Review of Maurice Jamal’s “Dirty Laundry”

Maurice Jamal’s Dirty Laundry tells the story of Patrick (Rockmond
Dunbar of Prison Break), a young city
slicker who returns home to his traditional Southern Baptist hometown and
family when a 10-year-old boy shows up on his Manhattan doorstep claiming to be
his son. Patrick insists that the kid (played by the admirably understated
Aaron Grady Shaw) can’t be his, but his mother Evelyn (Loretta Devine) insists
she knows better.

Patrick (whose real name
we learn is Sheldon) eventually drops the news on his family that he is gay,
which comes as a bit more of a shock to them than to the audience, as it’s
pretty clear from the get-go that this is the case. It’s actually more of a
shock that they are surprised by the news, especially since his brother Eugene
(out writer/director Jamal, playing the gay-squeamish character completely
straight-faced) has apparently been calling him a sissy for the past 20 years.

As the Davises wander their way toward the sure-to-come
reconciliation, tensions and secrets come to light that are not entirely
shocking but keep things moving along, albeit a bit slowly. Herein lies the
film’s biggest failing — its lack of urgency. Then again, I’m not from the
South, where things apparently move at a different pace.

Despite being under the
same roof for the first time in a decade, Evelyn is too hurt by Patrick’s
leaving home to reconcile without a fight. Patrick’s well-meaning sister
Jackie, and frustrated-diva niece, Pudge, are there to help rebuild the bridge
between Patrick and Evelyn. Meanwhile, Evelyn’s showboating sister Lettuce
(Jenifer Lewis) and her church ladies, of course, try to stink things up in the
name of the Lord.

There’s a confrontation
in a church, a big public revelation at a pie-eating contest, and a surprise
visit from an unexpected guest, but honestly, it’s hard to get too worked up by
any of it. Maybe this jaded urban viewer was blindsided by all the Southern
hospitality, but everyone’s just so … nice.

That’s the word that keeps popping into my mind when I think about
this earnest low-budget family comedy: nice. The cast is nice, the characters
are nice, the score is nice, the settings and dressings are all very nice and
pleasant and likable. Chances are if you don’t like nice, Dirty Laundry won’t be nearly dirty enough for you.

But if you’re open to a
change of pace in your gay films, this movie is worth a look for several
reasons.

For one, it is a rare gay
movie that isn’t oversexed or determined to sass, zhuzh, or bitch-slap the
audience to death. If dining on the buffet of Jacks and Carsons and Marc St.
Jameses has left you stuffed with camp and cliché, and you’d rather digest
without the heartburn caused by blatant innuendos, badly simulated “comic” sex
scenes and thinly-veiled dick jokes, Laundry
has just the recipe.

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