FF2 Guest post by Muffy Koster
Prominent Chicago actress, director, and LGBTQ advocate Delia Kropp makes her feature film debut in Landlocked, a heartfelt story of reconnection from indie director Timothy Hall. The film follows “Nick” (Dustin Gooch), an aspiring restaurateur, and his estranged mother “Briana” (Kropp), a transgender woman, as they reunite over the course of a road trip to scatter the ashes of Nick’s other, cisgender mother.
Kropp’s path to her first major on-screen performance has been a winding one. She began her creative career as a visual artist but was quickly drawn to the stage, where she trained and worked for over 30 years. In 2006, she stepped out of the limelight to focus on her gender transition, a sabbatical that lasted nearly ten years. In 2015, when she was again ready for the theatre and vice versa, she returned to her artistic career and added her strong voice to the cause of advocating for transgender representation and empowerment in the arts.
Most of Kropp’s experience up until Landlocked had been on stage, which made the film daunting new ground for her. “Oh I was scared,” she told me in an interview. “As far as a narrative [film], this was my first, and definitely the largest thing I’d ever done.”
Despite this, her classical training turned out to be an asset as she tackled a character about whom the audience is given very little context. “What I realized is that stage work has you look at the entire story of the character. And if you start shooting out of sequence, which luckily we really did very little of in Landlocked, but if you do, and if you need to build a backstory which is only partly implied by the script, I’ve already got the tools for doing that.”
While Landlocked is certainly a duet, it is Kropp’s performance that gives the story life. The script is sparse, and as much must be made of the space around the dialogue between mother and son as the words themselves. Kropp’s brilliantly expressive face and voice let viewers in on the depth of exchanges that are mundane on the surface. When Briana calls to Nick through the bathroom door after he becomes ill, she carries in her voice both the polished performance of a woman pursuing a chance at a fresh first impression and the frank familiarity of a parent.
From the moment Kropp’s voice enters the film over her estranged son’s speakerphone, she introduces a necessary warmth. The slow pacing of Landlocked could have languished, as happens sometimes in slice-of-life dramas of this ilk, but Kropp artfully staves off such a fate. Briana is earnest and sentimental from the get-go and is an excellent foil to Nick’s angst-ridden introspection.
There is a complexity to her performance, though it is buried somewhat beneath Nick’s perspective, which cisgender viewers might default to. Throughout the course of Landlocked, Nick repeatedly admits to being put off by Briana’s gentle, good-humored demeanor, so alien from the harsh and distant parent he knew in his childhood. This discrepancy paints Briana as a bit insincere, maybe even fake. Such an accusation against a trans woman might feel loaded, but there’s a truth behind it that warrants a closer look.
Briana is holding something back, as Kropp told me when we spoke, but for her own sake. Just as Nick is testing out the waters with Briana, Kropp explained that “…she’s auditioning him too, emotionally. She’s not gonna go risking a lot of exposure, a lot of hope, too much vulnerability.” Her caution, combined with Nick’s conflict over who he remembers versus who he’s now face-to-face with, is where Landlocked gains its driving tension.
Gooch plays much of Landlocked down and to himself, and barely makes eye contact with Briana for the film’s first half. His reticence to let Briana into his life persists until the very last few moments, so it is up to Kropp to drive the energy of the story forward. What makes her character shine is the delicateness with which she approaches this task. Rather than default to an unyielding positive affect, she plays with Briana’s investment to great success.
“As the action proceeds,” Kropp said, “and Briana learns more, and learns more about Nick’s past, as more of his life enters hers, it becomes almost a struggle with her. That’s what I was trying to get at. Not to hold out too much hope too fast.”
The effect is a self-possessed but very dynamic character, navigating her role in someone else’s story without sacrificing any of the truth of her own. Brava!
© Muffy Koster (11/19/21) Special for FF2 Media, ® LLC
To learn more about Delia Kropp and her work, you can visit her website at www.therealdelia.com.
To keep up with screenings of Landlocked, you can visit the Facebook page here.
CREDITS AND PERMISSIONS
Featured Photo: Delia Kropp and Dustin Gooch in Landlocked.
Bottom Photo: Delia Kropp headshot.
Photos used with permission from Delia Kropp.