Review: Love on NYC's Mean Streets Features in 'Port Authority'

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday September 17, 2021

Leyna Bloom as Wye in the drama 'Port Authority'
Leyna Bloom as Wye in the drama 'Port Authority'  (Source:Courtesy of Momentum Pictures)

In "Port Authority," Fionn Whitehead ("Dunkirk," "Voyagers") stars a Paul, a lost young man who makes his way to New York City from Pittsburgh hoping to make a fresh start with the help of his sister, Sara (Louisa Krause). When she never shows up to meet him, Paul is left to try and find his own way on the mean streets of the city.

It's not long before a couple of bullies leave Paul beaten and bloody, but the intervention of an onlooker named Lee (McCaul Lombardi) saves him. Lee runs a homeless shelter; he takes Paul under his wing, gives him a bed at the shelter, and then inducts him into a small gang that Lee presides over in a side gig of shaking down undocumented immigrants and forcibly evicting tenants who can't keep up with their rents.

When Paul finds his way to a rehearsal space for the city's kiki ballroom scene, he falls for Wye (Leyna Bloom), a beautiful woman who belongs to House McQueen. The house members are initially unwelcoming - "You're not wanted," one of them tells Paul - but Wye takes a liking to Paul. It's not long before the two are an item - and then, despite the secrets that start to come to light, they become a couple.

But some secrets are more closely held than others, and Paul guards his true situation. It's not hard to see why: Homeless, and working under the table in an illegal operation, he's hardly the objective definition of a catch. Even as he negotiates the lies of commission and omission that he uses to bolster his confidence in the new relationship, Paul finds himself carrying a new and darker secret - one involving another member of House McQueen who won't be coming home.

Bloom and Whitehead turn in a pair of sizzling performances, transcending the script's stylized avoidance of details (it's only in passing we learn people's names, and other bits of information are hazy at best) and the slightly moth-eaten storyline (the plot's beats are anything but unexpected, and most of them are obvious a mile away). Lombardi, meantime, brings an electrifying mixture of kindness and criminality to his role, not to mention a strong whiff of bisexuality; the sexual chemistry he and Paul share is palpable, existing just beneath a constant pattern of homophobic jokes and commentary, and surfacing in moments of super-charged putative heterosexuality. (Lee is awfully keen, for instance, for a lap dancer to give Paul a little extra attention.)

But it's Whitehead who anchors the film. His performance beings to life a good natured but uncertain soul, whose halting, tentative presence in the world endears him to some and makes him a target for others. It's a remarkable departure from the villainy he embodied in "Voyagers" or the single-minded pursuit of survival he sketched out in "Dunkirk." As the film progresses, Whitehead - under the direction of writer-director Danielle Lessovitz - struggles to overcome his fears and limitations and, driven by love, grows into a better sort of person. His journey is painful series of mistakes and disasters waiting to happen, but his progress is a wonderful thing to see.

"Port Authority" screens at Out On Film Atlanta

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.