While the Hollywood blockbusters offer us 20 seconds of queer representation and call it progress, films made elsewhere continue to offer a variety of stories about LGBT+ folks. The following is a compilation of some interesting films I saw in 2019.
Coming Out (1989, Germany). Closeted teacher dates a woman and a man. How long can he keep them apart? One of East Berlin’s first gay films gives you an interesting look at the towns’ queer nightlife. The story feels like Nighthawks (1978) with a budget or Making Love (1982) with a personality. The vulnerable leading man remains sympathetic despite his infidelity. It’s been called East Germany’s first gay film, though I’m still trying to track down 1985’s Westler. Recommended.
Five Dances (2013, USA). Small town dancer moves to New York. Hybrid film alternates between wordless dance rehearsals and the coming out drama of the youngest dancer. The dancer is a green actor and his attempts to appear naïve can make him seem child-like. He’s more unsettling than the director may have intended. Critics liked the dancing and were bored by the rest. I agree.
Fun Down There (1989, USA). Closeted farm boy spends a week in NYC. The trip opens his mind and changes his life. The film-making is amateurish, and there’s no external conflict, but the leading man is quirky and sympathetic. Captures the joy of a good coming out experience.
It Is Not the Homosexual Who Is Perverse, But the Society in Which He Lives (1971, Germany). A young man moves to Berlin, samples gay subcultures (leather, drag, the toilets, wealthy elites) and finds them wanting. The narrator argues that gay men won’t get their rights till they stop exploiting each other. It’s more judgey lecture than story but it makes an interesting time capsule.
Love Blooms (2018, France). Bisexual artist moves to Paris and makes friends through a series of classes, film screenings and parties. There’s no conflict and the characters never develop distinct personalities. The deceptive trailer emphasizes a m/m romance that gets less than 10 minutes of screen time. I was bored.
The Death & Life of John F. Donovan (2018, Canada). Critics panned Xavier Dolan’s film about a closeted TV star (mopey Kitt Harrington) and an obsessive fan (whiney Jacob Tremblay). Dolan wants to say something about the challenges queer artists face today. But his cynical reporters, fraught mothers and chilly agents feel lifted from Hollywood melodramas of the 1950’s. The actors are directed to start at 11 and escalate to screaming arguments. There’s potential for campy thrills but the choppy script doesn’t allow anything to register.
Mario (2018, Switzerland). French soccer star loves German soccer star but their union leaders are homophobic. They are forced to choose between love and career. The men are beautiful but the tragic story is cliched. The debates with the homophobic managers feel surface level.
The Pass (2016, UK). Russell Tovey’s soccer star lounges in his briefs and abuses would be boyfriends. He looks great but the script is bland. You can see more of him in better work.
4 Days in France (2017, France). Depressed man goes on a road trip in search of online hook ups. His abandoned boyfriend pursues. They chat with the lonely strangers they meet on the way. The slow film revels in small talk, awkward silences and artfully framed shots. Asks for more patience than I could give.
Cas (2016, Netherlands). Long term couple invites an eager student to couch surf. After the inevitable threesome they kick him out and re-evaluate their relationship. The actors make the couple charming even as they show why the marriage isn’t working. Recommended.
Come Undone (2000, France). Mathieu, an angsty student, has broken up with Cedric, a flaky drop out. The film flips between scenes of their passionate first summer and gloomy last winter. The sparse dialogue keeps the characters at arm’s length. We’re given enough clues to determine why they split but little reason to care. An interesting experiment but too downbeat for my tastes.
Do You Take This Man (2017, USA). Uptight Anthony Rapp is marrying laid back Jonathan Bennett. They have stilted conversations with their passive aggressive friends. It builds to a shouty argument over nothing. Feels like a bad stage play.
The Feels (2017, USA). Lesbian bachelorette party unearths an embarrassing secret about one of the brides to be. Then everyone argues and whines for an hour. Constance Wu (Crazy Rich Asians, Hustlers) brings a no-nonsense attitude to her role but the rest of the cast are playing obnoxious caricatures. Two of the “comic relief” friends are so rude that I just wanted the hosts to throw them out.
Jess & James (2015, Argentina). Two men drive across Argentina to escape their conservative families. They work odd jobs, hook up and chat with eccentric strangers. The sparse script and surreal imagery have promise but the film is sunk by an obnoxious score and a hopelessly slow pace.
Land of Storms (2014, Hungary). Out man woos closeted man in a provincial village. The locals respond with violence. Beautiful bodies and scenery but it soon becomes misery porn.
Straightman (1999, USA). Two mopey guys fight with their cranky girlfriends. One comes out and fights with his new boyfriend. Improvised drama is angsty and dull. The central male friendship never really goes anywhere.
Who Would You Take to a Deserted Island? (2019. Spain). Hunk gets caught cheating on his girlfriend with a guy. Everyone shouts and cries. Features two actors from the superior show Elite.
3-Day Weekend (2008, USA). Eight gay men visit a vacation house. Some fit into types (the shy one, the escort, the control freak). Others take longer to register. They discuss marriage, aging, self-esteem, etc. There’s not much plot but they make pleasant company for 80 minutes. I appreciated a meta-debate about gay movie tropes.
Clapham Junction (2007, UK). Kevin Elyot writes plays about predatory, self-loathing gay men. BBC commissioned him to write a screenplay for Pride. Critics were upset when the characters turned out to be… predatory and self-loathing. We follow eight men through the day of a lethal gay bashing. They’re a mix of victims, adulterers, muggers and statutory rapists. None of them care about the victim. By the end it feels the audience has been showered with blood and bile. Elyot’s making a point… with a sledgehammer.
Common Ground (2000, USA). Three playwrights contributed to this preachy anthology of gay history. Most notable for its stunt casting. Brittany Murphy, Steven Weber and Jonathan Taylor Thomas play tragic homosexuals who teach lessons to straight folk. Jason Priestley has some fun as a sassy gay marine… until he’s beaten up by cops. It’s that kind of film.
Ice Men (2004, USA). Five insecure men meet at a lakeside cabin for a birthday party. Soon everyone’s fighting. The awful party genre only works if there’s a reason to stay at the party. I didn’t care if these toxic boors salvaged their friendships. The closeted pair get an intense love scene, but are soon arguing like the rest. Everyone just needs to get in their jeeps and go home.
An Early Frost (1985, USA). Aidan Quinn gives an unsentimental performance as a closeted lawyer diagnosed with AIDS. He undergoes a Job-like trial as friends, family, employers and nurses abandon him. Only his clear-eyed mother, smartly played by Gena Rowlands, stands by him. It’s humorless and hard to watch. I didn’t care for the horror film soundtrack. But it served as a valuable educational tool and NBC took a great risk broadcasting it in 1985.
Dear Dad (2016, India). Dad comes out. His teen son sulks for an hour. Part of a growing collection of bland Indian LGBT films on Netflix.
Do Paise Ki Dhoop, Chaar Aane Ki Baarish (2009, India). Sex worker hires gay song writer to care for her disabled son. Predictable hijinks ensue at a snail’s pace.
The Third Party (2016, Philippines). She’s pregnant and in love with her ex-boyfriend. His current boyfriend wants a child. Can these three come to an agreement? Bi-sexual film has the color palate of a romcom and the plotting of a soap opera. Bland.
A Single Man (2009, USA). Colin Firth does some of his finest work as a suicidal professor. He’s lost his lover in a car accident and his lively admirers (Julianne Moore and Nicholas Hoult) can’t console him. Tom Ford’s stylized art direction makes everyone gorgeous but the film is a trigger filled dirge. If you’re the slightest bit depressive you should skip this.
Buddies (1985, USA). Recently restored independent film. A gay man joins a “buddy” program to visit an abandoned AIDS patient in the hospital. We watch their conversations as the buddy falls in love and the patient grows weaker. The dialogue is stagey but it feels defiantly political in a way few LGBT films do.
The Cakemaker (2017, Israel). A widow hires a gentile baker for her kosher café, not knowing that he was her late husband’s lover. This slooow moving character study offers sad pianos, food porn and long stares into the middle distance. The baker is meant to be a lonely romantic but the blank faced actor read to me as a Tom Ripley-esque psycho. The lack of closure makes the film an accurate depiction of grief and a chore to sit through. Many critics liked this more than I did.
Dear Ex (2018, Taiwan). When a musician dies he leaves behind a high-strung wife, surly teen son and irresponsible male lover. The three clash but need each other to process their grief. Potentially bleak story is livened up by the snarky sons’ deadpan narration. The skilled cast and smart script give each character dimensions and an arc. Recommended.
The Dying Gaul (2005, USA). Grieving screenwriter is seduced by a producer and cat-fished by the producer’s vengeful wife. Craig Lucas’s script relies too heavily on campy contrivance to earn its self-righteous tone. A late plot twist makes less sense the more you think about it.
Euphoria (2018, Italy). Selfish gay businessman learns his estranged straight brother is dying of cancer. He falls into the role of caretaker and jester while withholding key information from his sibling. It’s rare to watch a gay man learning from a straight man’s suffering on film. But the novelty wears off as we wait for the chattering, coke-snorting businessman to grow up.
Green Plaid Shirt (1996, USA). Philip remembers his cheating lover and mean friends who slowly died from AIDS related illness. A scrambled timeline and a noisy soundtrack don’t help the slack pacing. It’s rare to find a story in this genre that doesn’t sanctify its characters but it’s hard to sit through.
Sorry Angel (2018, France). (aka Plaire, aimer et courir vite). Bittersweet romance between a man with AIDS and a man without in the Paris of 1993. The leads are exquisite and the screen crackles when they are together. Sadly the shapeless script keeps them apart for a dull middle hour.
Mass Appeal (1984, USA). A self-righteous deacon comes under fire when he defends two gay seminary students. Jack Lemmon’s cynical priest tries to teach him about church bureaucracy. The screenplay, adapted from a stage work, indulges in repetitive, straw-man arguments. Lemmon skirts by on his natural charm. An interesting companion to John Parick Shanley’s 2005 play Doubt: A Parable.
Sebastiane (1976, UK). Cruel Roman captain lusts for noble Christian soldier. The other soldiers wrestle in thongs. You wouldn’t think that would get boring, and yet…
The Seminarian (2010, USA). Closeted seminary student juggles messy friends, a sketchy lover and a vague Master’s Thesis. The aimless script relies on stilted phone conversations. They give it the feel of a radio drama. Long… pauses… suggest the filmmaker was uncomfortable editing his work.
GAYS: The Series (2014, USA). The show alternates between four mean gays in NYC. Each one is faced with a crisis that will force them to reconsider how they treat others. Some issues are small (a cruel new boss) while others are large (a medical emergency). This one’s hard to review as the story-lines vary wildly in quality. Some episodes are fun while others are cringey. The characters are complex but filled with bile. The series ended on a cliffhanger when the creators ran out of money.
The New 30 (2017, USA). Web series. 40-something gay friends grow apart when two members of their circle have an affair. The writer wants to deal with issues like marriage, kids, unemployment and threesomes. These are interesting topics but the conversations are superficial and his characters are so cruel to each other it’s unclear why they even stay in the same room. “We’re all adults here. Yet it feels oddly like high school.”
Old Dogs & New Tricks (2011, USA). Gay friends in their 50’s go clubbing and complain about their sex lives. It’s nice to see mature actors showcased but the Peter Pan characters are vulgar and depressing. Later seasons improved by giving each character a crisis to cope with (divorce, unemployment, etc.).
Queen’s English (2019, USA). Narcissistic teacher falls apart when his boyfriend leaves him for conversion therapy. The supporting cast is likable and the leading man is trying his best to make his rude character funny. Episode 4 is the strongest thus far.
Tales of the City (2019, USA). Laura Linney returns to San Francisco to re-connect with her abandoned daughter (Ellen Page) and honorary mother (Olympia Dukakis). The LGBT+ supporting characters pair off and hold repetitive conversations about history, home and family. For every powerful scene (Episode 4’s dinner party is a highlight) there are three dull ones. An awful subplot about Instagram influencers suggest the authors don’t get “the youth” at all.
Which of these have you seen? What LGBT media are you looking forward to in 2020? For more reviews of LGBT media click here. Thank you all for reading.