LGBT Movies: Family Feuds

I watched a great deal of LGBT+ films in 2020. Today’s collection focuses on family conflict. There’s something quite satisfying about a beleaguered LGBT youth saying “screw you dad!”

Parenthood

Usually the LGBTQ character has to work to “earn” their family’s respect. I’d like to find more stories where the straight character has to do some emotional labor.

Baby Steps (2017, Taiwan, US). A wealthy gay man plans to have a child via surrogate. His rude mother (Ah-Lei Gua) interferes. Gua finds some truth in her one-note role. But the film has an ugly streak of classicism, treating the working-class women they screen as targets for ridicule.

Birthday Cake (2013, US). Narcissistic male couple throws a lavish birthday party for their toddler. Homophobic relatives and toxic co-workers ruin it. Vulgar and mean-spirited. 

Consenting Adult (1985, US). Marlo Thomas and Martin Sheen reject their son (Top Gun’s Barry Tubb) when he comes out. Cue earnest monologues and screaming arguments. This TV-drama hasn’t aged as well as similar works like That Certain Summer and Doing Time on Maple Drive. The parents think it’s an illness. The son and his sister do not. The film never quite picks a side.

Crumbs – Pilot (2006, US Sitcom). Closeted screenwriter (Fred Savage) cares for his mentally ill mother (Jane Curtin). A proto-Please Like Me without the craft. Savage is likable but the writing is sluggish. Keeping him closeted made him sexless and safe for a primetime audience.

It’s All Relative – Pilot (2003, US Sitcom). When a working-class boy proposes to an upper-class girl their parents’ clash. John Benjamin Hickey’s prissy gay dad plays the villain here, insulting his new in-laws and trying to sabotage the engagement. It’s more unpleasant than funny. La Cage Aux Folles without the disguises or laughs.

Jack (2004, US). Coming of age for a mopey teen (Anton Yelchin) with a gay dad (Ron Silver). Yelchin’s compelling but the film has the bland earnestness of an after school special. Stockard Channing steals scenes as Yelchin’s pragmatic mother.

Jonathan (2016, Germany). Surly farmer (Jannis Niewöhner) freaks when he learns his cancer-ridden father is gay. The father’s story is compelling. But the son is too coiffed and gym pumped to buy as a sheltered country boy. The director’s habit of stripping him naked led The Hollywood Reporter to call it “the most soft-porn movie ever made about terminal cancer.”

The Lost Language of Cranes (1991, UK). Closeted son comes out. His closeted dad debates whether to do the same. Trouble is, he’s got a wife. The son’s uneasy liberation and the father’s life on the down low contrast each other in interesting ways. Simple story benefits from a strong cast (Brian Cox, Eileen Atkins, Angus MacFadyen) and a sharp screenplay from Sean Mathias. Recommended

Mulligans (2008, US). College student falls for his friend’s closeted dad. The actors appear too close in age for the syrupy romance to work. The other family members are written with more specificity than the lovers. We don’t spend enough time with dad to invest in his journey.

The Truth About Jane (2000, US). Stockard Channing and James Naughton reject their lesbian daughter (Ellen Muth). Sound familiar? The tropey script isn’t great but Muth gives an interesting performance as the angry, sarcastic teen. She provides the melodrama with a jolt of heat. RuPaul also gets a nice scene as a wise gay neighbor.

Venus (2017, US). Trans woman is approached by the 14-year-old son she never knew she had. They bond fast but get push back from their respective families. Conflicts are quickly resolved in a film that wants to be comfort food and succeeds. The teen actor is terrific.
(Header image features the cast of Venus.)
(NOTE: I had recommended this film, but have since been informed that the trans role is played by a cis actor. The director discusses it here.)

Victoria (2019, Spain, Short Film). Mother argues with her ex, who came out as trans, about whether to attend a parent teacher conference together. Well written without over-the-top accusations. Recommended

The Prodigal Son Returns

This was a popular theme in film festivals this year in stories like A Skeleton in the Closet and Rurangi. It can be terrifying or an exercise in wish fulfillment.

Counting for Thunder (2017, US). Struggling actor returns to his Southern home to care for his ailing mother and romance a local hunk. Likeable but slow and short on conflict.

Fak Yaass (2019, US Canadian Web Series). A Greek-Canadian party boy who’s forced to look after his homophobic grandfather after an injury. He clashes with the estranged family he avoided for years. Starts as an edgy sitcom, then moves into thornier territory. 

The Hanging Garden (1997, Canada). Gay man visits his toxic, abusive family for a wedding. Things grow surreal as he watches his younger self enact an alternate history. Ambitious but hard to recommend due to triggering depictions of self-harm.

Pretty Things (2020, US Short Film). A father explains his drag queen past to his young daughter. His ex-husband disapproves. They’re complex characters and the conversation is handled with nuance.  

Tennessee Queer (2012, US). Mom wants son to move back home. He decides to show her how prejudiced the town is by proposing a Pride parade to the city council. It’s a juicy premise but the conservatives are written like cartoons. This robs it of stakes and wit.    

Uncle Frank (2020, US). Timid student (Sophia Lillis) goes on a road trip with her semi-closeted uncle (Paul Bettany) in 1973. Alan Ball’s script is at its best when they’re alone together. It grows less honest when they visit their melodramatic Southern Carolina relatives. They turn the third act into Gay Uncle on a Hot Tin Roof. 

Ranchlands (2019, US). City boy visits his estranged family’s ranch and falls for a ranch hand. The characters are archetypes, and the story predictable, but the primal family arguments have power. 

Siblings (and Cousins)

I’ve devoted two articles to stories about LGBT folks and their siblings. I’ve come across several more since.

Babydyke (2020, Danish Short Film). Lesbian siblings attend a party. The teen needs a mentor but her older sister rejects the role. They’re too close in age to get along. Captures a messy dynamic quickly.

Beauty Boys (2020, French Short Film). A teen drag queen (Un Frere’s Simon Royer) plans to perform at a local festival. His angry brother tries to stop him. The relationship is more complex than it first appears.  

Ding Dong I’m Gay (2020, Australian Web Series). Nerdy gay man attempts to teach his hunky young cousin about Sydney’s gay dating scene. The first season was sweet. The second season recast the hunk and steered to a raunchier vibe. Aims for the tone of the Eating Out and Another Teen Movie films.

Everything’s Gonna Be Okay (2020, U.S. Series). Josh Thomas (Please Like Me) plays a childish gay man who is given custody of his teen stepsisters. Early episodes are tropey but things improve when Matilda, the autistic older sister, takes focus. She begins a complex journey towards independence as she explores her sexuality and prepares for college. A stellar first season. Recommended

Love Me Anyway (2018, US). Straight brother’s wife is cheating with a woman. Gay brother has fallen for a bi-curious man who can’t commit. The sibling relationship is more compelling than the mopey hipster romances. But the weak script focuses on the latter.

My Brother’s Shoes (2015, US). Gay and straight brothers swap bodies. The straight guy has to enter a drag contest and the gay brother has to give a corporate presentation. Bad gay movie tropes are out in full force. Whiny men, shrewish women, endless exposition and terrible pacing. Wastes a promising premise.

The Other Two (2019, US Series). Older siblings freak out when their baby brother’s YouTube video launches him to pop stardom. The characters genuinely like each other so it’s easy to invest in their shallow showbiz dreams. The writers find a new spin on familiar tropes. Recommended.

Regarding Billy (2005, US). When his parents die, Billy comes home to care for his adorable kid brother and reconnect with a childhood crush. Twee lines like “you’re the bestest brother in the whole world” require a strong stomach. Similar to two films I’ve reviewed in the past: White Frog and The Conrad Boys.

Sex, Death and Bowling (2015, US). Successful gay man (Adrian Grenier) visits his estranged family. His brother is dying and everyone is in denial. The ambitious script crams dance, animation, campy flashbacks, brutal violence, and way too many subplots into 96 minutes. It was nice to see Andi Mack’s Joshua Rush as the dying man’s precocious son. I’d have traded some of the clutter for more conversations between Grenier and Rush.

Trends

The films here include:

  • 5 disapproving fathers.
  • 5 disapproving mothers.
  • 2 conversion therapists.
  • 3 cases of a parent striking their gay son.
  • 2 Stockard Channings. One sweet. One sour.
  • 7 supportive families. The story conflict does not come from homophobia.

Related Articles

For more films on these subjects check out some of my past articles.

Christmas Cheer
Holiday Cringe
Mothers and Sons
My Two Dads
Sibling Rivalry part 1 and 2

Doing Time on Maple Drive (1992) recap.
Our Sons (1991) recap
That Certain Summer (1972) recap
Twilight of the Golds (1997) recap

For more reviews of LGBT media click here.