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Cicada | Review

Triumph Over Trauma: Fifer & Mulcare Mine Catharsis with Poignant, Intersectional Drama

Matthew Fifer Kieran Mulcare Cicada Movie ReviewThe importance of representation is a concept which, like many conceits, is more easily discussed as a far-off futuristic goal than an experienced reality. Often the desired thrust of conversations and criticism for those belonging to groups or experiences rarely reflected in the moving image results in a sort of awestruck paralysis when finally confronted by them. And such is the power of Matthew Fifer and Kieran Mulcare’s directorial debut Cicada, which so gracefully navigates a complex myriad of trauma and intersectionality it jumps beyond the usual ‘first-wave’ feel these infrequent portraits feel like.

Drawing upon autobiographical facets from both Fifer’s own experiences and that of his co-star, newcomer Sheldon D. Brown (who gets his own character story credit), it’s a moving romance tinged by the sorrows we all carry with us that can be reconciled through requited love and vulnerability. More than either a trauma narrative or a portrait of a queer interracial romance, it’s an homage to a time, a city, a moment, and even an insect which provides a mapping of metaphors driving us closer towards self-actualization and the pleasure of living out loud.

Self-professed bisexual Ben (Fifer) has grown bored in a recently established relationship with a woman, diving into a series of casual sex, which sometimes involve co-workers at both his office job, including Theresa (Jason Greene) and as a handyman at a side gig in Bo’s (David Burtka) home. One day while perusing the goods at a bookstore, Ben spies Sam (Sheldon D. Brown) and tries hard to get his attention. The young men spend the day together, eventually becoming intimate. Slowly, we begin to learn why Ben is somewhat closed off, hiding behind jokes and snide comments, as well as why Sam has not come out as gay. On top of the significant trauma both have survived, both have to contend with navigating the trials and pitfalls of being an interracial couple.

Technically, Cicada is a period piece, hinging on the prominence of the Sandusky trials during the summer of 2013 in New York City which coincides with the life cycle of those intriguing musical insects, the periodical cicadas, resurfacing for the first time in thirteen years. But it’s the authentic character arcs which really impress, and though the particular period formulates the perfect storm of triggers for Ben’s confrontation of dealing with a trauma which has defined him, it contains a universal, timeless appeal.

Fifer concocts a believable warts-and-all formulation for Ben, a bisexual man whose initial montage reflects not only sexual compulsion but a difficulty with intimacy. Sporting a flat affect and what many may recognize as believable but cliched approach to casual sex, the way his demeanor changes upon approaching Sam at the bookstore is subtle and profound, suggesting he’s likely not even aware of the difference.

Upon entering the narrative, Sheldon D. Brown brings another layer of mournfulness, a closeted young adult who narrowly lived through a violent shooting. His revealing monologue relays the intricate layers of resilience and damage which both this experience and his own repression have formed an isolated, lonely existence. After a brief romantic idyll, how race and privilege inform their relationship alongside communicating personal trauma threatens a potentially tenuous future.

An impressive supporting cast includes a reluctantly forthright physician in Scott Adsit and a woefully precarious therapist played by Cobie Smulders, both whose interactions with Ben point to how waiting for the ideal scenario impedes the real benefit of communicating authentically with those around us—and how the tactics of self-preservation which once were used as survival mechanisms are now the very elements which stymie self-realization. Sobering, romantic, and featuring a diverse array of people and personalities, Cicada may be a somewhat unassuming New York story, but is an incredibly vibrant human one.

Reviewed on August 20th at the 2020 Outfest Film Festival. 93 Mins.


Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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