Source: Utopia Pictures

Review: Queer Film 'Chestnut' Smolders with a Moving Love Triangle

Megan Kearns READ TIME: 3 MIN.

Love triangles in film often evoke intensity, jealousy, and titillation (like "Challengers"). But in queer film "Chestnut," a love triangle yields something more introspective and understated, yet every bit as emotionally potent.

Written and directed by lesbian filmmaker Jac Cron, "Chestnut" stars Natalia Dyer ("Stranger Things," "Yes, God, Yes") as Annie, a queer poet who just graduated college in Philadelphia. At summer's end, she has a finance job lined up in Los Angeles. When she meets a beguiling woman Tyler (Rachel Keller) and Tyler's friendly restaurant co-worker Danny (Danny Ramirez), who may or may not be her boyfriend, Annie becomes entwined in a love triangle.

Annie spends her days talking with her friend Jason (portrayed by deaf transmasculine and genderqueer actor Chella Man) and her nights drinking alone at a bar. After meeting Tyler and Danny, she spends all her time with them and their friends at picnics and bar hopping.

Tyler exudes a bold, flirty, and confident swagger, which lures Annie. At a bar with just the two of them, Tyler tells Annie she's kissed girls before, friends, when they got too drunk. Annie replies that she doesn't kiss her friends, first hinting at her queerness as well as indicating that she's intentional or selective about whom she chooses to kiss. On another night out, Tyler tells Annie she's nice, followed by sensuously kissing Annie. Alone outside a bar, Tyler quietly tells Annie she likes her, and they kiss again.

At an open mic night Danny attends, Annie reads a poem she wrote about an emotional dance between two people, wondering if the other person feels the same or if she conjured scenarios in her head.

Throughout the film, Annie repeats that she's unsure if Tyler and Danny are a couple. I have no clue why she doesn't just ask them. They have a comfortable rapport indicating a close connection, but their history and status remain unclear. Yet, Danny is smitten with Annie, who opens up to him about her poetry and her mother's death.

Annie yearns to be with Tyler. But Tyler does a push-pull mixed signals dance with Annie, sometimes keenly focused yet other times aloof. Tyler is not the first woman Annie has been attracted to, but it's clear Annie doesn't want to label herself, indicated by her agreement with a friend about how people shouldn't be labeled or put into boxes regarding their identity and sexuality.

The shifting dynamics between the triad (Anne and Tyler, Annie and Danny, and Tyler and Danny) often parallel each other.

Natalia Dyer is wonderful in the heartwarming coming-of-age comedy "Yes, God, Yes," as well as in the hit series "Stranger Things." She's adept at sensitive portrayals of characters and she does so here with Annie. Annie is quiet and tentative with Dyer's subtly expressive performance conveying a layered interiority.

Rachel Keller is great as Tyler, as she magnetically depicts her mercurial emotions and capricious persona, an authentically crafted character who perpetually feels nebulous. Annie must feel intoxicated and intrigued around her, yet perpetually uncertain and never on solid ground.

I can't tell if Tyler is uncomfortable with, or scared of, her queerness and her feelings for Annie, or if she's an emotional self saboteur, or if she doesn't want to commit to anyone or anything.

Despite Tyler's seemingly definitive declaration near the end of the film – which I don't believe or refuse to believe is entirely binary due to other clues – ambiguity exists in her words, as well as in many of her contradictory actions. This echoes the film's overarching themes of uncertainty and fluidity.

Juxtaposed by ethereal electric hues of blues and pinks from bar lighting reminiscent of an otherworldly dream, it's a low-key and restrained film. Accompanied by a delicate score and indie soundtrack, the film meanders, the way hanging out with friends in the summer feels. It also feels like a love letter to Philadelphia.

Moving and emotionally resonant, queer film "Chestnut" subtly and thoughtfully captures the smoldering intensity of love and attraction and the bittersweet poignancy of fleeting moments in our lives.

"Chestnut" opens in theaters Friday, June 21, 2024 and on VOD Tuesday, July 2,2024.

by Megan Kearns

Read These Next