Out of the Celluloid Closet

My Policeman: Harry Styles Is in a Queer Film and the Reviews Are In

Few celebrities drum up the kind of tabloid-esque intrigue and fanatical fervor that Harry Styles does. The Don’t Worry Darling drama is a case in point. As Styles makes his precarious venture from music into movies, the world watches. And the world has just watched his next film, or at least the critics have. 

My Policeman is slated to release to the public on October 21st, but its festival release was September 11th, allowing the reviewing literati their exclusive look, and lending us a glimpse through their distillations. 

The reviews are mixed, but none are anywhere near glowing, and a few could be called downright disparaging. In his The Hollywood Reporter review, David Roony writes that “as for Styles, he’s not terrible, but he leaves a hole in the movie where a more multidimensional character with an inner life is needed most.”

Sharing these sentiments, Ryan Lattanzio’s IndieWire review characterizes Styles’ performance as “blank beyond inscrutable gazes and sappy breakdowns…[the role] requires levels of complexity and conveying inner turmoil that Styles can’t provide.” Vanity Fair’s Richard Lawson joins in the critical boredom: “when [Styles] has to hold a scene’s emotional tenor for longer than a line reading, he’s flat.” Benjamin Lee, of The Guardian, pulls no punches: “[Styles is] all construct and no conviction, a performer as unsure of his ability as we are.”

Others are less severe, and even complimentary. David Jenkins of Little White Lies maintains that “There’s an understatement and simple clarity to his line delivery and body language that works well in the context of a man driven by primal desires.” But this is as close to effusive as any reviewer gets. 

What remains unclear is the degree to which the script, the direction, and Styles’ co-stars have colored the critical perception of his performance. David Roony isn’t sure that “celebrated theater director Michael Grandage can translate his stage skills to the screen,” and Benjamin Lee senses that the director “struggles to pull our heartstrings, an easy target easily missed.” Luke Hearfield of the Evening Standard calls the script “plodding,” using the same vocabulary as Tom Charity of The Times calls the plot a “plodding love triangle.” Is the lack of chemistry between Styles and his co-stars sensed by these reviews a result of his theatrical incompetence, or his colleagues’? 

Having not seen the film, the rest of us are only left to speculate. But for queer viewers at least, one’s encounter with Styles’ performance may be partially conditioned by his complicated relationship to queerness as a political category and lived experience, as he has famously utilized queer aesthetics while never explicitly identifying himself as queer. There isn’t space here to sort through the mire of that conversation, but off-screen questions about Styles’ gender and sexual identities and commitments will likely shape our interpretations of his on-screen dramatics.

Will the film feel authentic? Will it speak to historical and contemporary queer experiences with honesty and grace? Perhaps we shouldn’t be so hopeful. Robert Daniels of RogerEbert.com writes that the adaptation film “is surface-level queer representation lacking in visual imagination and begging for better performances.”

Come October 21st, we can make up our own minds.

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