Wednesday, March 17th, 2021

Potato Dreams of America


Wes Hurley aka Vasili Naumenko is a queer performance artist/filmmaker and a stalwart of Seattle’s burgeoning drag and cabaret scene who has finally told his life story in film.  Well, technically this is the second time around as his short film Little Potato did that too and picked up some 20 + awards for Hurley at the same time.

So now the full story of his journey as a Russian immigrant from Vladivostok to Seattle is told with Hurleys near comic genius.  The result is a hysterically funny tale, which although uneven in places, is a sheer joy to watch.

It’s a Tale of Two Cities. The first one is a dreary Russian one that looks like the cliched stereotype where everything is so bleak and desperate. Teenager Vasil (Hersh Powers) known as Potato, lives in a small shabby apartment with Lina (Sera Barbieri) his mother, a single parent who is a Prison Doctor who never gets paid by the State To complete the family unit is a very bossy Grandmother Tamara (superbly played by an unrecognizable Lea DeLaria)

Potato is already out as gay to his family but picked on at school and is totally friendless except of course for Jesus (Jonathan Bennett)  …..yep, the real one. He picks him up on the street and invites him home to stay. The only miracle he is going to do, however, is to occasionally get his lazy body off the couch to eat.

Lena is also friendless, and she thinks her ‘savior’ will be any middle-aged American looking for a mail-order bride so they can escape Russia forever. However, the pickings online are hardly plentiful and so she settles somewhat reluctantly on John (Dan Lauria) a truck driver from Seattle. He is actually the only ‘suitor’ she has. 

Director Hurley changes style when they change cities.  He had filmed this first part of the story in a stylized comic fashion which somewhat made light of the reality of their existence.  Now in the US where  Lena (Marya Sea Kaminski) and Potato (Tyler Bocock) quickly discover this is not to be the fairytale they had dreamed of all their lives,  Hurley films it as a bad situation comedy.

Lena is realistic enough to accept that her medical qualifications are not valid in the US  and with her limited lack of English, she happily settles for a job in a fast-food restaurant.  What she, and Potato, find much harder to accept is that John is a gruff controlling tight-wad with politics very similar to any ardent Trump supporter.  When he eventually goes too far and she pushes back, he threatens to send her and Potato straight back to Moscow on the very next plane.  This is when she learns that he had a previous fiance who had actually suffered this fate.

It is not all misery however as they are some wonderful scenes at Potato’s new College in Seattle. The tutors try to link him up with another East European student on the basis that because they come from the same region of the world, they simply have to be best friends ….. even though the other one turns out to be a homophobe.

We always suspect that Hurley’s enjoyable comic drama will have a happy ending of sorts, and although he makes us laugh throughout the whole piece, he also makes this a cautionary tale about immigration.  Especially for anyone who is LGBTQ whose options may be even more limited.  It also helps us remember that just living here in the US is not always the stuff of dreams as we like to pretend it is. 

Especially when you leave Jesus back on his own in  the old country


Queerguru reviewed Potato Dreams of America at SXSW Festival where it had its World Premiere

Posted by queerguru  at  17:28

Genres:  biopic, comedy, coming of age

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