Mitch is a male dancer who goes by the name “Midnight Train” and works for a club that is in dire financial straits. He is sent out to a solo gig for a birthday party, but when he arrives dressed in his cop costume, he finds himself unexpectedly thrust into a criminal underworld.
In order to save himself, he’s got to entertain the criminals with his dance skills, all while his fellow dancers at the club wait for him to join them for an evening routine later on. But when he sees an opportunity to escape and save the club, he risks everything to take it.
Writer-director and lead actor Mike Carreon’s amiable short comedy is a loose, goofy good time of an absurdist narrative, featuring strikingly stylized visuals and a healthy dose of body positivity at its core.
With its elements of crime and its main character’s profession as an “adult entertainer,” the narrative is a riff on the noir genre on paper. These elements inform the visual approach, which has a luridly glamorous yet seedy look, infused with colorful neons and gleaming lights reflecting on shiny leather and mirrors.
The execution of the storytelling, though, is definitely not dramatic, as the action takes plenty of pauses from the events to add a slapstick touch when it can. The story hops and skips from one plot development to the next, less concerned with developing taut narrative tension than with taking time to exploit the absurdity of each genre trope it leapfrogs over.
The performances, too, balance this line between silliness and groundedness. The secondary characters are played broadly, but as the main character, Carreon keeps his performance true to each moment, though he really goes for it when it comes to the dancing aspect of his character. Yet while the humor he generates pokes fun at the very idea of stripping in the first place — just the cop costume that Mitch wears is enough to laugh at — it never uses his body as the punchline of the joke itself or the sole basis of Mitch’s character. Instead, the humor here remains mostly situational, and as Mitch risks himself to escape his predicament and save the club, the film takes on a celebratory spirit.
“Hard-ish Bodies” is a surprisingly winsome film, generating goodwill for its portrayal of a world where no one bats an eye at a plus-sized male dancer, and even the bad guys aren’t so bad. It gives anyone the benefit of the doubt, and the grace to be imperfect and silly.
It’s also a master class on how physical comedy can be inclusive of all bodies without making the shapes of these bodies into the (pardon the unintended pun) butt of the joke. We can always laugh at ourselves, our foibles and the ridiculous things that humankind can come up with, but without denigrating those selves and identities. Laughter then becomes not a weapon of cruelty and oppression, but part of the soundtrack to celebration and self-love.