A Very Serious Person Movie Review
The house belongs to Mrs. Aaronson (Polly Bergen), a feisty old woman who has a terminal illness and knows this will be her last summer. She's invited her 13-year-old grandson Gil (P.J. Verhoest) to spend it with her and her longtime maid and helper Betty (Dana Ivey). Gil is an interesting kid, an arts and crafts specialist who loves watching Gone With the Wind and dressing up. He's clearly on his way to being gay, and he knows it, although he's not quite sure what to do with that knowledge. Mrs. Aaronson indulges him. For her, it's not an issue. She just wishes he'd go outside long enough to learn how to swim.
Because Mrs. Aaronson can be so difficult, she has trouble keeping a nurse in her employ. That changes when the mysterious Jan (Busch), a soft-spoken gay Danish man with a long ponytail, shows up and takes over the house with stern northern European efficiency. Betty hates him, Gil is intrigued by him, and Mrs. Aaronson loves him.
It's the evolving relationship between Gil and Jan that propels the story forward. Can Gil learn anything from Jan as a gay role model/father figure? Does Jan even want to teach him? In a bit of a twist that may surprise Busch fans, Jan is reluctant to indulge Gil's blossoming homosexual tendencies. Clearly he's seen trouble in the past and urges Gil to tone it down, especially since Gil's future will be uncertain when his grandmother dies. His parents are out of the picture, and he could end up living with relatives who may not live in a particularly tolerant area. Jan ends up clashing with the local out-and-proud hairdresser over this issue. Gil is who he is, says the hairdresser, and Gil has no right to try to stifle and confuse him. Too many gay people have struggled too long to feel free to be who they are.
As the film meanders toward Grandma's inevitable demise, Gil and Jan battle over everything, come to terms with each other, and even plan a drag-themed summer show for the neighborhood. Everything is destined to end wistfully, with sighs and shrugs as opposed to sturm und drang. It's unusual for Busch to be so subdued and unfortunate that the whole exercise doesn't have a bit more zing to it. A Very Serious Person is about unusual people in unusual circumstances, but that doesn't make it particularly interesting.
We're gonna need a bigger hat.