Dan Savage: “We want to let these kids know that joy and happiness is in their futures, too, if they can hang on.”
The following article contains spoilers.
Favorite First Kiss: Jongens (2016) (aka Boys)
It’s tough being a closeted leading man. You’ve bottled everything up and accepted the status quo. Then… bam… you meet your cute male costar and the world is forever changed. Many teen protagonists remain passive, letting the love interest do all the work. Jongens finds a balance between both leads.
Sieger has joined the track team and been courted by his bold teammate Marc. The team has gone swimming at a nearby lake. When the others leave Sieger follows… then doubles back to meet Marc alone. His first act of courage. After some frolicking the camera lifts above their heads. Marc kisses Sieger. Sieger kisses Marc.
Sieger: “I’m not gay.”
Marc: “Of course you’re not.”
Sieger pedals his bike home in a dreamy trance. The frantic soundtrack betrays his racing heart. A dynamic has been set. Uncertain Sieger will continue to advance and retreat as the story progresses. Biking and swimming are common occurrences in gay teen films. They are put to good use here.
Love, Simon: The MTV award winning Ferris wheel kiss.
Skam, Season 3: You can binge-watch this season in about four hours. Please do.
The Way He Looks: Blind Leo gets to not only kiss his crush, but brush his fingertips across his face for the first time.
Worst kiss: The Curiosity of Chance. The story has ended. Chance is kissed by his (straight?) crush. He tells the audience this may not have actually happened. What a tease.
Favorite Coming Out Scene: Sebastian (1995) (aka När alla vet / When everyone knows)
Sebastian’s rage filled protagonist has spent half the film sulking and insulting his parents. Now his folks are away and his best friend, Ulf, has come to visit. First they destroy the kitchen while gorging on cream filled waffles. Next they share a frisky bubble bath and… flood the bathroom. Finally Sebastian works up the courage to kiss Ulf on the mouth. “Stay with me” he cries. Ulf is shocked, SHOCKED, that an innocent evening of cream and bubbles could turn into something carnal. He flees.
The parents return to find a miserable son and a trashed house.
Father: “Are you interested in guys?”
Sebastian: “… I think so… Are you going to throw me out?”
Father: “You watch far too many rotten movies.”
Once Sebastian voices his feelings the film loses its giddy anarchy. Sebastian’s loved ones, even straight Ulf, quickly accept him. There are no bullies. The antagonist was Sebastian’s own self-doubt.
Least favorite: The unfortunate leads of Hidden Kisses are outed when a photo circulates of them kissing. Violent bullying ensues. The focus shifts to the boys contrasting fathers. The blue collar one accepts his son while the wealthy one rejects his. It ends semi-happily but there’s a lot of pain along the way.
Favorite Fall From Grace: Geography Club (2013)
The moment where the protagonist does something terrible to protect their secret. Once they hit rock bottom they must either accept their sexuality or suppress it completely.
Geography Club is a sloppy film filled with tonal missteps. The “romance” is sketchy, the “brave” lesbian activist is a hypocrite and the “comic” best friend is a toxic misogynist. The most successful scene is one that is intentionally ugly. Russell, the closeted protagonist, finds his jock friends bullying Brian; one of the weaker members of the Gay Straight Alliance. They’ve stripped Brian and strapped a bra on him. They hold him to the ground and tell Russell to apply lipstick. He does. Then they shove Brian into the crowded cafeteria.
Russell has done something unforgivable. Still, after he’s outed, Brian forgives him.
Russell: “Why are you being nice to me?”
Brian: “I guess I know what it’s like to walk around scared… Just because people don’t understand me doesn’t mean I don’t understand them.”
Russell knows he’s been forgiven too easily. The shame will lead him to reform.
Other gay characters protect their secrets by:
Telling harmful lies to their friends. Love, Simon. Skam, Season 1.
Treating a woman as their beard. Alex Strangelove, Beach Rats, Geography Club, Jongens, Skam.
Beating up a gay man to impress their friends. Beach Rats, Get Real, Hidden Kisses.
Least favorite: Krampack’s sexual assault is particularly disturbing for its lack of consequence. Dani drugs and rapes a young woman in an attempt to straighten himself out. The moment is never discovered or acknowledged. It poisons the coming of age drama that surrounds it. Oddly most critics ignored this scene. I find that troublesome. Roger Ebert suggested Dani didn’t go through with it. In the print I saw he clearly did.
Favorite Love Scene: Beira-Mar (2015) (aka Seashore)
Most films shy from gay sex. Timothée Chalamet got more play with his girlfriend (and a peach) than he did with Armie Hammer. Beira-Mar’s love scene stands out. Martin has brought his friend Tomas on a road trip to repair their broken friendship. It isn’t working out. Finally Martin asks about Tomas’s coming out experience.
Martin: You knew you liked guys even before being with one?
Tomas: I think so. But when I did it for the first time I knew for sure…
Martin kisses him. Tomas kisses back. They move to the bedroom. Their love-making is tender and refreshingly angst free. A lovely end to a slow burning film.
Boygame (short film): “Honestly, no homo, but…”
Shabbat Dinner (short film): “Your son seems like such a nice boy. Maybe he’ll rub off on William.”
Paris 05:59: Theo & Hugo: “I’m with you.”
Favorite Heroic Scene: Were the World Mine (2008)
Gay teen protagonists tend to cower before the bullies. Were the World Mine’s Timothy finds an unusual solution. He brews a magic potion to make his tormentors fall in love (and lust) with each other. The scene is the rebellious highlight of a disappointing film.
The movie is a heartbreaker. I want to love it but the flaws keep getting in the way. Questions of consent are never deeply examined, Timothy’s love interest is shamefully underwritten and the fantasy has no internal logic. Why does the potion turn the gruff rugby coach into Paul Lynde? If Timothy wanted to put the bullies in his shoes, why does he leave no one straight to bully them?
Jongens: Sieger finally makes up his mind.
Lucky Blue (short film): Ollie opens his heart at karaoke night.
Turn It Around (short film): Bram loses spin-the-bottle… but kisses his crush anyway.
The Way He Looks: Leo takes Elio’s hand in front of the bully.
Geography Club: Russell whiffs on his final chance to stand up to the hateful jocks.
Love, Simon: Simon stands up to his bullies, only to be interrupted by a no-nonsense teacher and the moronic Vice Principal. The closest he gets to catharsis is a well-timed f-word.
Best Male Friend: Jonas, Skam.
Worst Male Friend: Gunner, Geography Club.
Best Female Friend: Claire, Alex Strangelove.
Worst Female Friend: Kat, Center of My World
Best Parent: Jennifer Garner, Love, Simon
Worst Parent: Tom Wopat, Fair Haven
How do you feel about the scenes I’ve listed? What are some of your favorite moments? Who are your favorite protagonists?