Genre films have formulas. A story might stick to the template or attempt to subvert it. The following are a collection of genre films with LGBT characters. I started with Biography and Mystery. Then the mysteries started spilling into other genres with rules of their own.
Bohemian Rhapsody (2018, USA). Rami Malek lip syncs in pretty costumes. The hacky script tells us that Freddie Mercury was a jerk who was rescued from an evil gay manager by his loving ex-wife and his vanilla band-mates. Competent but bland. I prefer the similar biopic Rocketman.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018, USA). Lee Israel sabotaged her writing career through a combination of alcoholism, depression and misanthropy. After selling some valuable letters she decides to forge her own. The story is slight but Melissa McCarthy remains fascinating throughout. She’s well supported by a deep bench of character actors. They keep the film from becoming too grim. Recommended.
The Danish Girl (2015, UK). Alicia Vikander shines as Gerda Wegener, an artist who gradually realizes her timid spouse is trans. Eddie Redmayne was miscast as Lili Erbe in a time when trans artists were already telling their own stories. He gets stuck on two notes, flirty and weepy, in a script that tends to fetishize the character.
The Favourite (2018, Ireland/UK/USA ). A love triangle between Queen Anne, a duchess and a maid. The stars are fantastic, but the script runs out of steam before the end. I kept waiting for a big twist that never arrived.
I Love You Phillip Morris (2009, USA) Jim Carrey stars as a real-life con man Steven Russell who impersonated officials and stole fortunes to keep himself and his lovers in mansions and cars. Flips between clownish farce and deadpan romance but never integrates the two. It’s not particularly funny, in part because it tries so hard to force mirth out of a tragic story. Queer artists might have done more with the political undercurrents but it barely got distribution with straight stars.
Pain and Glory (2019, Spain). Low key character study follows an ailing gay filmmaker re-connecting with key figures from his youth. A little 8 ½, a little A Christmas Carol. Antonio Banderas makes each scene count, showing the physical pain and mental contradictions that caused him to burn so many bridges. Plot is minimal but the journey Banderas goes on is engaging. He’s backed by a fine supporting cast. Highly Recommended.
Pride (2014, UK). True story of the London gay activists who supported striking Welsh miners in 1984. A fantastic ensemble cast elevates a lumpy script. Lots of charming mini-arcs but I wish more time had been devoted to activist leader Mark Ashton.
Wild Nights With Emily (2019, USA). Emily Dickinson was a passionate lesbian whose writing was censored by her prim editor. That’s the joke in a film that makes its point early and overstays its welcome. Susan Ziegler carries the film as Dickinson’s steely lover. The supporting cast play sketch comedy caricatures while Molly Shannon’s Emily has little to do but recite her poems with furrowed brow.
Amnesia: The James Brighton Enigma (2005, Canada). Inspired by the true story of an American man checked into a Montreal hospital with dissociative amnesia. Criminologists, psychologists, the media and an LGBT support group all push theories on him. The film sympathizes with James’s trauma but the real case was too inconclusive to flesh out his character. The narrative distance gives it the feel of a dry police procedural, with the exception of some ugly flashbacks to a past trauma. An interesting but unsatisfying watch.
The Donald Strachey Mysteries (2005-2008, USA). Chad Allen and Sebastian Spence starred in four films based on Richard Stevenson’s detective novels. Their “Nick & Nora” chemistry carried the scripts through some rough patches.
- Third Man Out (2005). The first film in the series was the weakest. A sleazy journalist has been outing celebrities. Now one of them is trying to kill him. Strachey interviews suspects cast more for their looks than their acting talent. The humor’s too broad, the mystery too convoluted and the synthesized soundtrack too invasive.
- Shock to the System (2006). Strachey goes undercover at a gay conversion center. This one gives Chad Allen his best material though his partner Tim is left with little to do. Guest star Morgan Fairchild is on hand to drink and sneer as a grieving mother. Recommended.
- On the Other Hand, Death (2008). Strachey protects a lesbian activist (Margo Kidder) who’s been receiving death threats. This one has the juiciest supporting cast though the plot goes off the rails midway. Recommended.
- Ice Blues (2008). Strachey has been given stolen money. Now gangsters are after him. The genre switches to action thriller. Strachey’s allies each get a chance to spy on or run from the gangsters. Sebastian Spence gets some particularly nice moments but the idiot plot requires everyone to make bad choices.
Gosford Park (2001, USA/UK) Before Downton Abbey Julian Fellowes wrote a murder mystery with bitter aristocrats, gossipy servants and a wisecracking Maggie Smith. Director Robert Altman’s more interested in class commentary than plot. As a result, the film runs longer than it needs to. Ryan Phillippe camps it up as a devious bisexual valet in a performance that makes me wish he’d do more comedy.
Hot Guys with Guns (2013, USA). Bitter L.A. actor auditions for a cop show. When his wealthy ex-boyfriend is robbed he decides to investigate… eventually. This noir spoof is less interested in the plot than in class commentary, ex-boyfriend banter and eye candy. Some scenes are laugh-out-loud funny. Others, like the antics of a racist society lady, grind the film to a halt. Worth a look for genre fans, but it could have shaved off 30 minutes.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005, USA). Noir spoof. Robert Downey Jr’s motormouthed thief gets tangled in a murder mystery. Val Kilmer lends him a hand as a gay private eye. Critics have called this a hidden gem but I was underwhelmed. Kilmer’s character is one note. Downey’s character insults, threatens or sexually harasses every woman in the film, including the corpses. The misogyny is extreme, even for a noir, and it gets old fast.
Kiss Me, Kill Me (2015, USA). West Hollywood actor (Eastsiders’ Van Hasis) is accused of murdering his philandering boyfriend (Queer as Folk’s Gale Harold). He’ll proceed to drink with, sleep with or scream at every campy suspect. The tone aims for noir but lands near 90’s erotic thriller. There aren’t enough thrills to put up with the idiot protagonist for the 100 minute run time.
Last Ferry (2019, USA). Timid lawyer witnesses a murder on Fire Island but does not report the crime. He insinuates himself into the killer’s friend group as they introduce him to the party circuit. The inscrutable lawyer keeps putting himself in harm’s way for reasons unclear. It grows from suspenseful to frustrating to repetitive. Thematically similar to 2013’s Stranger by the Lake.
Life Like (2019, USA). Vapid rich couple falls in lust with their new android assistant. Will their marital squabbles push him into Hal 9000 territory? Handsome Steven Strait makes a fine impression as the too-friendly-to-trust android. Agent Carter’s James D’Arcy gets the campiest dialogue as his leering creator. Vincent Price would be proud.
Now Apocalypse pilot (2019, USA). Another burnt out Gregg Araki protagonist stumbles on a supernatural occurrence. The cast of pretty ciphers are there to strip and tell jokes. The lead even announces in the opening voice over that he has no goals or interests. Unlikely to win new Araki fans, but there’s plenty there for people already on his wavelength.
Osmosis (2019, France). Netflix. Mad scientists test a nanobot to connect lonely hearts, queer and straight, with their true loves. The films Her and Marjorie Prime made similar tech seductive even as they revealed their flaws. Here everything’s dystopian from the start, and self-serious to the point of camp.
Weird City: The One (2019, USA). Matchmaking AI pairs two straight guys. The tone is broad. I worried things would get homophobic but Dylan O’Brian and Ed O’Neil treat the men with respect despite the fan-service nature of their casting.
Cupido (2018, Spain). Web Series. Hunky Cupids plan to sacrifice innocent maidens. The queer ones have a change of heart and attempt to stop the ritual. Low budget and corny but I appreciate the fantasy premise.
The Haunting (1963, UK). A smug doctor invites a pair of psychics to research a haunted house. The lesbian subtext between the psychics is stronger than I remembered. The cast, set design and visual effects are swell. Finds a lovely mix of chills and camp. Highly Recommended.
Poltergay (2006, France). Straight man is sexually harassed by gay ghosts. His wife thinks he’s going mad. It’s a bit like Blithe Spirit (1945) or Topper (1937) with more male nudity. Eventually they offer a truce in exchange for an exorcism. The ghosts lack distinct personalities and the gags are repetitive. The title is the funniest joke in the film.
The Shadows (2007, USA). Horror writer is seduced by a sketchy young man. Is he a con artist? Or a character from the writers’ unfinished novel? Puzzlebox narrative plays like a low budget Mullholland Drive. The cast is green and the film making amateurish but the leading man is likable. Your enjoyment will depend on your patience for questions without answers.
Velvet Buzzsaw (2019, USA). If you’ve seen the trailer you can skip the film. Jake Gyllenhaal plays a vain art critic in a gallery where haunted paintings kill the greedy staff. A story this shallow needed to be faster and funnier.
The Dream Children (2015, Australia). Dysfunctional gay couple illegally adopt a baby. The baby’s violent birth father kidnaps him. We get banal dialogue, stupid characters and melodramatic plot twists. We get triggery scenes of the baby in peril. We get some graphic love scenes to sell the film at LGBT festivals. We never get a reason to believe anyone in this movie should raise a child.
Eastern Boys (2014, France) French businessman hires Ukrainian hustler. The hustler has been living with a gang which shows up to menace them both. I liked the class politics and growing intimacy of the leads more than the Double Dragon antics of the gangsters. Though it pays off in a terrifying finale.
Flight of the Cardinal (2010, USA). Evil twink manipulates the guests at a mountain resort. The overwrought soundtrack insists he’s Eve Harrington, Tom Ripley and Rosemary’s Baby all in one. But the script itself offers little of interest till the final quarter.
The Living End (1992, USA). A writer and a hustler, both diagnosed with AIDS, go on a violent road trip. Gregg Araki’s dark humor captures the apocalyptic feel of the epidemic. The script runs out of ideas midway but this is his most political, and romantic, film.
What does an LGBT perspective add to these stories? What genres would you like to see more LGBT representation in? Which of these have you seen? What are some others you’d recommend? For more reviews of LGBT media click here.