“We all have loss,” says Paul Riccio, the director and co-writer of Give or Take, a new feature film shot here on Cape Cod — mostly in Orleans — that will usher in the Provincetown International Film Festival this Tuesday, June 15. “Maybe I’ve had a little more loss than most. My parents were both gone by the time I was 14 years old. I had an older brother pass away. Grieving is a very selfish thing, whether people admit it or not. You feel sorry for yourself because that person is gone. That’s the crux of the story.”
Riccio and his wife, Molly, have been coming to the Cape for the last 20 years, to the house his sister Janet had in Orleans. “I’ve been there in each of the seasons,” he says. “There are great characters on the Cape. I always thought it would be a great place to make a movie.”
A graduate of Boston University’s filmmaking program, Riccio had been working in the industry for years, and had made several short films. Give or Take is his first feature. He wrote it with the actor Jamie Effros, with whom he had worked before.
“It’s about this person who passes away and means so much to these two different men,” he says. “They’re grieving on their own, until they realize there’s a lot in common there.”
The deceased is Kenneth, a high-powered lawyer who had settled into his second home in Orleans when his wife died and lived life as a gay man. His lover, Ted, is a local landscaper and Cape native, played by Broadway star Norbert Leo Butz (a Tony winner for Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Catch Me if You Can). Ted’s sense of loss is entirely different than that of Martin, Kenneth’s grown son, who leaves his girlfriend back in New York City to come to the Cape and tend to his father’s estate. Martin, who is played by co-screenwriter Effros, has a lot of unsettled feelings about his father, and has never met Ted. When he arrives at the house in Orleans and sees his old bedroom turned into a crafting room and eyes Ted walking nude to the outdoor shower, he gets wound up tight.
Riccio says he involved his sister Janet, whose Orleans house became the primary film set, “every step of the way. She was my champion my entire life. I’m the baby of six kids in my family. My sister was diagnosed with ALS in 2016. She deteriorated right in front of us, and died in her sleep in 2019, after the film had wrapped.” Besides her official credits, the film is also dedicated to her, and a part of whatever profits it makes will go to ALS research.
Despite the subject of loss, the film is essentially a comedy. Martin’s awkwardness with his father’s late-in-life open gayness is gently mocked, as are Ted’s many (non-stereotypical) eccentricities. An overzealous local real-estate agent is played by Saturday Night Live alumna Cheri Oteri in a foot brace, upping the silliness ante (in fact, Riccio says, she broke her leg before shooting happened). One of the local barflies is amusingly played by Dennis Cunningham, a veteran of Wellfleet theater productions.
Though the laughs might occasionally be broad, the movie is anything but cartoonish. “Subtlety is more my cup of tea,” Riccio says. “But when you have something emotional, you want to let the audience off the hook a little bit.”
Riccio acknowledges that he shot on a shoestring budget, but “we did a decent job of making it look expensive. We wrote the story knowing we had limitations.”
Give or Take is one of several features and shorts in this year’s film festival, which runs from June 15 through 25, that were either made locally or have a strong Cape connection. (A few will be covered in the next issue of the Independent.) Riccio’s film was ready to be released at festivals last spring, when Covid hit. Its screening at the Wellfleet Drive-In on Tuesday is its in-person public premiere. The location is especially apt, since a scene in the film was shot at the drive-in.
The screening also represents the triumphant return of in-person films for the festival, which was postponed last June, then showed up virtually in the summer. The official opening night attraction arrives Thursday, with a screening of In the Heights, the adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway hit, directed by Jon M. Chu, that’s been racking up rave reviews. There will be other special screenings at the drive-in as well as at the Waters Edge Cinema in Provincetown, though most films will also be available virtually.
The Outer Cape queer community will find much to embrace in the festival, including Give or Take, which sees loss from the points of view of both a straight son and a gay spouse. In one scene, some local fishermen harass Ted on a pier as he takes his boat out. “Ted’s of a certain age, and he probably went to high school with these idiots,” says Riccio. “There’s still small-mindedness in this world, and on the Cape, though people may not realize it. I never wanted it to be a central issue in the film, but the relationship intrigued me. A father and a new girlfriend — I’ve seen that story before. I wanted to tell it a different way. Martin has to come to grips with the fact that his father had this second life.”
Hollywood on the Bay
The event: Screenings of Give or Take and In the Heights, opening events of the Provincetown International Film Festival
The time: Give or Take: Tuesday, June 15, 8:30 p.m.; In the Heights: Wednesday, June 16, 8:30 p.m.
The place: Wellfleet Drive-In, 51 Route 6
The cost: $15; seniors $12; children $10; per ticket; go to provincetownfilm.org