A cheerful celebration of family love and individual freedom, Zack Stratis’ “Could Be Worse!” is an original musical within a documentary that puts helmer’s Greek-American family at the forefront, allowing its members to be seen and heard as they really are. Though central issue is Stratis’ coming out and his family’s reaction to it, this charming comedy truly lives up to its subtitle, “A Modern American Love Story.” A highlight of the American Spectrum series at this year’s Sundance fest, pic should enjoy solid bookings in gay festivals around the world, and a small distributor may consider limited theatrical display in major urban centers. Amid the glut of cinematic portraits of dysfunctional families, Stratis’ warm chronicle of his parents and siblings represents a breath of fresh air. Pic shows how one family survives internal conflicts through its genuine love and firm belief in old-fashioned family values. A director who has always wanted to make a film about his family, Zack seizes the opportunity of his parents’ upcoming 50th wedding anniversary party as the perfect time to explore the issue of alternative lifestyles in a seemingly traditional, patriarchal Greek-American household. Occasion presents a unique opportunity, with some members of the clan arriving from as far away as Greece. At once a documentary and a mockumentary, story begins with Zack seeking advice from his kin as to what messages his movie should convey. Sis Evmorphia feels that the movie should focus on her and be as profound as her views of life. In contrast, brother Stahi holds that a Greek tragedy in the ancient mode is more suitable to their family. Integrated into the proceedings are candid reflections on the meaning of family life today. Zack’s father, Gus, at first refuses to acknowledge his son’s homosexuality, fearing public embarrassment. Zack’s counter-argument, which leads to a song: “You’re celebrating 50 years of being straight. Why can’t I be openly gay?” This is followed by a montage in which father and son debate which flag should decorate their house, the American or the gay one. All along, Zack envisions a lavishly produced, MGM-style musical that will do justice to each member’s story and then build to a spectacular finale. That none of the Stratis clan is an especially good singer or dancer, or particularly attractive by conventional standards, adds to the sense of authenticity and charm as they perform. Song-and-dance numbers explode in the most natural manner, usually showing an individual in his or her “specialized” domain: The mother is in the kitchen, the father outdoors. Yet throughout the film within a film, the Stratises break away from the script and allow the camera to record their fears, joys and frustrations. Placed in context, Zack’s coming out is only one of the issues the clan confronts, and not necessarily the most dramatic. It turns out that what appears to be a rigid patriarchal culture is anything but. Modest productions values fit the scale of a film that begins as a portrait of an ordinary Greek-American household and ends up as a celebratory tribute to a family that’s truly extraordinary in tolerating individual expression and eccentricity.
Executive producers, Nick Paleologos, Fred Zollo.
Directed by Zack Stratis. Screenplay, Stratis, Vilma Gregoropoulos. Camera (color), Gregoropoulos; editors, Lynne Schwahn Parrella, Jonathan Sahula, Tom Ohanian; music, Beth Heinberg, Zack Stratis; costume designer, Kristen Paquette; sound (Dolby), T.R. Boyce Jr.; choreography, Eustathios Stratis; animation, Mary Kocol; associate producer, Peter Wilshinski; assistant director, Kelly Lawman. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (American Spectrum), Jan. 28, 2000. Running time: 90 MIN.
With: Costas (Gus) Stratis, Olympia (Ollie) Stratis, Zachary (Zack) Stratis, Eustathios (Stahi) Stratis, Evmorphia Stratis, Theodora (Tedi) Stratis.