LGBT Movies: Dona Herlinda and Her Son (1985)

Doña Herlinda has a successful son with a considerate boyfriend. But they live in a conservative community and need to keep up appearances. Can Doña find a solution? Doña Herlinda and Her Son blends family melodrama with camp farce. The performances are stilted and amateurish. The characters are never as engaging as they could be. But the film manages to mock social hypocrisy without turning cynical. The characters are never shamed for their antics. It’s their society that needs to change.  

Learn more in my spoiler filled recap.

Act One: Glass Houses

The only homosexuals portrayed on Mexican screens are flamboyant effeminate characters from whom the audience can be distanced because such portrayals cater to their prejudices. In my film it’s just two handsome men who love each other.

Filmmaker Jaime Humberto Hermosillo

Scene One: A Guest House in Guadalajara  
SON (A doctor): It’s time for your physical.
BOYFRIEND (A music student): You’re always groping me in public. Shouldn’t we be discreet?
SON: I tell people I’m straight and they buy it. Because they want me to be straight.

Scene Two: A Café
MOM (a wealthy widow. She’s always smiling.): Hello Son. I see you brought your “workout buddy.” I’d like you to meet Olga.
OLGA: I work for Amnesty International.
(Son and Olga dance. Boyfriend dances with another woman. Son gets jealous.)
MOM: My son never works out when you’re away. You should move in to my son’s room and keep him in shape.
(Boyfriend drops his taco.)
BOYFRIEND: So… you know what’s going on?
MOM: I know I want my son happy. I also know I want grandchildren.  

Act Two: The Other Woman

Scene Three: Mother’s House
BOYFRIEND: Stop that. Your mother will see us.
SON: She doesn’t suspect a thing.
(Mom walks in on them in a compromising position. They pretend they’re working out.)
SON: I’m asking Olga to marry me. You can still be my side piece.
BOYFRIEND: You’re the worst.

Scene Four: Wedding
OLGA’s PARENTS: Our daughter’s left-handed.
MOM: My son was too. I taught him to be ambidextrous.
BOYFRIEND: I’m moving out.
MOM: Nonsense. You can keep me company while my son’s on his honeymoon.
BOYFRIEND: Are you being selfish or generous?
MOM: (No longer smiling.) Both? You see that sad old woman in the plaza? She lives alone. That’s not happening to me.

Act Three: Compromise

Scene Five: Nine Months Later
(Olga goes into labor while Son and Boyfriend are having sex.)
OLGA: I got married to escape my family. Now I’m saddled with another. If only someone could look after the baby while I study abroad.
MOM: His Godfather can help with that. I’ll build a new wing on the house. There’ll be room for the five of us.
BOYFRIEND: So, I get stuck playing babysitter, surrogate son and boy toy?
SON: You get to live in a mansion with people who love you and keep the appearance of conservative respectability. It’s not so bad.

THE END

Machismo

Sometimes attacked in his own country, consistently honored in Europe and Canada, and virtually ignored in the United States, the openly gay filmmaker [Jaime Hermosillo] has made a career out of debunking bourgeois myths.

Chale Nafus. Austin Chronicle. 2002

Filmmaker Jaime Humberto Hermosillo’s career spanned five decades. Hypocrisy and forbidden love were common themes in his work. He helped pave the way for stories like Y tu mamá también and El corazón nunca se equivoca.

Vito Russo argues in his book, The Celluloid Closet, that the pompous son only seems to be in charge. In truth his wife and mother manipulate him as much as they do his boyfriend. Thankfully they use their powers for good. The reveal that Olga’s in on the game was a nice surprise. It gives her more bite than the long-suffering wives in other gay romances.

I was uncertain who the protagonist was. Most of the tale is told from the boyfriend’s perspective, yet the mother gets the agency. A different story would make their relationship antagonistic. Here she wants to be an ally despite never speaking openly with him. When the son leaves with Olga on their honeymoon the boyfriend tries to rebuild his former life. He finds his old room has been rented out and a man who used to flirt with him has moved away. If he leaves his lover he’ll be starting from scratch. It’s a quiet, pensive sequence that treats a farcical situation with respect. The LA Times called Doña Herlinda cruel. But Mexico wouldn’t legalize same-sex marriage till 2015. In 1985 her offer had value.

I’ve covered other films about queer men and their mothers here. You can find more of my reviews on The Avocado and Letterboxd. My podcast, Rainbow Colored Glasses, can be found here.