I’m compiling the rest of 2019’s capsule reviews into a series of articles. Today I focus on Comedy and Romance. These genres are deceptively difficult. Push too hard and your cast will scream at the audience nonstop. Hold back and your film will ride a slow boat to Snoozeville. If your film runs over 90 minutes you’d best have a good reason. Only a handful of the films below find a balance.
Boys in Brazil (2014, Brazil). (aka Do Lado de Fora). Four closeted friends vow to come out before the next Pride parade. Their stories range from cringe comedy (a budding drag queen with conservative parents) to quiet tragedy (a working class man with a wife and kids). The tonal whiplash grows exhausting but it’s trying to make a point about the pressures that keep people in the closet.
The Broken Hearts Club (2000, USA). A group of obnoxious gay friends fight and make up. It calls itself a “romantic comedy” but the romances are sad and take a backseat to the friendships. Their discussions on dating without losing your self-esteem are still relevant.
Chef’s Special (2008, Spain). Tyrannical gay chef is forced to take in his estranged children. Can he change his selfish ways and heal their relationship? The leading man shouts and mugs for 90 charmless minutes. There are likeable performers in the supporting cast but they can’t save the sitcomy script.
The First Temptation of Christ (2019, Brazil). Jesus brings his boyfriend to a rowdy party and bickers with Joseph, Mary and God. The jokes are obvious and the pace is slow. Conservatives protested but there’s nothing here that South Park hasn’t done better.
Gayby (2012, USA). Straight woman (Jenn Harris) asks her gay friend (Matthew Wilkas) to impregnate her “the old-fashioned way.” Harris and Wilkas have shown their comic chops elsewhere but this script tamps them down. The jokes go to their stable of snarky friends who provide running commentary on the slight plot. The story lacks stakes and character growth so it runs out of steam fast.
Grandmother’s Gold (2018, USA). Brian Jordan Alvarez and his sketch comedy friends have made another movie. This one’s a road trip with too many characters for its own good. The push to give everyone jokes keeps them from developing personalities. Check out his new series, Divorce, for more laughs.
Judas Kiss (2011, USA/Canada). A guilty pleasure. Failed film maker travels back in time to mentor (and bang) his younger self. He wants to stop himself from cheating in a film contest and dating a cruel rich guy. There are interesting ideas here. Sadly the movie wastes time with endless exposition, leaden pacing and poop jokes. Guest star Sean Paul Lockhart out-charms the leads as a friendly love interest; the Betty to the rich guys’ Veronica.
Kill The Monsters (2018, USA). The rise and fall of American democracy is represented by a dysfunctional male throuple. The slow first half coasts on eye candy, suggesting good sex is the healthiest form of democracy. Things get more interesting when they start fighting with the neighbors and wrestling for control of the finances. It’s not subtle, and doesn’t always work, but I appreciated the ambition. The 2017 finale is predictably bleak. Recommended.
Let My People Go! (2011, France). Neurotic man-child visits his estranged Jewish family after his husband kicks him out. Nicholas Maury plays the lead with a pained expression and a constant whine. The film never lets him grow into something more.
My Big Gay Italian Wedding (2018, Italy). Antonio has proposed to his boyfriend. Papa disapproves. Mama plans to throw the biggest wedding in town. The farcial complications pile on fast but the characters remain dead serious about their goals. It ends up being a rare film farce that’s actually funny.
My Life with James Dean (2017, France). French farce about a heartbroken filmmaker pursued by a love-struck projectionist. The meddling locals get tangled in the chase. Strong cast makes up for the slight script but a late plot twist will sink the film for some.
Postcards from London (2018, UK). Harris Dickinson plays a sex worker who becomes an artist model. In a series of gorgeous fantasy sequences, he learns that Caravaggio’s art models were also sex workers. Steve McLean’s dull screenplay says art and sex are connected. He hasn’t much else to say. The art direction is top notch but the film is a slog. Harris was objectified with more care in Beach Rats.
Privates on Parade (1983, UK). Singing troupe performs for British soldiers in Malaysia in 1948. The busy script juggles a straight Sergeants’ coming of age, a gay Captains’ clash with a bigoted Major (John Cleese, miscast), and the schemes of a vicious arms dealer. With no clear protagonist or through line the pace wobbles. I appreciated the glimpse of gay military culture, but the film needed a strict editor and better jokes.
Straight-Jacket (2004, USA). A pompous 50’s movie star marries his secretary to cover up a homosexual affair. The stage farce was poorly adapted to film. Nearly everyone’s playing to the back of the balcony. Has little new to say about the 50’s, Hollywood or the closet.
Tell No One (2012, Italy). 21-year-old is preparing to come out at a family dinner before he leaves for a job abroad. The momentum is interrupted by a series of flashbacks to his childhood and relationships. None of the jokes or tropey characters stand out. The subtitles on Amazon are a beat behind, reminding me I can’t take good subs for granted.
Teorema (1968, Italy). Terence Stamp’s visitor seduces the five members of a wealthy household. When he departs they go mad. Critics have called it a biblical allegory and a political satire. I grew bored with the repetitive structure. (Five love scenes. Five mad scenes.) The gay content is tender and impressively judgement free for 1968. A short scene of Stamp holding the sick father’s legs is the steamiest moment of the film.
Three Bewildered People in the Night (1987, USA). Gregg Araki’s first film follows a bisexual hipster love triangle. The depressed Gen-Xers complain nonstop about their quarter life crises. Araki captures a mix of humor, despair and surrealism that would blossom in later films. It’s too rough to recommend by itself, but presents an interesting case study for Araki completists.
3 in a Bed (2015, UK). Cinderella story follows a closeted musician, his two selfish sisters and a hipster prince charming. The sisters lead a parade of toxic women who exist solely to keep the drippy boys apart. The misogyny sucks the oxygen out of the film.
4 Moons (2014, Mexico). Four generations of gay men wrestle with unrequited love in Mexico City. Some find happiness. Others must let go and move on. Well made with some surprising twists alongside more predictable tropes. Gabriel Santoyo does standout work as a young boy reeling from his first crush. Recommended.
29th & Gay (2005, USA). Whiney klutz chases after hunks in a cringey, episodic film that really wants to be 1995’s Jeffrey. Grating.
And Then We Danced (2019, Georgia/ Sweden). Levan Gelbakhiani gives a star making performance as a working-class dancer at the National Georgian Ensemble. He falls in love with a rival dancer despite the danger. The plot is tropey and the close camera hamstrings the dance numbers. But Gelbrakhiani is strong and tender, angry and joyful. You can’t take your eyes off of him. Compare him to the stone-faced dancer playing Nureyev in The White Crow and you’ll realize how special his work is. Violent conservative protestors only boosted the film’s profile in Tbilisi. Highly Recommended.
Big Gay Love (2013, USA). Plain guy fears his hot boyfriend will cheat on him. Paranoia turns him into a screaming, self-loathing mess. He’s very unpleasant. Buffy’s Nicholas Brendan is charming as the boyfriend, and the only reason to watch the film.
Coffee Date (2006, USA). Straight guy is tricked into a blind date with a gay guy (Wilson Cruz) by a spiteful brother. When they make friends, his colleagues assume he’s “come out.” We get tired gay panic jokes, bi-phobia, “gays-are-people-too” speeches and some “will they or won’t they” suspense.
Daddy Issues (2018)
Daddy Issues (2018, USA). A love triangle between a lesbian artist, a fluid Instagram model and an unhappy sugar daddy. The trio starts off cartoonish. They reveal hidden depths as the story continues. The characters aren’t always likeable but I found them interesting company for the film’s brief running time. Recommended.
The Falls (2012, USA). Mormon missionaries fall in love. In the meantime, we get an earnest look at the daily challenges of missionary work. The gents are likeable despite the amateur film-making. But I chose to watch at 2x speed to counter the glacial pace. A far gentler view of the Church than Latter Days or The Book of Mormon. The first of a trilogy.
Front Cover (2015, USA). Chinese-American stylist plans a photo shoot for a Chinese film star. Culture clash and flirtations ensue. The budget is small and the dialogue is klunky (“We are fire and water. We don’t mix.”). Still, if you’re looking for a basic romcom this one works.
Hello Again (2017, USA). Weird film of a weird musical of a weird play. Ten lovers form a daisy chain of couplings as they search for something more than sex. I’d expected Audra McDonald’s bisexual diva to be the MVP but her establishing scene is poorly written, allowing some lesser known performers to steal focus.
It’s In the Water (1997, USA). Confused housewife volunteers for an AIDS hospice and falls for a nurse. When a conservative group protests the hospice, she’ll be forced to stand up for herself. Dull romance and forced “campy” side characters float in a bland soup.
Beverly Kills (2005, USA). A naïve intern protects a burlesque theater from a vengeful drag queen. Zero budget farce suffers from bad jokes, amateur acting and an aimless script. Like watching a beginner’s improv class. Only with more nudity.
Eating Out 4 & 5 (2011, USA). Over the course of five films the plots have changed from seducing straight men to counseling gay couples. Drama Camp and The Open Weekend follow shallow Zach and insecure Casey as they debate trust, monogamy and sexual compatibility. The hunky actors can’t handle the moments of pathos. The pants-on love scenes are remarkably un-sexy.
Score (1974, USA). Bisexual farce from the “Golden Age of Porn.” A swinging couple places a bet on who can seduce a pair of newlyweds. She pursues the mousey wife. He charms the bashful husband. It’s no Dangerous Liaisons but there are genuine laughs and a sex positive attitude. The porn performers are clearly enjoying the chance to act. Fun Fact: It was adapted from a play that featured Sylvester Stallone in a supporting role.
Strapped for Danger (2017, USA). Three male strippers stage a robbery. Then hide out in a frat house. Porny hi-jinks ensue. Tired jokes about rape, misogyny and transphobia ruin the fun. You can find actual gay porn with more laughs and less bile. Still, they made enough money to produce a sequel.
Antique Bakery (2008, Japan). Animated series about four men, queer and straight, running a bakery. The first episodes are awful but the writing improves in the second half. Was later adapted into a live action film that squished too much of the story into two hours.
Bad Boy (2018-, USA). Web series. When a screenwriter reaches “daddy” age, a series of goofy hunks (dog walkers, delivery men, etc.) start coming to him for advice. Goes from porny to sitcomy to surreal as the hunk’s problems get increasingly strange. They’ll need to add some plot if it keeps going but for now the sketch comedy structure works well.
Bonding (2019, USA). Netflix Series. A dominatrix hires a timid comedian (adorable Brendan Scannell) to be her bodyguard. Like the recent Sex Education the writers want to mock the subject matter without understanding it. There’s talk of overcoming stigmas but the clients are jokes, consent is ignored and domestic violence is played for laughs. There’s one strong episode (#5) but most of the material lets the actors down.
Crashing (2016, UK). British mini-series about 6 friends living in an abandoned hospital. In one subplot womanizing Sam flirts with his uptight friend Fred but is the last to realize that he’s developing a crush. I’m annoyed that the word bisexual is never used but the characters are interesting, and the actors have chemistry. Features Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge.
Danny The Manny (2016, USA). Web Series. Patrick Reilly (Dating My Mother, Afterglow) babysits a cross dressing child. Episodes are short, with minimal plot. The writing’s uneven but the actors are charming and there’s a fun cameo from Coco Peru. You can binge the whole thing in under 30 minutes.
Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings (2019, USA). Netflix. The episode “Two Doors Down” stars Andy Mientus (Smash, The Flash) as a closeted man at his sister’s wedding. A nice mix of Hallmark / Lifetime melodrama with campy relatives and purple dialogue. Mientus is grounded enough to give it heart.
Friends from College (2017, USA). Netflix. Six friends from college reconnect in their 40’s and behave terribly. The gay one (Fred Savage) has an uptight partner (Billy Eichner) who can’t stand the friends. The show basically says if you identify with Eichner’s character you won’t enjoy the show. That was me, so I set it aside.
Grandma’s House – Pilot (2010, UK) . British comic Simon Amstell co-wrote and starred in a sitcom. His angry mother and salty relatives freak out when he quits his talk show. It was recommended to fans of Please Like Me but the pilot lacks that shows charm and polish. The family simply sits in the living room and says cruel things like they’re in a bad play. I sampled a few later episodes and not much had changed.
He’s With Me (2013, USA). Web series. Cranky gay guy and gawky straight guy go on Odd Couple adventures. The straight guy has a cute John Mulaney vibe that makes his dopey questions about gay culture endearing. The first season starts sweet but ends up saying a few painful things about what happens when you lose your friends in middle age. The core friendship gets lost in a messy second season full of obnoxious side characters.
The House of Flowers (2018, Mexico). Netflix. Wealthy family’s secrets are exposed when the fathers’ mistress commit suicide. Dario Yazbek Bernal brings the eye candy as the promiscuous bisexual son. The subdued cast won’t commit to the campy script. It’s bland when it should be juicy.
Indoor Boys (2017, USA) Sour web series. Whiney dorky roommate lusts for mean sexy roommate. Specializes in cringe comedy.
Poetry for Gael (2017, Brazil). A mean girl pushes her boyfriend into pranking a gay guy, only for the boyfriend to develop feelings for the guy. This Cruel Intentions set up offers some wish fulfillment. But the actors are cast more for their looks than their acting ability.
Special (2019). Ryan O’Connell wants his cerebral palsy to be “the appetizer,” not the “main course.” When he’s hit by a car he tells his new dates and co-workers that this was the cause of his limp, putting his CP in the closet. It’s hard to stay invested in his depressed, self-loathing character. His love scene with Brian Jordan Alvarez has been marketed as the shows’ big moment. It’s sweet but the rest of the series is devoted to predictable sitcom characters (smothering mother, narcissistic boss, and MVP Punam Patel’s pushy best friend). The show provides ground breaking representation, and gets better in the final episodes, but it’s never “good.”
Trophy Boy (2018, USA). Aging Instagram stud gets dumped by his sugar daddy and falls apart. Mix of cringe humor and cautionary tale. Lots of exposition to get through and no guarantee that this character will become sympathetic.
West 40’s (2018, USA). The pilot follows a birthday party for the leading man. He’s stoic about turning 40 while his friends are sloppy drunks. They drool over the go-go boys while he has a serious conversation with a lap dancer. Too many characters to make an impression and the humor is cringey but I’m curious to where the leading man’s journey will go.
Zach and Dennis: How It All Began (2016-2019, USA). Ambiguous romance between a 27-year-old and a 60-something. They seem to genuinely like each other, but Dennis is a little too eager to spend money on Zach. Zach never asks for cash but he never says no. Some conniving ex-boyfriends push things into lazy soap opera territory. The show is more interesting when it explores the shifting power dynamics in the central relationship.
Any favorites? Have I been to harsh on some of these? Do I overuse the word “cringe?” For more reviews of LGBT media click here.