Too often, gay-themed films are like Christian rock acts, getting by on how closely they can resemble "real" entertainment while sprinkling in the right words and phrases for the devout. Harry Dodge and Silas Howard's By Hook Or By Crook makes no such effort to appease the mainstream. The film stars Dodge and Howard (who collaborated on the script, as well as co-directing) as butch lesbians who meet in San Francisco and become friends while plotting a series of robberies. Howard hitches into the city from small-town Kansas, determined to find success as a 21st-century bandit. Then she saves Dodge from a street-bashing, and they start hanging out. The two engage in petty rip-offs (some with the help of Dodge's ultra-femme girlfriend Stanya Kahn), acting cool and frenetic by turns, but while Howard's '50s-bad-boy clothing and demeanor provide an apt front for her controlled persona, Dodge's amusing, half-intoxicated rambles disguise real mental distress, keyed by her failed attempts to locate her birth mother. By Hook Or By Crook was shot on digital video, which gives the movie a dark, muddy look that can make the action hard to see, though the jumpy editing and guerrilla style also lend immediacy. The lurching plot goes off the rails about two-thirds of the way through, when Dodge's instability and her mother-quest supersede the mild criminal hijinks, but the film's acting is consistently exciting and unselfconscious. Dodge and Howard have open, expressive faces, as well as a physicality and voice uncommon on the screen. It's not just that Dodge sports a goatee, or that Howard looks like a soft, rounded James Dean. It's that in their scenes together, they speak in poetic shorthand, thrilling to their mutual understanding. By Hook Or By Crook isn't a love story, exactly: Dodge and Howard have earthy sex scenes, but not with each other. The movie instead explores the electric connection that occurs when a person with a unique sensibility meets a kindred spirit. That premise alone—the friendship of two dogged eccentrics—sets By Hook Or By Crook apart from the "we're just like everybody else" romantic comedies and cautionary tales that dominate queer cinema. The thrill is that Dodge and Howard plainly aren't like everybody else.
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