Directed by Campbell X
Stud Life isn’t a misnomer if you know your way around the esoteric and complicated slang of its setting. In London, ‘stud’ is a colloquial term a butchy lesbian, and both concepts aren’t mutually exclusive, by the way. And it also seems that it is applicable to masculine lesbians of colour who wear their pants low like boys in the hood do, just like the movie’s protagonist JJ. She takes professional pictures of newlywed couples – gay, straight, trans, whatever – who seem to have married out of convenience. She also lives and shares a bed with her assistant, a white femmy quasi-hipster named Seb, both characters living comfortably and platonically together since they can’t yet find their ideal partners of the same sex. Well, Seb has a drug dealer named Smack Jack, a daintier version of Seb yearning for a love that Seb doesn’t want to return.
JJ’s loneliness won’t last long, as she, Seb and Jack enter a sequence with one of the most forgivably lowest production values I’ve ever seen in a shoestring movie. All decked out in club wear, they stand in front of what I swear looks like a storefront if not a friend’s brownstone townhouse. But they hire a tall guy with a suit and a Bluetooth earpiece and make it look like a club. Inside the club, with a whopping head count of twenty-ish patrons, is a woman named Elle who catches JJ’s eye. They meet again in another one of her wedding gigs, where they actually establish contact and arrange to go on one of many dates to come.
Being the secretive yet friskier of the two, Elle becomes a person JJ loves yet secretly fears. In this vein, can Elle stand as a character of her own or is she just a projection of JJ’s trepidations about ‘mainstream’ lesbian sexuality? If they were a straight couple and if this movie was watched by more people, some audiences would cry out that Elle’s characterization is sexist. The movie, however, gets away with this because it’s a woman writing another woman, which makes me wonder whether it’s always a male gaze when we’re looking at a woman on screen.
Anyway, JJ and Elle’s relationship is a starting point on JJ’s open discussions on being a lesbian. JJ posts videos on Myspace asking her invisible audience about how homosexuality complicated one’s expression of love towards another, whether in the bedroom or otherwise. And this movie does follow the rom-com formula of meetcute-love-separation-reunion, but there are enough permutations and observations of human behaviour in between those steps that prove the movie’s specificity.
There’s also the East End slang that reminds me of TV shows like Bromwell High and movies like Attack the Block. It doesn’t matter if JJ and Seb get gay bashed in their hood, they still love and represent it. They know that they’re still welcomed by others in the community through themselves, their friends, lovers and some neighbours. Without regionally tokenizing the characters, the movie presents a much-needed voice that queer audiences need to hear.