its best to take a dying trope and breathe some life into it. While it is nothing new to see young characters dealing with drama and falling in love the way young people often do – passionately, quickly and irrationally – it is nice to have characters with unique perspectives and a leading man who elevates the traditional brooding bad boy role to a new place. Ultimately Bird, with the help of his cast, is able to sell Morgan and Jordan’s short-term romance as something meaningful, if not everlasting.