Billy Luther’s first foray into narrative feature length film territory, “Frybread Face and Me”, is a highly successful endeavor. Luther displays a talent for navigating queerness in such a delicate and artful manner that he reminds us that just because a story has queer elements, it does not necessarily mean it’s the whole story.
Not only this, Luther (Navajo/Hopi/Laguna) explores intertribal relations with a deft manner and humorous eye. It takes a very specific and talented writer/director combination to be able to pull these things off and Luther has all the qualities required in a director.
Expertly cast with the most current and trending Indigenous actors working today, the cast of mostly Navajo actors shine: Morningstar Angeline (Diné) is luminescent as Benny’s mom Ann and Kahara Hodges (Navajo) as Aunt Lucy is dreamy as Benny’s rowdy aunt who drives an old beat up ford around the rez and sells jewelry to make ends meet.
Jeremiah Bitsui (Diné) and Tik Tok Navajo celebrity Nasheen Slueth (Diné) join the party as comic relief as Uncle Roger and Aunt Sharon. Keir Tallman (Navajo) and Charley Hogan (Navajo) have great chemistry as the child leads, Benny and Frybread Face.
The film doesn’t move too fast nor does it need to.
What “Frybread Face and Me” is interested in doing is showing you a specific New México Navajo world of sparseness and possibility (the film was shot in Santa Fe employing New México’s film incentives).
Think lots of beautiful desert landscapes, old cars, trailer homes, a rez version of a mechanical bull sitting in the front yard, a beat up sheep fence made of old wooden pallets. The setting of the story is small but the surrounding rez is vast and full of adventure.
In the hands of a lesser filmmaker, “Frybread Face and Me” could easily luxuriate too much into sentimentality or attempt to focus solely on the stark differences of growing up queer in a world and time that isn’t ready for it, but what Luther opts to do here is stick to his intuition of putting story first and letting the rest of the elements follow through on their own.
A heartwarming tale for the whole family, it’s no mistake that the film was made available for streaming on Netflix right around the holidays, when families are together and want to watch something as satisfying as a holiday meal. There can be no better compliment for a family friendly watch than that.
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