The Toxicity In Queer Rom-Com “Shoulder Dance” Is a Bit too Real – Movie Review

Shoulder Dance movie review
Shoulder Dance (Screengrab: Trailer)

I knew that Shoulder Dance was going to be a messy queer movie about two childhood friends meeting each other after decades. However, I wasn’t expecting how real the messiness would feel. 

I was provided with a free digital screener of Shoulder Dance for review. The opinions I have shared are my own.

This review contains spoilers. You have been warned!

The premise of Shoulder Dance had Ira (Matt Dallas) inviting his childhood friend Roger (Rick Cosnett) over to his house to spend the weekend. However, intense emotions from their past popped up between the two. They were the type of feelings that risked further ruining Ira’s relationship with his long-term boyfriend, Josh (Taylor Frey).

Having watched the trailer, I was ready for things to get weird between Ira and Roger and their past causing friction with Josh and Roger’s girlfriend, Lilly (Maggie Geha). I’m okay with watching messy rom-coms when I know what to expect. However, nothing could have prepared me for how the story unfolded during the approximate 1 hour and 40-minute runtime. The narrative developments made me feel quite anxious. Yes, there were comedic elements in this movie, but in my opinion, Shoulder Dance played out as more of a horror movie about toxic relationships. And the toxicity felt a bit too real.

The film made it clear from the get-go that even though Josh and Ira had been together for 10 years, things weren’t going great as far as Josh’s concerned. He’s quite close to ending his relationship with Ira because Ira’s always busy with work and he wanted Josh to be more of a stay-at-home partner. However, breaking up was easier said than done because Josh, in a way, enjoyed the lavish life Ira had provided for him. What Josh really wanted was a marriage proposal from Ira as he feared that everything he had built with Ira could be taken away in a second because he didn’t own any of it.

I could understand where Josh was coming from. It’s tough being in a relationship and playing house with someone who doesn’t want to get married knowing well enough that you do. And though Ira’s supportive of Josh’s goal of continuing to perform on Broadway, he wouldn’t be against Josh quitting.

With Josh sharing his desire with his best friend, Shawn (Samuel Larsen), about wanting to break up with Ira, he had to wait because Ira decided to reveal that he invited Roger over for the weekend. The two men reconnected after the death of Roger’s mother. Of course, Josh is confused because Ira’s never mentioned Roger before.

You could tell that Roger had something uncouth in mind when he accepted Ira’s invitation. Even though Roger had Lily with him, he wanted to feel what he used to feel with Ira when they were teenagers. They used to cuddle a lot and be there for each other. Ira always gave Roger attention. And Roger wanted to feel that again, and he was going to do everything in his power to get his wish.

Seeing Roger make Lily pressure Ira into taking drugs so Ira could loosen up and be comfortable around Roger was just… it was creepy as heck. And then Roger proceeded to use Ira being high and all up in his feelings to hook up with him. Like, WTF?!!!

The weird thing is that both Lily and Josh were completely aware of the vibes between Ira and Roger. And yet they didn’t do anything to try and handle the situation. From what I could understand, both characters were willing to look the other way as long as they were getting what they wanted. Lily wanted to be with Roger (for now), regardless of his obvious feelings toward Ira. And Josh was still willing to be with Ira as long as he got a marriage proposal and a sense of security.

Written and directed by Jay Arnold, toxicity abounds in Shoulder Dance. It was the type of toxicity that had an impact because most of us already knew or had heard of people like the ones portrayed in this movie. They were the type of people who were okay with ignoring the red flags in a romantic relationship because they prioritized the so-called benefits that came with staying in said relationships.

I wanted Shawn to put his foot down and knock some sense into Josh, but that didn’t happen. In a way, I think Josh never had it in him to leave Ira.

With how the movie ended, I think the narrative wants to say that Ira and Josh had a happy ending. But I disagree. They simply opened a new chapter in their already problematic relationship. I felt sad as the credits rolled. Again, most people are familiar with such couples.

Before I finish my review, I want to talk about a (possible) creative decision that stood out to me. I don’t know if it was the link to the screener I had access to or not, but for some reason, this movie was devoid of a score. There were lengthy scenes where the only sound came from the actors saying their lines. There’s no background music or anything to set the mood. The absence of the score, in such a manner, added to the awkward and creepy vibes.

I mean, when it comes to real life, none of us have a score playing in the background to complement our feelings during a particular moment. It’s just our facial expressions and our natural voices during interactions.

I want to chalk the absence of a score up to be a deliberate omission by Arnold to make this film feel more authentic, but I’m unsure. Anyway, I just wanted to mention it because it really stood out to me. I had to make sure my headphones were functioning properly.

Take note; Shoulder Dance does include rear nudity and an intense sexual scene between Ira and Josh that goes on for quite a bit. It also has prolonged scenes of drug use.

From Breaking Glass Pictures, Shoulder Dance was released on Digital platforms on November 14, 2023.

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Author: Farid-ul-Haq

Farid has a Double Masters in Psychology and Biotechnology as well as an M.Phil in Molecular Genetics. He is the author of numerous books including Missing in Somerville, and The Game Master of Somerville. He gives us insight into comics, books, TV shows, anime/manga, video games, and movies.

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