By Jim Gilles
Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 8/14/21 – Looking for an edgy, funny, and lively movie to see on a Sunday morning? Head to Outfest 2021 on Sunday, August 15, to see Lyle Kash’s new feature comedy Death and Bowling at the Directors Guild of America. If you appreciate the films of John Waters and Pedro Almodovar, this is a must-see. One of the first long-form cinematic works to feature an almost entirely transgender cast in both transgender and non-transgender roles, and made by a mostly transgender crew, Death and Bowling is a landmark in the history of experimental and LGBTQ cinema. A fictional meta-critique about trans-representation, Death and Bowling is about a transgender actor navigating a fractured, dream-like world and struggling with what it means to be seen after the beloved captain of his lesbian bowling league dies and a mysterious stranger shows up at the funeral. Reflecting on the film, writer/director Lyle Kash notes, “This film was community-driven in the truest sense. In 2018 hundreds of artists responded to my call for transgender talent to work as cast and crew on this historic film. The majority of our cast included non-professional actors. I wrote the script, and then adapted the characters to the actors who inhabited the roles.” The film was shot in 2018 and early 2019 before the COVID pandemic arrived and before director Lyle Kash was involved in the television documentary Disclosure (2020), which stars Laverne Cox.
While the characters’ gender and sexual identities figure heavily into the story, Kash underscores that “it’s not a film about trans-ness.” The goal is to eschew more common trans narratives in LGBTQ films and cinema, where “the only trans experience is deciding whether you’re going to get surgery and take hormones or kill yourself,” he said. Instead, Death and Bowling focuses on characters long after they transition. The film opens with a clever film-within-a-film frame, where a mostly trans film crew is prepping for a rooftop shot of a transmasculine actor running to jump off the roof of the building, and here we are introduced to “X,” the main character played by trans actor Will Krisanda. X lives in a small apartment and ruminates about his acting career: “All I’ve ever wanted is to star in a film with a happy ending.” He thinks about his auditions for movie roles, pondering in voice-over: “I would like to match my insides to my outsides. I’m a real boy. I want to be whole.”
Donning a trademark James Dean leather jacket, X drives over to a garish eight-lane bowling alley (actually the Montrose Bowling Alley here in the L.A. area) which sports aqua-and-orange motif, red vinyl seats, and distinct non-electronic scoring equipment. Here he meets up with Susan, played by Faith E. Bryan, the captain of the Lesbian Bowling League, and her teammates, including her lover Arnie (Denise Turkan) and Joyce (Leontine White Foster). Why a Bowling League? X explains, “A bowling bowl has three holes. So do I.” The deadpan delivery, staged tableaux, slow-pacing, and even the color palette will seem reminiscent of some of Fassbinder’s best early films, where the subversion of traditional narrative structure pays homage to a lineage of queer filmmaking.
Back at Susan’s house, X clues us into his relationship with the others: “Susan said years ago, you are like a son to me” and decides to have a heart-to-heart conversation with X about her future plans, given that her 75th birthday is approaching. Of course, the world of X is about to be turned upside down, as the events that follow force him to rethink who he is and what it means to be trans. Director Lyle Kash explains, “I am more interested in trans films that find a way to tell the story that is inherently trans, than in films that follow the same narrative paradigm that heterosexual (and queer normative) films repeat ad nauseum, with the empty substitution of cisgender actors with their transgender counterparts.”
Death and Bowling is an edgy film and definitely one of the most original films at this year’s Outfest 2021. So many of the films in Hollywood and queer independent film circles that run in the festival circuit are movies that offer “authenticity,” “representation,” “visibility,” and “truth” about transgender lives. Lyle Kash’s film breaks out of that closed circle to disorient the viewer and challenge the notion of binary and fixed gender. “To the extent that gender is a performance, to the extent that I believe that trans activism should seek not to normalize trans-ness, it felt appropriate to disorient reality within the film, to finally also comment on the profoundly fictional medium of queer melodrama.”
Get your tickets to see Death and Bowling at Outfest 2021. It screens on Sunday, August 15, at 11:30 a.m. If you are not able to attend in person, virtual streaming will be available: 8/16 – 8/18. Tickets and information at: