Please Baby Please is an odd yet profound movie that sings and dances into the deeper depths of the human psyche to discover sexual desires.
Published on March 22, 2023
Rating 4 /5
Please Baby Please plays like a fever dream of repressed sexuality. It bobs and weaves between the stylish expression of physical desire to the blunt statements on the nature of passion. It’s campy and vibrant but feels like touching on something deeper amid its weird avenues of seeking love. It’s a highly unorthodox picture for its setting and tone but strangely taps into a cerebral sense of self that feels almost nostalgic for the gutsier films of the past.
The film is set in 1950s Manhattan, where a newlywed couple is questioning their relationship. They live in a chaotic neighborhood of vicious gangs, sexually aloof nightclubs, and rebellious neighbors. The wife, Suze (Andrea Riseborough), chats with the neighbor, who speaks openly about sex through appliances and her distaste for men. The husband, Arthur (Harry Melling), finds himself plagued by the expectations of men for being dominant and becomes entranced by the sexual nature of the local greasers. The two of them debate and bicker while slowly finding themselves in a city that offers them something beyond the societal expectations of the era. Maybe men and women don’t have to stick to hetero romances. Maybe there’s something more to life than the same old traditions.
The film has scenes ranging from entrancing jazz numbers of dance to explicit commentary on the central theme. There’s some engaging dialogue between Suze and Arthur as they fight over what it means to be a man and what a marriage truly represents. The discomfort is boldly pronounced but also sensed through Melling's astounding ability to convey uneasiness and Riseborough’s thirsty delivery of desiring more. It says a lot when the two are holding each other amid a noisy night in the streets when Suze asks Arthur if he loves her. Arthur gives wishy-washy answer about their love is more implied than something that needs to be stated, highlighting his discomfort with being direct. And, yet, the directness is exactly what they need to feel comfortable with themselves.
There are traces of David Lynch and John Waters in how the film proceeds with its vicious and dream-like contemplations on sexuality in the 50s. This goes beyond the musical asides that feel straight out of Twin Peaks and the gender-savaging right out of Female Trouble. The entire screenplay feels like a rage against the conformity and messiness of social pressures that restrict homosexuality to dark corners. Only in the darkest of nightclubs and alleys that it feels like the true self can emerge. And, even then, there’s still a fight for that desire to be something more, where there’s more to fear than the cops busting up a party, although that does happen in the film. The lack of acting on these desires only makes them bubble into fits of rage and violence, where a sexual encounter Arthur has with a greaser feels like perfect timing for breaking this gay man out of his suffocating shell.
Please Baby Please is an odd yet profound movie that sings and dances into the deeper depths of the human psyche to discover sexual desires. While it’s not as explicit in its depictions of romance, it is bold enough to probe into an almost dreamlike state of contemplating sexuality. All of this leads up to a showy number where interpretive dance feels very fitting for a couple who find themselves in the city rather than letting themselves be buried by heterosexual demands.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.