Set in present-day Akron, in the American state of Ohio, this film presents the romance between two university students Benny (Matthew Frias) and Christopher (Edmund Donovan). They meet in a sports field and swiftly become deeply infatuated with each other, and both of their families are very enthusiastic and supportive of their romance. It feels like the perfect romance between two charming, irresistible and loving young men, until a tragedy from the past resurfaces to haunt them.
Christopher’s mother had accidentally run over Benny’s brother with her car in a parking lot roughly 15 years earlier. Christopher was inside the car and Benny also witnessed the event, but they were both very young and their recollection is very vague. On the other hand, Benny’s mother struggles to forgive and forget the horrific day when she lost one of her sons.
Akron is a film about how difficult Americans find to accept death, to forgive and to move on with their private lives. Benny’s mother is a reasonable, kind and loving person, but she is just unable to cope with the fact that her son’s partner is somehow linked to the tragic accident. In the documentary Where to Invade Next (2015), Michael Moore noted while interviewing the father of a victim of Anders Behring Breivik (who conducted a mass shooting in Oslo in 2011) that Americans struggle to forget the past. The American director is bemused that the Norwegian man has come to terms with the death of his son and is not campaigning for death penalty or reparations. Benny’s mother is not seeking money or revenge; she is simply unable to mend her heart and let her son have a relationship with Christopher.
A remarkable feature in Akron is that homosexuality is presented as entirely acceptable feature of American society. There is not a scintilla of homophobia or sexual intolerance, not even in passing. While refreshing, this at times comes across as contrived and unnatural. Not because homosexuality is unnatural, but instead because such level of acceptance is hardly credible. Akron is subversive in a reverse way: by presenting an alternative sexuality as a fully integrated and commoditised lifestyle.
While at times a little too melodramatic, the two directors Brian O’Donnell and Sasha King – who are also partners – created a beautiful film with overall good performances and an engaging script. It may feel futile and petit bourgeois to LGBT audiences in other countries facing much more serious problems (such as violence and even death) than a mother’s soul-searching, but Akron still delivers good moments and an examination of possibilities of reconciliation.
Akron was part of the 30th BFI Flare London LGBT Film Festival in 2016, when this piece was originally written. The film has now been made available on BFI Player – just click here for more information.