We might follow different dreams.
We may play on different teams.
Where it counts, behind the scenes, we’re brothers!
~ Theme Song for the sitcom Brothers
Episode 32 of Degrassi Junior High, “He Ain’t Heavy,” aired on December 5, 1988. Snake Simpson is thrilled that his big brother Glen is coming for a visit. That is till Glen comes out of the closet. Snake rejects him and so do their parents. Glen says he’ll come back when he’s “welcome.” Degrassi would eventually welcome new LGBT characters but poor Glen was never seen again.
Today I’ll be looking at gay siblings, both happy and tragic, on film and television. The following reviews contain mild spoilers.
My Straight Brother
Some of these brothers are supportive from the start. Others have homophobia to work through.
An Ordinary Family (2011). Thomas, a straight priest, freaks out when his gay brother, Seth, brings a “friend” to the family vacation. These self-righteous bores spend the rest of the film moping. Their snarky partners get stuck in the role of peace-keepers. The extended family admits that Seth was so far off their radars they didn’t even realize he was gay. That revelation rang truer to me than the brothers shouting matches. C
Brothers (1984-1989). Showtime Sitcom. Cliff, an aspiring chef, abandons his bride at the altar and confesses to his two older brothers that he’s gay. The bros support him as he starts dating and learns his way around the gay community. The show ran 5 seasons with focus gradually shifting from the gay brother to the straight brothers’ love lives. Cliff’s gay best friend, Donald, offered sage advice while playing the Jack to his Will. Remarkably progressive. The tired jokes and canned laughter make the show a dull watch today but it’s a fascinating cultural artifact. C
Doing Time on Maple Drive (1992). Will Macnamara, is engaged to a woman but hiding a terrible secret! His narcissistic parents ignore the truth till it’s almost too late! Jim Carey plays his alcoholic brother with very little to do. Groundbreaking then, but the overripe dialogue is hard to listen to now. “Gay? I don’t like that word. That’s a perfectly good word that’s been destroyed and I don’t like it.” D
Dorian Blues (2004). Before playing Tim on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Michael McMillian starred in this boilerplate gay coming of age flick. An interesting subplot goes to his straight brother, who goes from hero to zero when he graduates high school. A homophobic father provides the conflict. I found the broad comedy and heavy reliance on voice over to be grating. D
Family Affair (2011) (aka Assunto de Família). Short film. Younger bro tries to bond with his older bros friends while they watch sports. It turns out better than he expected. Cute. C
Give Me Your Hand (2008) (aka Donne-moi la main). Sexy French twins, one straight, one bi, hitchhike through Spain for a funeral. They fight when together, sulk when apart, and hook up with strangers on the road. The script provides the Carrill brothers with minimal dialogue, relying on their cheekbones to carry the day. The gents are handsome but they lack the charisma to carry a 76 minute travelogue. (I was pleased to see a cameo from Fernando Ramallo. He played the gay lead in Nico and Dani, hinting at a shared cinematic homo-verse.) C-
Kapoor & Sons (2016). Estranged brothers reunite in this Bollywood drama. Rebellious Arjun woos a manic pixie dream girl while uptight Rahul plays the “perfect son” for their squabbling parents. Rahul’s homosexuality is the mildest of the family secrets, but it made the role difficult to cast. Actor Fawad Kahn nails Rahul’s charming façade and the exhaustion that comes from maintaining it. The screenplay resorts to melodrama in the final act but the strong ensemble rises above it. B-
Same Difference (2002). Short film. Straight jock rejects his gay identical twin, till he’s mistaken for him by some homophobic bullies. The resolution is hasty, but the premise is smart. C
Time Out (2015). Bollywood coming-of-age drama. Teen musician balances classes and crushes. When he catches his jock brother with a boyfriend he panics. The slight plot leaves room for the musician’s band to play original songs and debate India’s social politics. There are subtle pleasures if you can get past the whiff of after school special. C+
Wedding Wars (2006). Governor’s assistant (Eric Dane) writes his boss a speech against gay marriage. His gay brother (John Stamos) organizes a strike. With no gay men working there are suddenly no wedding planners, hair dressers or florists. Now nobody can get married! Crazy, right? Dane and Stamos are handsome but they can’t smolder their way through a tired, joke-free script. No relation to the Paul Rudnick play with the same premise. D
Xenia (2014). Teen brothers, a twink and a grump, seek their Greek father when their Albanian mother dies. They’ll dodge fascists and deportation officers on their journey through Greece’s underworld. A singing competition, some hallucinations, and a general sense of optimism keep the film light while still addressing the challenges immigrants face in contemporary Athens. Kostas Nikouli does fantastic work as the vulnerable, yet resourceful, younger brother. B
You, Me and Him (2007) (aka Café Com Leite). Short film. A young man’s relationship with his boyfriend is tested when he’s given custody of his 10-year-old brother. Gentle with likeable actors and minimal plot. C+
Zorro: the Gay Blade (1981). Vain aristocrats inherit the mantle of Zorro from their father. They use it to stand up to a corrupt alcalde. The straight brother gets a sword, two love interests and the most screen time. The gay brother gets a whip, rainbow colored outfits and no sex life whatsoever. Still George Hamilton plays the twins as equally heroic and equally silly. The screenplay is mildly progressive but rarely funny. Half the cast realized they hadn’t any jokes and decided to SHOUT their lines instead. C-
More Examples: Bromance: My Brother’s Romance (2013); C.R.A.Z.Y. (2005); Elijah’s Ashes (2017); Embrasser les tigres (2004. Short film); Futuro Beach (2014); Le fils préféré (1994); Mother’s Day (2003. Short film); My Brother the Devil (2012); Randy and the Mob (2007); Rites of Passage (1999); The Far Side of the Moon (2003); The Middle of a Lake (2017. Short film); Three Dancing Slaves (2005. aka Le Clan)
My Straight Sister
Lloyd Neck (2008). Short Film. Teen athlete cares for his kid sister while their parents are away. She’s got a crush on her brothers’ best friend… but soon realizes that he does too. Loved an early scene where she catches him looking at her Tiger Beat magazine. The whole film is charming. C+
The Skeleton Twins (2014). Bill Hader and Kristin Wiig play estranged siblings who reunite after a suicide attempt. The low-key film lets them riff off each other for a while before revealing what led to their split. The script runs out of steam but the leads do stellar work. B-
The Twilight of the Golds (1996). When the leading lady learns, through a sci-fi computer, that her child will be gay her husband pressures her to abort it. Can her estranged gay brother (Brenden Fraser!?) change their minds? The overwrought dialogue shows that this was based on a play. Interestingly the sister makes a different choice on film than she did on stage. The canned melodrama and 90’s view of homosexuality makes this a tough watch today. C-
Un Frere (2018) (aka A Brother). Teen summer romance. Wide eyed Tom is seduced by bad boy Felix under the noses of his oblivious parents. But Tom’s lonely kid sister might blow their cover. The actors are charismatic enough to carry the slight, episodic plot. The young film makers posted their work for free on YouTube in Fall 2018. B
Zus and Zo (2001). (aka This and That). Nino is gay, but is marrying a woman to secure an inheritance. Nino’s three greedy sisters band together to sabotage the wedding. The premise suggests wacky hijinks but the film is going for something more Chekhovian. Unearthing family secrets makes the siblings realize they’ve destroyed their own marriages through their bitterness. The ennui drags down the middle chapters. Things pick up when the likeable Nino takes over the narrative. Features an interesting supporting cast including a trans character with a happier, and more respectful, arc than I expected from a 2001 screenplay. C+
More Examples: Genesis (2018); The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Episode 3.17. “My Brother’s Keeper” (1973); One Out of Three (2014. aka Echad Mishlosha. Documentary); Pearls and Pigs (2003. aka Helmiä ja sikoja); Seth & Fiona (1994. Dutch TV series).
God help the mister who comes between me and my sister,
and God help the sister who comes between me and my man!
~ “Sisters” by Irving Berlin
Joe Orton’s 1964 play, Entertaining Mr. Sloane, concerns a criminal who seduces a brother and sister for their money. He causes chaos until they turn the tables on him. The sister got some action while the brother had to settle for a hand on the knee. The following stories offer variations on the theme.
Undressed (1999-2002). Episode 6.41 of MTV’s risqué teen drama follows a brother and sister who fight over the same fellow. He wants them both, but their squabbling drives him away. The bisexual stereotypes are tired, the actors are green and the whole thing is silly. Still the guys get a shirtless make out session. That was a lot for teens in 2002. C-
I Love You Both (2016). Deadpan twins fall for Lucas Neff’s suave hipster. The fallout makes them realize they need lives apart from each other. Neff brings some shading to his underwritten role. The “humor” comes from the siblings being socially awkward and their co-workers being inexplicably cruel. It gets old. C-
Of the films and shows above:
- 4 focus on the gay sibling coming of age.
- 7 focus on the straight sibling overcoming homophobia.
- 7 gay siblings end the story with an on-screen love interest.
- 9 gay siblings clash with disapproving parents.
Who did I miss? Who are your favorites? Next week I’ll look at some films where both siblings are LGBQ+. For more reviews of LGBTQ+ media click here.