Tag: lgbtq

Solo


Solo (2013)
★ / ★★★★

Having just ended his previous relationship, Manuel (Patricio Ramos) visits a chatroom with the intention of hooking up with another guy around the area. Julio (Mario Verón) agrees to meet with him and the two appear too hit off immediately. But after being intimate, Manuel begins to suspect that the man he picked up might be lying about who he is and the circumstances surrounding their chance meeting.

“Solo” is a would-be mystery-thriller that is overlong and occasionally laughable. The plot likens that of pornography with bad dialogue sandwiched between physical softcore-porn intimacy. While the two performers do share a bit of chemistry, they do not stand a chance against a ridiculous script and lackadaisical direction.

The house where the majority of the movie takes place looks like a film studio. When the two characters converse, which is filled with platitudes, I found myself noticing the non-lived in state of the tables, chairs, and television. Because the items and other knickknacks surrounding the two leads are not convincing, we are all the more detached from what is supposed to be happening. We do not buy into the story being told.

Writer-director Marcelo Briem Stamm fails to establish a taut and convincing rising action that serves as a segue between drama and psychological thriller. And so when the picture crosses to the latter genre, we are not invested in what is unfolding. Instead, we feel like we are being played with and we come up with ways to outsmart the material. And let me tell you: my mind came up with more creative scenarios than what is eventually unveiled.

Perhaps the picture’s biggest weakness is its dialogue. It is highly repetitive and so when certain lines come up more than once, it is a surefire signal that it will be important later on. People with an IQ higher than 50 are likely able to predict the generic twist. It offers absolutely nothing new to the dramatic thriller sub-genre. Why make it at all?

It might have worked as a commentary of the dangers of online hook-ups. However, the film is neither satirical nor serious enough to directly acknowledge the issue. It is a shame because real adults get hurt, get duped, and get diseases because they do not take the necessary precautions as long as an itch gets satisfied.

“Solo” shows nothing profound or stimulating. It just exists and, sadly, there are audiences for movies like this. We deserve better.

Pride


Pride (2014)
★★★ / ★★★★

Historical comedy-drama “Pride,” based on the screenplay by Stephen Beresford and directed by Matthew Warchus, is a picture that exudes a lot of joy in humanity. It does a commendable job of juggling more than half a dozen characters, almost all of them fascinating, as it attempts to delve into the many struggles the LGBTQ community experiences in 1984 London as well as the political and economic battles that transpire during the British miners’ strike.

There is great energy in the way the picture is shot. Standouts are moments when the camera stands still and the audience is forced to observe how people interact, whether they are from the same community or from outside of each other’s comfort zones. Conversely, when two people are speaking to one another and they are front center, there is almost always something going on in the background that is worth appreciating. These two approaches construct a most convincing reality. We get the impression that we are looking at real lives unfolding.

Just about all performers offer something special to the project. For instance, Paddy Considine plays one of the leaders of the National Union of Mineworkers. His character, Dai, is the first to interact with the members of the LGSM (Lesbian and Gays Support the Miners) in person and Considine plays the character with a level of appreciation mixed with a whiff of uneasiness. Because Dai comes from a community where gays and lesbians are hated, feared, looked down upon, we constantly wonder—at least initially—what he’s thinking or whether he really means the words he utters. A highly moving speech at a gay club very early on in the picture is a great surprise.

Most surprising is Jessica Gunning who plays Siân James, a future Welsh politician. American comedy-dramas might have had a joke a two (or ten) about the character’s weight or something along the lines of such foolishness but not here. Gunning plays Siân with charisma, intelligence, and fierce personality. Small moments when we see her serving her community go a long way. There is purpose in the way she moves, the way she looks at people, how she communicates her words. I found that when she is not on screen, my mind would go to her and wonder about her next great line delivery.

The film might have improved in ironing out the struggles of Mark Ashton (Ben Schnetzer), founder of the LGSM, especially during the third act where Mark undergoes a sudden and heavy demoralization. I found the change confusing, unconvincing, and quite out of character for something so strong, vibrant, outspoken. I felt as though perhaps there were two or three scenes that did not make it through the cutting floor that should have made it into the final product. Still, Schnetzer is a solid casting choice because he has a commanding presence.

“Pride” explores just about every definition of the word and what it means to the LGBTQ community and miners community, including those who hate a particular group. Though the film has a dramatic core, it also offers plenty of hilarious moments especially when older, Welsh ladies (spearheaded by the great Imelda Staunton) visit different kinds of gay bars or clubs. Viewers are challenged not to smile when very masculine, “man’s man” miners (and their wives) are entertained by a drag-queen-at-heart as he performs a disco number.

Front Cover


Front Cover (2015)
★★ / ★★★★

Very few movies, mainstream or independent, truly capture the Asian-American experience in modern America. Too often, to the point where it is almost insulting, Asians—including “Americanized” Asian characters to a degree—are not only depicted as stereotypes, their experiences are only ever glossed over for many of them are written to function merely as sidekicks and therefore treated as less important even though at times their subplots are far more compelling than their cis, white counterparts.

For a while, “Front Cover,” written and directed by Ray Yeung, shows promise, but its power is diminished noticeably during the second half. Notice how the final twenty to thirty minutes drags. This is because the machination of the LGBT-themed romantic drama is on full gear. The statements the writer-director wishes to make are carefully brushed to the side in order to focus on romantic feelings—so silly when compared to what the movie is truly about: ethnic identity, sexual identity, being a minority—still—in the diverse world of fashion.

Standout scenes involve the camera, capturing the shame Ryan (Jake Choi) feels when reminded that he is considered by others to have an ethnic identity. Non-white. We observe his self-whitewashing from the music he listens to, the clothes he wears, the type of food or drink he orders in restaurants, how he looks condescendingly at others who are in touch and proud of their roots. I admired that we are supposed to question at first whether to root for the main character rather than simply forcing us to default on what we come to expect.

What makes the story worth telling is how Ryan, who is quite proud to wear the label “potato queen,” an ethnic gay man who is attracted only, or for the most part, to white men, meets Ning (James Chen), a rising movie star in China. The former, a stylist, is assigned to make the actor look chic by western standards. It is interesting how even though these characters are both Chinese, there is a culture clash. When they disagree and there is friction between their ideals, the picture is alive. It is most unfortunate that their conflict is doused too soon.

Writers of LGBTQ-themed movies tend to feel as though they must have a romantic hook somewhere, anywhere in order to keep their audiences captivated. This is why many films in the genre do not turn out as great as they could have been. This movie is one of them. Although the romance here has a twist, and performers do share a strong chemistry, it might have been more interesting if the flirtations between Ryan and Ning were left to the viewers’ imaginations. Why can’t a straight man and a gay man just share something intimate between unlikely friends? Must everything be reduced to a beautifully lighted, well-photographed, creatively edited love scene?

“Front Cover” might have made more of an impact and, more importantly, been a better picture if the writer-director had made a statement piece. There are enough compromises here that made me consider that perhaps it is not the movie that Yeung wanted to make. In its attempt to try to get more people to see it, it had lost some of its fascinating identity.

Take Me to the River


Take Me to the River (2015)
★★★★ / ★★★★

At least once we have all been in a situation where we realize suddenly that we are in the middle of something that can go very wrong at any second. Feelings of anxiety and dread soon follow. They attempt to overwhelm the body, but the mind insists to run as far away—and as quickly—as possible. “Take Me to the River,” written and directed by Matt Sobel, perfectly captures this quandary. Although it is a drama in its core, the film stands strong alongside the best suspense pictures of any year.

The plot is deceptively simple but effective. A family of three from California drive to Nebraska for a family reunion. Their conversation in the car point to a possible source of conflict between city and country; Ryder (Logan Miller) is gay and he wishes to make minimal effort in hiding who he is around his relatives despite his parents (Robin Weigert, Richard Schiff) imploring him to consider otherwise. The expectation of the seventeen-year-old receiving condemnation for his sexuality is a constant source of tension. This piece supports that movies containing a similar plot are not only consistently not fresh, when faced with it we have been conditioned to go on autopilot.

Here is a film that upends expectations. We believe it is about one thing but maybe it is about another, or even several things altogether. To cast a relative unknown like Miller is a great decision because many of us are not yet familiar with how the performer conveys his character’s thoughts and emotions. This is absolutely not the kind of role for someone who is exceedingly good-looking or extremely quirky. It is for someone who looks sort of ordinary but one who nonetheless commands a high level of control: convey subtlety but not so subtle that the protagonist ends up boring or one-dimensional.

Certain images are downright sinister—and without context they are peaceful, alluring. For example, as Ryder is on a horse among a field of yellow flowers dancing along the wind, we suspect violence to exacted somehow. As he sleeps in an isolated barn at night, anybody can so easily sneak up on him, beat him, kill him. Even a quiet river poses a threat. We look at the trees, shrubs, and shadowy areas nearby. Is anybody hiding there?

Sobel creates a magnetic rhythm that keeps us off-balance for the entire duration of the picture—quite a feat because many filmmakers do not even bother to take their time to establish or create meaningful, rich context for whatever it is they wish to communicate let alone to make sure there is music during unbearable silences.

The picture is clearly for viewers who like to search the screen for the minute details, to dig deep, to consider challenging implications when certain actions are undertaken, like characters looking at one another in a certain tension-filled way, or when they touch, or the manner in which certain phrases are expressed in order to inflict as much psychological damage as possible. Sometimes horror comes in the form of us simply thinking of the possibility that another person knows what they should not and suspecting that they are threatening surreptitiously to unveil it.

Fourth Man Out


Fourth Man Out (2015)
★★★ / ★★★★

LGBTQ movies are usually solely about the person coming out of the closet. A case can be made that “Fourth Man Out,” written by Aaron Dancik and directed by Andrew Nackman, is an exception to the expected because although it is about a man revealing to his best friends that he is gay, the story is equally about the people receiving the news. Despite being a comedy, the picture surprises in that it is able to hit honest, dramatic moments that feels exactly right for the story being told. There are even moments when chuckles simultaneously occur or are followed immediately by painful truths and implications.

On his 24th birthday, Adam (Evan Todd) plans to tell his three closest friends (Parker Young, Chord Overstreet, Jon Gabrus), who are straight and every much “bro,” that he is gay. He fears that by coming out to them, their friendship would change and he would no longer be part of the group considering they have been accustomed to making gay jokes and saying certain phrases, albeit generally harmless ones, from time to time. Adam is right: The dynamic of the group will change inevitably but not exactly in ways he expected.

The material is willing to show how heterosexual males might react in real life if they found out that one of buddies is gay. There is denial, disbelief, and fear of being wanted “in that way,” but it is almost miraculous that these feelings are pulled off with charm and grace. We understand right away why they might be feeling this way especially because, even though they live in upstate New York, they live in a small town where it might as well be a bubble.

Adam’s friends are very much good-natured, but it is interesting to observe at which point they decide to be onboard, to make more of an effort so that Adam would not feel awkward following his life-changing revelation. Each of them is given a superficial but amusing coping mechanism in the meantime. Particularly funny is Overstreet’s character, Nick, deciding to read up on the fluidity of sexuality and learning about hookup apps like Grindr.

At first, Nick’s attempts are meant to camouflage his uncomfortable feelings around Adam. Later on, he actually shows genuine interest in the topics he reads about. It would be interesting to see Overstreet fare in a modern silent picture because his comic timing with body language and facial expressions is on point here.

The heart of the picture is Adam’s relationship with his best best friend—I enjoyed that it is also honest about the fact that even within one’s best friend circle, one usually has a main go-to person—which is a tricky thing to pull off without relying on the same clichés and outcomes. Instead, it uses an expected strand like Chris deciding to help Adam find the right guy to date while dealing with looking for the right girl to date himself. He is ready for a serious relationship. Credit to the writer for finding a way to find a different spin on a trite subplot. It is suggested that Chris relates to Adam not only because they are friends but, more importantly, he recognizes a loneliness in Adam that he himself wrestles with despite partaking in serial dating and hookups.

There is a maturity about the picture regardless of its characters’ occasional immaturity. This is because the material is not afraid to tackle real feelings expressed among men who share a strong bond. Jokes just happen to be dispersed throughout. Compare this to mainstream films about coming out. The latter is likely to be louder, more colorful, cruder, meaner, and more prone to unfunny caricatures. A lighter touch goes a long way.

Stonewall


Stonewall (2015)
★ / ★★★★

The failure of “Stonewall,” written by Jon Robin Baitz and directed by Roland Emmerich, lies in the fact that it never gathers the dramatic momentum required to show the audience why the Stonewall riots is arguably the most important event that triggered the gay liberation movement in the U.S. It is curious because the film has essentially two chances to build a cathartic climax using the lead protagonist as the conduit of a revolution.

Danny Winters (Jeremy Irvine) is an all-American teenager from Indiana who runs away to New York City a few months prior to his first year in Columbia University. A series of flashbacks reveal that his reason for leaving home is homophobia from his peers and friends at school, even from his own family. During Danny’s first day in the big city, he is befriended by a colorful street hustler named Ray (Jonny Beauchamp). But NYC is no safe haven. It turns out that homophobia in the city is magnified, sometimes violent.

There are many scenes that ought to have been rewritten because the dialogue comes across corny, forced, and downright silly. Irvine, a performer who is proficient when it comes to delivering subtle emotions and building layers to his characters the longer the camera rests on his face, looks awkward, a fish out of water, barely able to make sense of what his character wishes to communicate or accomplish. The script’s overall disconnect is so palpable, during the key Stonewall sequences I found myself either laughing out loud or burying my face in my hands out of shame and disbelief.

The picture hopes to make a tribute to the unsung heroes of the Stonewall riots, but none of them are particularly engaging or interesting. Danny interacts with various LGBTQ street kids, older gay males who wish to make a change through a more peaceful means, and policemen with varying motivations, but these scenes are not engrossing, merely decorations to service the plot. It would have been an interesting approach if the lead character had been muted at times, serving as an accessory, when the figures with whom we are supposed to pay attention to are front and center. Instead, just about everybody is so dull, they end up blending into one another.

A few flashbacks command a whiff of resonance but they are evanescent. There is a level of genuine yearning in the moments between Danny and his secret lover from school (Karl Glusman), but it is clear that what they have—whatever it is—will lead only to pain and heartbreak. Thus, I was somewhat moved by Joe and Danny’s reunion toward in the end—one in chains while the other is free. These two souls might have spent their lives together in another place and time. But not in this story.

“Stonewall” paints a rather bland picture when it should have been full of color, personality, and, perhaps most importantly, rage. Halfway through the film I considered how filmmakers like John Cameron Mitchell or Bernardo Bertolucci might have taken the material to more daring, complex, vibrant, and emotional avenues.

Tangerine


Tangerine (2015)
★★★ / ★★★★

“Tangerine,” directed by Sean Baker, is a bawdy, energetic, independent picture about transgender prostitutes in Los Angeles, California but it is never cheap, sentimental, or cloying when it comes to the messages it attempts to portray about the harsh realities of working a street corner. It is highly dialogue-driven and very funny from beginning to end but peer closely and you will see a humanity behind an occupation often seen as less than, disgusting, or immoral.

Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) has just gotten out of a twenty-eight-day prison sentence. She meets her best friend, Alexandra (Mya Taylor), at a donut shop to catch up, and is accidentally informed that Sin-Dee’s pimp/boyfriend, Chester (James Ransone), has had sexual relations with another prostitute. To add insult to injury, this prostitute is a “real, white fish,” meaning a caucasian prostitute who is born a woman. Sin-Dee is enraged, determined to find the girl and confront Chester about his indiscretion.

The picture puts a human face behind prostitutes who happen to be transgender. Effortless is the way it portrays the friendship between Sin-Dee and Alexandra. It helps that the two leading performers were friends prior to filming so their chemistry is authentic. They tend to respond to each other’s dialogue with verve and electric simplicity that it feels as though their exchanges can be overheard at any time, any place.

Notice the way the soundtrack is utilized. It often matches the feeling or state of mind a character embodies or undergoes as she races toward an establishment or sits at a bench and waits for the bus. In less capable hands, the use of music in such a manner would have been distracting. Instead, although many things are going on at once, there is a level of control here. It employs just enough number of pauses in order to give us a chance to catch up to its wavelength.

The shining moment of the film is arguably Alexandra’s night performance at a bar. It is symbolic about friendship, solidarity (or lack thereof) amongst a marginalized but often unfairly maligned community and long-term, perhaps unreachable goals. Taylor plays the calmer character relative to her counterpart, but her unperturbed demeanor is exactly what is needed for a believable and interesting partnership.

Written by Sean Baker and Chris Bergoch, “Tangerine” looks, sounds, and feels real—quite a feat for a work shot using only three iPhone 5s. It is a great example of budgetary constraints helping to elevate a film because the filmmakers, in some ways, are forced to be more creative or focus on other elements that might enhance a scene. Smart choices are abound here and what results is a work that feels very much alive.

Children of God


Children of God (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★

“Children of God,” written and directed by Kareem Mortimer, is a different kind of LGBTQ film because not once does it use overt sexuality to titillate or—worse—as an excuse to tell yet another coming out story with not much to say. This is a film for mature adults because it opens up a discussion about the hypocrisy in our society. Not one strand is left resolved; some characters do not change and it is likely that they never will.

Johnny (Johnny Roberts) is a painter who agrees to spend a couple of days in Eleuthera because his instructor feels that he needs to find his voice again. On the ferry there, Johnny comes across a former classmate, Romeo (Stephen Tyrone Williams), who is coming back from his grandmother’s eightieth birthday celebration. Because Romeo is familiar with the island, he offers to accompany Johnny at the next good opportunity.

There is a subplot that involves a pastor (Mark Richard Ford) and his wife (Margaret Laurena Kemp)—the former a closet homosexual and the latter a devoutly religious woman with a knack for anti-gay rhetoric. Although this strand is essential in order to show the hypocrisy within a religious community, it is not fully developed. I wanted to get to know Ralph and Lena as people, but they are defined solely by what they do or say when around others. Thus, they do not feel like complete characters but caricatures with some dimension to them.

There is, however, a highly effective scene toward the end which takes place at a dinner table amongst friends. The dynamics between the couple are so unpredictable at times, coupled with solid performances by Ford and Kemp, that just about every word or sentence they say to one another is a potential source of trouble. Ralph and Lena could have had their own film and, with further development, I would be fascinated.

As for the romance between Johnny and Romeo, it is handled in a way that their interactions are almost spiritual. The scenes are deliberately slow-moving as to cherish how they move relative to one another, the distance between their torsos, the contrast between the colors of their skin, the longing looks they give each other. The whole thing is like an elegant and poetic dance. I was transfixed at the beauty of the Bahamian beaches during daylight and the simmering energy between the two characters. Roberts and Williams have done a great job in not delivering sleazy performances. It felt real.

There are other details worth noticing. Note that when the pastor and his wife’s son (Aijalon Coley) speaks, it almost always reflects what he has been taught by his parents. He thinks it is not acceptable for boys to play with dolls because these are “girl toys.” A reverend (Van Brown) assures him that this is not so because toys merely serve as a conduit to one’s imagination. Later, the same boy warns his father that he should not be holding a cup a certain way because it is not masculine.

“Children of God” has a lot of sadness in it but right beside them are truths about our society right now—the Bahamian setting serving as a microcosm. At one point, a mother tells her son that she wishes he “only had a drug problem” rather than a “gay problem”—as if to imply that both were treatable, that one could choose to be an alcoholic and one could choose to be a homosexual. This film holds a mirror to our society and it is appropriate that we have a reaction to the ugliness, lack of empathy, and hypocrisy.

Life Partners


Life Partners (2014)
★★★ / ★★★★

Sasha (Leighton Meester) and Paige (Gillian Jacobs) are attached-to-the-hip close when it comes to their friendship. When Paige started dating a dermatologist (Adam Brody) who is funny, attentive and is clearly looking for a long-term relationship, Sasha begins to feel threatened because none of Paige’s former dates or boyfriends have ever been so serious. Sasha, a lesbian, decides to date other women with the goal of recapturing the closeness she had with Paige, but not one of them appears to be a perfect fit. This causes a strain in the women’s relationship.

Written by Susanna Fogel and Joni Lefkowitz, “Life Partners” may, at first glance, appear to be yet another LGBTQ comedy-drama about the trials and tribulations of what it means to be single, gay, and almost thirty, but the material is truly about friendship more than any other label. It is the kind of picture that many will be able to relate with, even if the main characters are women, because we all have that fear of losing a very close friend when someone of importance—possibly of even more importance somewhere down the line—comes along. In essence, it is about being able to adapt to change.

This inability is communicated through Sasha’s reluctance to pursue her goal of becoming a musician. Although she works at a job she dislikes and feels ashamed for still being supported by her parents financially, she partakes in a cycle of humdrum, what is comfortable rather than taking on challenges that might lead to something bigger. This is where Meester’s performance comes in.

I was surprised by the actor’s simplicity and grace. Sasha is not a stereotype because she is portrayed as both masculine and feminine, secure and insecure, a kind person in general but is not above lying through her teeth when situations get tough. Most often, it is less work to rely on extremes to create a character. Sasha is supposed to be immature and Meester communicates that quality without judgment, only with honesty. Thus, I liked Sasha and wished that things would work out for her even though the decisions she makes are not always wise with respect to where she wants to be or hopes to attain.

The friendship between the two women is somewhat sitcom-like at times, often bonding over marathons of “America’s Next Top Model” and poking fun of people in social media apps, but I found that there is a grain of truth in these situations because I know girls like them. They are so close, they are almost soul sisters. We feel they share a common history which proves a challenge to establish compared to similar movies of its type.

Directed by Susanna Fogel, “Life Partners” is at its best when it deals with real situations like two best friends clashing because it is tough to let go a little bit of a former lifestyle. When wounds are still fresh, they get back together because they feel they owe it to themselves and each other since they have a history. We expect their friendship to recover only for the wounds to become lacerated again—this time a little deeper and it hurts a little more. We question if the two could go back to the ways things were… or whether if it would be right for them to do so.

Monster Pies


Monster Pies (2013)
★★ / ★★★★

Written and directed by Lee Galea, “Monster Pies” is a bit of a mess as whole but if one were to look carefully at more than a handful of individual scenes, one would likely discover genuine moments that deal with real emotions, questions, and issues. Despite the fact that the picture looks like a low budget film, it feels more than that at times.

Mike (Tristan Barr) is gay and is discreet about it—for good reasons. He is a high school student with not very many friends in the first place and it does not help that there is another boy who calls him insulting names at every opportunity. His parents are divorced and he fears that they might not accept who he is if he were to come out. Fortuitous then is the arrival of William (Lucas Linehan) in English class, a new boy at school with an overbearing father, to say the least, and a complicated home life. William, too, is a homosexual and the two form an immediate connection.

Most of the subplots and all of the supporting characters are undercooked. For instance, Mike’s only friend is painted as a typical hormonal girl who gets jealous and angry after she notices that Mike is spending less time with her and more time with the new boy in school. Mike must have a reason to have been friends with her in the first place but the material fails to allow us to appreciate who she is or what she is about even though she is in the wrong to be upset without trying to communicate first.

William’s father, too, is one-dimensional, a typical growly tough guy who expects his son to be a “man.” We can put together one or two pieces of information as to why he might be the way he is, but the screenplay establishes no believable arc to make us want to discover what is underneath the monster suit. It would have been most appropriate because Mike and William were assigned to create a project involving a rendition of Williams Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” The duo comes up with an idea of making a monster film through the lens of the play.

Barr and Linehan do share some chemistry which is very necessary because, after all, the picture aims to tell a sort of love story. “Sort of” because I think it is more about yearnings and awakenings than a conventional meet-cute romance. There is a twist late in the picture which, initially, I thought was a terrible misstep. I changed my mind, however, when the material continues to tell its story and evolve rather than fading to black at an expected or familiar time point.

“Monster Pies” does not do anything to move the genre forward. It is imperfect, frustrating at times, and it needs further rewrites to allow the story to function on a higher level. However, patient viewers who crave LGBTQ movies can and, I think, will appreciate the small moments when the material punches through exactly where it should.

The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love


The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love (1995)
★★ / ★★★★

Randy (Laurel Holloman) is known by her classmates as both a slacker and a lesbian who with lives with her aunt (Kate Stafford) and her aunt’s girlfriend (Sabrina Artel). She is a pariah whose only friend is Frank (Nelson Rodríguez) who also happens to be gay. When Evie (Nicole Ari Parker) pulls over her Range Rover at the gas station where Randy works, the two seem to get on quite quickly. Even though they go to the same school, it is the first time that they are actually able to see each other as people who might share similar interests rather than just classmates who only know of each other.

Written and directed by Maria Maggenti, “The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love” has good intentions of telling a story of two young women who become attracted to one another, but I could not get past its sitcom-like attempts at being funny. The forced comedy, especially toward the end when everybody clamors, screams, and hollers in front of a motel room, cheapens an otherwise interesting story about teens just trying to get through the last few weeks of high school so they can be free to be whoever they want to be after graduation.

The best scenes involve Evie and her judgmental friends (Katlin Tyler, Anna Padgett, Chelsea Catthouse) hanging out in a diner. The girls’ questions and assumptions about how it is like to be a homosexual and what it means to be one may sound downright stupid to the open-minded and those who have experience with diversity, but I have heard people in high school talk exactly like them.

Evie and her friends have two key scenes. The first is when word goes around that Evie and Randy are spotted hanging out after school. The friends call Randy “diesel dyke” and other names that are supposed to be witty but deep down coming from a place of bigotry. Evie, a smart, well-spoken seventeen-year-old who lives in a lavish household, is comfortable enough to tell her friends that they are essentially being idiots.

The second scene is when Evie summons enough courage to come out to them. It is shot in an obvious manner, the three girls sitting on one side of the table facing Evie, but the pain of suddenly realizing a friend’s true nature is captured with clarity. Whenever the material focuses on the social repercussions of coming out, the film has something important to say about the gay youth experience.

However, the chemistry between Holloman and Parker left me somewhat cold. The actors have chemistry but the picture does not allow it to gather momentum without interruption. Instead of allowing us to get into the drama of their secret affair, their courtship is consistently interrupted by the aforementioned sitcom elements: Randy is apparently seeing a married woman (Maggie Moore) while Evie has recently broken up with his needy boyfriend (Andrew Wright).

I did not understand why there must be so many hackneyed subplots that do not contribute to the film’s deeper messages and intentions. The overcompensation underlines the lack of confidence the writer-director has toward her work. If “The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love” had allowed the comedy to naturally seep through the awkward and sweet phases of a budding gay relationship, it would have reflected real life instead of merely an after school special.

Bridegroom


Bridegroom (2013)
★★★★ / ★★★★

When Thomas Bridegroom died after accidentally falling off a roof of an apartment building, his family banned Shane Crone, Tom’s partner of six years, from attending the funeral. Director Linda Bloodworth-Thomason tracks the history of Shane and Tom as kids growing up in Montana and Indiana, respectively, as teenagers following very different paths, as young adults meeting in California, up to the aftermath of Tom’s death.

It is very necessary that we get to know Shane and Tom as separate people before diving into the details of their relationship. What better way to do this than to divulge how the two men were like as children and what they had to go through growing up being gay in small towns where homosexuals were (and are) seen as less than and households that did not (or do not) understand what being gay meant. There are recollections of Shane being bullied at school but the more specific details allow the documentary to stand out.

For example, when Shane was a little boy, he expressed to his mother that he thought he had AIDS simply because he had seen Jonathan Demme’s “Philadelphia” and the main character, played by Tom Hanks, is a gay man with the disease. By providing us that detail, it puts us into the mindset of a child who is afraid, a child who is ashamed that he is different, a child who does not yet know how to express that he is attracted to other boys.

Tom’s story is a direct contrast against Shane’s. Tom was a guy that everybody loved, from his good looks to his charming personality as well as his high level of empathy. In a way, the film suggests that he was able to channel a lot of the negative feelings he had for being gay into whatever he must or wanted to accomplish, from attending military school, becoming a model and an actor, to establishing a business.

Since the two are so different and yet were able to find enough commonalities to share something beyond intimacy, one cannot help but fall in love with them as couple. I was very moved by their home videos because it is easy to tell not only how much they adored each other but also how happy and free they were to be in each other’s presence. They were the kind of couple you root for to get old together. A lot of of fictional romantic comedy-drama movies prove too often that it is very difficult to convey those feelings. Here, it is shown in a real way, so romantic that the tragedy is that much more painful.

After the film, I wanted to know if Tom’s parents had spoken out about their decision to prevent Shane from attending Tom’s funeral. (They were asked to be interviewed for the film but had not responded.) I read some posts or articles saying or suggesting that Shane had the worst parents. I feel it is not my place to judge. However, I do want to understand.

I understand that they are devoutly religious and whatever the Bible says is always the bottom line. But what about their own morals—separate from what the text suggests that they do or say or think? For me, personally, there must be a separation. Because if there isn’t, then, to me, it is an irrational way to live’s one life, a state of being—for the lack of a better word—brainwashed.

Couldn’t Tom’s parents have thought, “If were dead and my wife or husband was banned from my funeral, would I like that? Would I feel respected during my final hours above ground?” I felt sad for Tom and Shane’s beautiful relationship being cut short but I was also saddened by Tom’s parents’ inability to love their son for who he was completely. In my eyes, they did not honor their son. They continued to deprive him of what they should have given him in the first place: unconditional love. If they had allowed Shane to attend the funeral, they would have given Tom what they couldn’t. Instead, they chose to be selfish. My heart sank because the corpse that they put in that ground deserved so much more.

In the Family


In the Family (2011)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Directorial debuts can be predictable these days. In order to come off confident, first feature filmmakers tend to veer toward exaggeration: big explosions, swaggering shootouts, verbose and quirky dialogue, heavy-handed symbolisms. So it very interesting that writer-director Patrick Wang chooses a path less traveled. “In the Family” is almost three hours long, there is no score, the dialogue is sparse but effective, and there are plenty of long takes designed to simply show lives being lived.

Several weeks after Cody (Trevor St. John) passes away in the hospital after a car accident, his sister, Eileen (Kelly McAndrew), tells Joey (Patrick Wang), Cody’s live-in boyfriend, that the will Cody has left clearly states that all his money and possessions are to be transferred to Eileen’s name. In addition, Cody’s biological son, Chip (Sebastian Banes), is to be placed under his aunt’s custody. However, this will was written in 2002–years before Cody and Joey met–and was never updated. The young boy has grown to love Joey that he is referred to as “Dad.” Though Joey wants Chip back, there is no law that officially considers Joey as a part of Cody’s family.

Almost immediately, it is established that the camera is there to observe unblinkingly. We watch Cody, Joey, and Chip go about their every day at work, in the car, and at home. They are not a family we often see in television sitcoms or mainstream movies where everyone is always jumping around screaming and with a joke to say every other minute. Instead, there are a lot of silence moments when we can feel that they are happy and comfortable simply being around each other’s company.

We see Cody and Joey being parents and parenting. Though they are a same-sex interracial couple, the picture makes a point that what they share is just like so-called traditional relationships. They may look tired at the end of the day but they constantly try to be there for each other. By playing it small, we are given a chance to really absorb what we are seeing. Replace Cody or Joey with a woman and the dynamic of household is unaltered.

The story takes place in Tennessee. The easier route is to show Joey and Cody receiving looks of disapproval when they walk down the street or someone they know confronting them about their homosexual lifestyle and spewing execration. But the screenplay is smarter and more ambitious than that.

While the stench of bigotry can be detected occasionally, like the early scene in the hospital involving a nurse, the big question is whether Cody’s family considers Joey to be a part of them in the first place. How do we determine this? Through what they take away? What they say or not say? There are a few things more painful than a person waking up one day and learning that the people one considers family are now, essentially, strangers–people who wish to take away the one thing one values most.

There is no villain here: only two camps that feel very hurt, angry, and in grief. Though Eileen’s actions may seem cruel, with a bit of effort we can understand that she just wants a piece of Cody, too. In her mind, the will, even though it is dated, is a symbol of her brother’s approval: that he trusts her and loves her so much that she is chosen to act on his behalf. Since Joey is in the way of what she values, naturally, there is conflict.

The film culminates at a deposition. To reveal anything about what is discussed and how would be unfair. While the result lingers in the back of our minds, we are carried away by a well-written script: what and how questions are asked, the reaction of the person being interviewed while on record, what is verbalized and in what manner. It is interested in presenting details and so we look a little closer and hang onto every beat.