Review: 'Port Authority' a sobering trans romantic drama
Courtesy of Entertainment One
An unexpected and sobering romantic drama, Danielle Lessovitz’ “Port Authority” is arriving on the scene with minimal exposure and social awareness. Originally screening at the Cannes Film Festival in 2019, “Port Authority” has sat on the shelf awaiting distribution, now entertaining the marketplace without much noise aside from a Martin Scorsese producing credit. Which is shameful considering the touching and moving subject matter: a trans love story starring Fionn Whitehead (“Dunkirk”) and transgender dancer and model Leyna Bloom. Lessovitz, who also wrote the screenplay, doesn’t ascend the film beyond the boundaries of a cliched tale of lost lovers who happen to connect over unforeseen circumstances, but she elicits style and fosters a believable courtship that’s a refreshing detour from the onslaught of Netflix rom-coms. Sadly, a film like “Port Authority” needs a giant steamer nowadays to get noticed, and though it’s set for a digital release, hopefully it garners some attention in the near future.
The title, of course, refers to the Port Authority bus terminal in New York City where Paul (Whitehead) has relocated from Pittsburg under the assumption his half sister will put him up. When she refuses, Paul faces homelesness until a predatory fellow named Lee (McCaul Lombardi) gives him a bed in a hostel, after fending off a group of thugs, and a shady job which is basically shaking down undocumented residents with false deportation claims. At the hostel, Paul connects with the gorgeous Wye (like the question) who is a talented, star-studded dancer making tips in NYC’s ballroom scene who is played with brimming charm by Bloom. The two strike up a passionate love affair and Paul is transfixed by Wye’s beauty but struggles to understand his feelings upon learning she is transgender.
Lessovitz does a near flawless job at capturing the pain, anguish, confusion and frustration of Paul’s feelings though Wye holds her own. Quickly snapping back and shooting down absurd questions about her genitals: “You don’t get to ask me that!” And when Paul asserts that he’s not gay, Wye responds: “I am not into gay men.” This is more about Paul’s insecurities than it is about Wye’s gender, and Lessovitz tows that line while not losing its gentle message of finding love and acceptance in the hardest places. Whitehead and Bloom have firecracker chemistry and when they're on screen together, “Port Authority” snaps.
The film might have benefited from more background on NYC’s dancing scene - not to mention nixing the subplot between Lee and Paul - but it’s still a sexy, stylized romance more urgent now than it was during the premiere in 2019. A genuinely poignant narrative about cultivating friendships and family, “Port Authority” isn’t the best queer romance of late (that title belongs to “Moffie”) but whichever audiences decide to check it out (and let’s hope folks seek it in droves) will be easily swept up in this compassionate story packed with plenty of bright young talent and heart.
PORT AUTHORITY is now playing in select theaters and is on digital.