A rousing, frequently rowdy comedy with considerable crossover appeal, thanks to a pair of juicy lead perfs by Brenda Fricker and Olympia Dukakis.

Dot - Brenda Fricker
Stella - Olympia Dukakis
Prentice - Ryan Doucette
Molly - Kristin Booth

Two Oscar-winning actresses tackle the issue of gay marriage by playing a longtime lesbian couple forced to cross the border to Canada in order to make their 31-year relationship legal in “Cloudburst,” a rousing, frequently rowdy comedy with considerable crossover appeal, thanks to a pair of juicy lead perfs by Brenda Fricker and Olympia Dukakis. Fricker plays Dot, a blind grandma forced into a retirement home against her partner’s will, while Dukakis outdoes even her most memorable earlier turns (including “Tales of the City” matriarch Anna Madrigal) as Stella, the irrepressible old dame determined to spring her lover free.

Adapting his own play to screen in such a way that one would never guess the resulting road movie’s legit pedigree, writer-director Thom Fitzgerald (“The Hanging Garden”) enticed his two leads with a script that delivers just the right balance of salty and sentimental, cleverly leavening its earnest subtext — that Dot and Stella have earned the right to be recognized as a couple — with generous doses of unapologetically blue humor. Already deep into its festival run, this feisty crowdpleaser has deservedly collected audience, thesping and top-pic prizes at LGBT and mainstream fests alike.

From the outset, “Cloudburst” establishes the unconventional pair’s special dynamic, first with a gooey scene in which Stella describes the sunset to the sightless Dot, and later via a saucier moment in their shared bedroom as Stella teases her mate with a vibrator. At their glorious age, they’ve fallen (in love) and can’t give up.

Estranged and oblivious, Dot’s granddaughter Molly (Kristin Booth) always assumed these two odd roommates were simply very good friends. Eager to inherit their beautiful waterfront house, Molly tricks Dot into giving her power of attorney, but Stella hasn’t gotten this far playing by other people’s rules. After squaring off with police, the old battle-ax stages a ludicrous jailbreak to liberate her life partner from an upstate Maine nursing home, resulting in a wildly funny (and nutty) setpiece.

With an APB out for their arrest, the couple hit the road, “Thelma and Louise”-style, in Stella’s beat-up red pickup truck. A cowboy hat perched atop a crop of slicked-back white hair, Dukakis suggests an icon of vintage American masculinity: sparky greaser attitude in a folksy Andy Griffith package. No one they encounter en route quite knows what to make of her, but then, even Stella admits she’s never known how to explain herself.

Ornery as a barbed-wire fence, Stella isn’t shy about picking fights, so it’s saying something that Dot can hold her own, giving Fricker plenty of room to play off Dukakis’ fireworks. Moreover, watching two older characters quarrel reveals so much more about a relationship than a story about two youngsters possibly could. In the face of such familiarity, gender ceases to be a factor — but of course, it takes a pair of great actors to suggest the couple’s three decades of history.

Rather than let the pair make their getaway alone, Fitzgerald supplies a bare-chested, Nova Scotia-bound hitchhiker (Ryan Doucette, cute but clearly a thesping novice in this group); though he’s not an unwelcome addition, this vanilla hunk was clearly intended to entice straight female and gay male viewers. Still, with dialogue this sharp and characters this appealing, and no shortage of stunning widescreen scenery to enjoy along the way, Fitzgerald could have taken the road trip nearly anywhere. He opts for tears, proving that all the comedy that has come before ran deep, surprising (and no doubt disappointing some) with the feelings that accompany the film’s final sunset.

Popular on Variety


Production: A Sidney Kimmel Entertainment presentation of an Emotion production. Produced by Doug Pettigrew, Thom Fitzgerald. Executive producers, Sidney Kimmel, Trudy Pettigrew, William Jarblum, Vicki McCarthy, Shandi Mitchell. Directed, written by Thom Fitzgerald.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), Tom Harting; editor, Angela Baker; music, Jason Michael MacIsaac, Warren Robert; art director, Keith Currie; set decorators, Keith Currie, Michael Petit, Kris Rogers; costume designers, Laurie Delaney, James A. Worthen; sound (Dolby Digital), Stephen Outhit; sound designer, Christopher Francis Mithcell; stunt coordinator, Randy Boliver; assistant director, Luck Fischer; casting, Mark Bennett. Reviewed at Outfest (Under the Stars at Ford), July 22, 2012. (Also in Palm Springs, Seattle, Vancouver film festivals; NewFest.) Running time: 93 MIN.

With: Dot - Brenda Fricker
Stella - Olympia Dukakis
Prentice - Ryan Doucette
Molly - Kristin Booth

More Film

  • Pedro Costa’s 'Vitalina Varela' Wins at

    Pedro Costa’s 'Vitalina Varela' Triumphs at Locarno Film Festival

    The 72nd Locarno Film Festival drew to a close Saturday with Portuguese auteur Pedro Costa’s dark and detached film “Vitalina Varela” coming away with several awards together with superlatives from segments of the hardcore cinephile crowd, including jury president Catherine Breillat. In announcing the Golden Leopard prize for the film, as well as best actress [...]

  • Vitalina Varela

    Locarno Film Review: 'Vitalina Varela'

    Frequently beautiful compositions and the theatrical use of a fierce kind of artifice have long been the hallmarks of Portuguese auteur Pedro Costa, regarded by a small but influential group of aesthetes as one of the great filmmakers of our era. For those in tune with his vision, the director’s films offer an exciting lesson [...]

  • Notre dame

    Locarno Film Review: 'Notre dame'

    Not to be too cynical about it, but might the recent horrific fire in Paris’ cathedral attract audiences to a film in which the gothic gem plays a major role? It’s likely a wiser marketing strategy than promoting the unrelenting silliness of Valerie Donzelli’s oh-so-kooky comedy “Notre dame,” the writer-director-star’s return to contemporary Paris following [...]

  • Nordisk Film & TV Fond Announces

    Nordisk Film & TV Fond Backs Joachim Trier, Ole Bornedal, Yellow Bird

    Nordisk Film & TV Fond has announced three features, two series and a documentary set to receive $1.4m in financing, as well as distribution, dubbing and cultural initiative support recipients. Doing so, it highlights some of the key titles moving forward in the Nordic region. Already backed by the Danish Film Institute’s largest ever grant [...]

  • Cat in the Wall Movie Sarajevo

    Sarajevo Film Festival Builds Bridges Through Art

    Rising from the rubble of the Bosnian War to become one of Southeastern Europe’s leading film and TV industry events, the Sarajevo Film Festival has plenty to celebrate as it marks its 25th edition this year. The festival was established in 1995 during the four-year siege of Sarajevo as part of an effort to help [...]

  • 'ZZ Top: That Little Ol' Band

    Film Review: 'ZZ Top: That Little Ol' Band From Texas'

    Settling in to watch “ZZ Top: That Little Ol’ Band From Texas,” you may have a burning question that applies to almost no other rock documentary, and that is: Who, exactly, are these guys? The ones behind the beards? If you’re old enough, of course, you probably know that ZZ Top started out, in 1969, [...]

  • Patricia Louisiana Knop Dead: Screenwriter Was

    Screenwriter Patricia Louisianna Knop Dies at 78

    Screenwriter Patricia Louisianna Knop, who collaborated with her producer-director husband Zalman King on erotically-charged films of the late 1980s and 1990s including “Siesta” and “9 1/2 Weeks,” died Aug. 7 in Santa Monica after a lengthy illness. “9 1/2 Weeks,” starring Mickey Rourke and Kim Basinger, was directed by Adrian Lyne, co-produced by King and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content