LGBT Movies: Artists and Athletes

This week I continue to compile my 2020 movie reviews. Today’s films look at artists and athletes in life and fiction.

Biopics

C.O.G. (2013, US). 28-year-old Jonathan Groff is miscast as a gullible student who takes a job in rural Oregon. He’s abused by the locals in a string of triggery scenes. From a story by David Sedaris.

Christopher and His Kind (2010, UK). Matt Smith muddles through this bland Isherwood biopic. The first half is Cabaret without the songs. The second half is a sad gay romance. 

Howl (2010, US). Allen Ginsberg’s famous poem inspires a silly obscenity trial. James Franco’s monotone performance removes all sex and danger from the poetry. Watch Kill Your Darlings instead.

Kenneth Williams: Fantabulousa! (2006, UK). Michael Sheen plays gay comic Kenneth Williams. Sheen gets the camp public persona right. The script is less convincing in scenes of his sad private life.

Little Ashes (2008, Spain). Federico Garcia Lorca and Salvador Dali wrestle with their sexuality in conservative Spain. Robert Pattinson tries to ground the eccentric Dali. But florid monologues, sloppy storytelling and a noisy soundtrack push things into camp. Unrequited love is torture. But it can also be very silly.

The Naked Civil Servant (1975, UK). John Hurt’s confident performance bolsters this repetitive biopic of Quentin Crisp. We follow Crisp’s adventures as an artist and sex worker in 1940’s London. The screenplay denies Crisp agency and refuses to develop the flat supporting roles. The film still managed to break taboos. A sequel examines that legacy…

An Englishman in New York (2009, US). A lively first half pits Quentin Crisp (John Hurt) against NY’s LGBT community in the 1980’s. Dennis O’Hare leads a supporting cast who challenge Crisp’s glib views on AIDS and activism. The second half slows for a sentimental look at Crisp’s final years. What was fiery grows treacly.

On The Road (2012, US). Garrett Hedlund travels across the country seducing women and men. A cast of stars are wasted in the roles of his underwritten admirers. If you haven’t read Jack Kerouac’s source novel you won’t know what the fuss was about.

Taking Woodstock (2009, US). Elliot Tiber co-organizes Woodstock and comes of age. The sanitized screenplay robs the festival of all sex, politics and danger. Watch the documentary instead.

Tom of Finland (2017, Germany). Formulaic biopic makes an erotic artist dull. The wiki-like script wallows in his miserable youth and rushes through his late life career. There’s an interesting discussion about how his art influenced U.S. gay culture. That idea could have carried a stronger film.

Worried About the Boy (2010, UK). Bland Boy George biopic examines internalized homophobia. George feels rejected for his femininity but keeps chasing after rough straight(ish) men. Captures the seedy side of his career but none of the fun. With Douglas Booth, Freddie Fox and Richard Madden.

Art

DIVOS! (2020, US). Adults play teens completing for the lead in a high school musical. The gay boy’s an over-the-top narcissist while the straight boy is a hyper-competitive jock. In a different story they’d hook up. Here they fight non-stop. It wants to be Mean Girls but without humor it’s just mean. Oddly there are no musical performances.

Hollywood je t’aime (2009, US). French actor visits LA to recover from a break up. Culture shock and melancholia ensue. Slow and dull despite some likable actors.

Kanarie (2018, South Africa). Youth joins a military Church choir. He befriends the queer soldiers while dodging the homophobic ones. There are complex supporting characters but the film didn’t let them upstage the sympathetic lead. I remained invested in his journey. Recommended

Labyrinth of Passion (1982, Spain). Pedro Almodovar’s second film is a farce about two punk rockers sleeping their way through Madrid. The nonsensical script tries to shock with its glib treatment of bisexuality, porn stars, orgies, incest and sexual assault. For all that, it grows dull. Nothing matters so nothing engages. But his style is already taking shape. Antonio Banderas makes his film debut as a goofy gay terrorist.  

Never Met Picasso (1996, US). Alexis Arquette plays a struggling painter who hangs out with quirky LGBT artists. This plot-less tour of the Boston art world did not engage me.

Nora Highland (2020, US).  A casting team turns down gay actors for a gay role while insisting they aren’t homophobic. The angry satire makes its points early and often. The play has been adapted to a Zoom format but some actors are still playing to the back balcony.  

Opening Night (2016, US). We’re backstage at a trashy Broadway musical. The preening stars and thirsty chorus boys all want to bang the new understudies. Topher Grace’s bitter stage manager, Taye Diggs’s smoldering dancer and NSYNC’s J.C. Chasez’s preening star enjoy sending themselves up. There are laughs but the script is over reliant on misogyny and sexual harassment jokes. 

Paradise Lost (2018, Brazil). The lives and loves of the staff at a drag cabaret. Slow paced character study has interesting moments but no momentum. Then wraps up with a ridiculous telenovela finale.

Sasha (2010, Germany). Young musician falls for his male teacher and cowers from his macho father. Standard coming of age story bounces between slapstick comedy and kitchen sink tragedy. 

Test (2013, US). A young dancer (the talented Scott Marlowe) rehearses for a challenging program. It’s 1985 and the AIDS crisis is making him afraid of human contact. The plot is minimal but the film captures that paranoia, riding a knife edge between backstage drama and thriller.  

Sports

12 Pound Balls (2017, US). Sluggish mockumentary about a Minnesota bowling tournament. Jessica Kozak’s prim lesbian competes against a vulgar bro. Kozak’s a three-dimensional character. The rest are one-joke cartoons. Lacks the heart that Christopher Guest has brought to similar films.   

Guys and Balls (2004, Germany). Disgraced athlete starts a gay soccer team. Hits the inspirational sports movie beats. Dated stereotypes and triggery violence hamper the fun.

Kickoff (2011, UK). Another gay soccer film. This one takes the tone of a Bugs Bunny cartoon. A violent gay team competes with a drugged up straight team. The jokes are broad and the performances amateurish. Would work better as a short sketch than a 98-minute feature.

(There are more gay soccer movies including Eleven Men Out (2005, Iceland), Mario (2018, Germany), Wonderkid (2016, UK short film) and The Pass (2016, UK). It’s a surprisingly popular genre.)

Morgan (2012, US). Injured athlete trains for a wheelchair race with the help of his laid-back boyfriend.  They have an easy chemistry. Dials up the melodrama in the final stretch.

Scrum (2015, Australia). Documentary about a gay rugby team focuses on the underdogs who watch from the bench. Raised my anxieties about male competition.

Speed Walking (2014, Denmark). 14-year-old trains for a speed walking competition. He copes with his mother’s death and his burgeoning sexuality. The exploration of the irrational side of grief is thoughtful. But the actors’ young age can make the frank material uncomfortable to watch.

For more reviews of LGBT Media click here.