Please Baby Please is transgressive, thought-provoking, and lurid. Amanda Kramer’s poppy conversation starter features but is not limited to: multiple gender swaps, a drag queen rendition of a doo-wop song, a leather-clad street gang, multiple homicides, and the weirdest Demi Moore cameo you’re likely to see in your life.
The story revolves around Arthur (Harry Melling, always a disconcerting presence) and Suze (Andrea Riseborough – in a just world, here’s the film she should have had an Oscar nod for), a young married couple living in late-fifties New York City, although Kramer’s NYC is a neon-lit fantasia straight from Hollywood past rather than any recognisable place.
They witness a terrible crime in their neighbourhood committed by the local gang of street toughs, a bunch of hooligan greasers led by the sensual, dangerous Teddy (Karl Glusman, who spouts cerebral pop references as often as he thrusts his hips around in blue jeans). The pair, both terrified and a little turned on, become increasingly entangled in the subterranean street life of this gang, who both tease, flirt, and menace the married couple in turn. Demi Moore’s walk-on role is as a glamorous, married upstairs neighbour with a coterie of toy boys and gay pals: she campily refers to herself as a “slum starlet”, if you’re wondering what kind of movie this is.
As the couple’s seemingly hypothetical conversations about sexuality, gender roles, and S&M devolve slowly into a more practically experimental situation – Arthur and Teddy flirting heavily in a bar toilet, or Suze growing aggressive and deeper-voiced as she begins to cast off the aesthetics of femininity – the risk of explosive violence grows, too. With a tremendous, weird, shapeshifting performance from Riseborough, who seems to morph from voracious housewife to macho protector in the course of the film, Please Baby Please asks fascinating questions about gender binaries, power dynamics, and sexual desire within – and without – those confines.
It offers up no easy answers, instead leaning into its pop culture menagerie of homage (everything from Kenneth Anger to Walter Hill) and leaving the audience with plenty to ponder. With its strange, ambient, quasi-musical choreography and occasional bursts of song, it also looks and sounds vividly beautiful while doing it.