LGBT Movies: Outfest LA 2021 – Shorts Edition

Welcome back to LGBT Movies: Mordor Reviews Outfest LA 2021! Throughout this week, I’m posting my thoughts on more than 70 (!!) of the 170+ (!!!!) short and feature films that screened at this year’s virtual edition of Outfest LA from August 13 through August 22, 2021 (many streaming options are actually available through August 25, so you still have time to check some of these out!).

In today’s edition, I’ll be discussing over 40 of the short films showcased over the past week, in programs titled Boys Shorts, The Kids Are Alright, Family Matters, I Have to Laugh, Surrealness, Platinum, Silver Shorts, Enby Shorts, and Fellas That Were in the Mood. Come back at this time on Friday for reviews of most of the other shorts, which were showcased in programs titled Postcards from 2020, Latinxcellence, Girls Shorts, What a Girl Wants, and Transcendental, along with a few final features. All films will be rated on a five-star (★★★★★) scale.

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Night Train

The Night Train You know the story: a furtive glance becomes a quickly averted gaze becomes a held stare becomes a tentative smile becomes a rapturous encounter. Every slight move becomes sensual, a flirtatious thrill. When nobody knows you, you can do anything. Then you return to the real world, you leave the pocket universe of The Night Train, and you pretend nothing is different, even though everything has changed. ★★★★

Fervor Watched immediately after Night Train, it’s hard not to compare the stilted discomfort of Fervor to the former’s burgeoning sensuality (to say nothing of the discomfort caused by the power dynamics in play between the gardener’s son and the son of the family spending their summer in the villa where the gardener works). Even the inherent intimacy of the lead washing another boy’s feet doesn’t get the camera to linger. 1/2

Pool Boy There’s a power in being able to see yourself the way that someone else sees you. There’s a power as well in the queering of a laundry list of clichés – the tortured artist rich boy home for the summer, the upstairs-downstairs romance, the Pool Boy of it all. The acting is rather amateurish, and nearly half of the runtime is devoted to a fantasy sequence that pales in comparison to the reality on display, but the final moments make the journey worthwhile. ★★ 1/2

Graduation Two young Chinese men attending college in southern California contemplate their futures the night before one graduates to return to China with his mother, while said mother spends a not-so-innocent night at home with an old friend (and the father of her son’s secret boyfriend!). The boys are written like they’re high school freshmen, and the acting all around leaves much to be desired, but the absurdity of the situation deserves some credit. ★★

Complicated A young man struggles with his body image, depression, and anxiety within the confines of a cripplingly codependent relationship with his mother. Complicated grapples with the pressure to be the right kind of gay, of feeling like you’ll never be enough at the same time as always being too much, and of others wanting you to be yourself only on their terms. It ends on a not that I think undermines the rest of the movie, but is nevertheless powerful filmmaking. ★★★

Daisy Boy Sometimes, if you’re lucky, the whole world freezes and you know you’ve found exactly where you belong. Then the real world and all its coarseness intrudes, and your innocence is lost, replete with glittery eyelids. Let’s call it “Everybody’s Talking About Jameson.” It’s impossible not to smile throughout Daisy Boy, with its deadpan humor and magical fantasia breaks. ★★★★

Headlock Is there any place more fraught for a closeted gay boy than the locker room? Sure – how about the locker room after wrestling practice? Headlock serves as a reminder that as much progress as we’ve made, the brutality of high school hasn’t gone anywhere, but it’s always juxtaposed against the tenderness and forgiveness of love and friendship. Parents: please don’t give your kids body image issues because of varsity sports. ★★★

Girls Shouldn’t Walk Alone at Night Two compelling lead actresses remind us of the visceral danger that women face every day just for existing. As they choose not to accept a ride from a presumptuous creep and instead to walk miles in the middle of the night, over the river and through the industrial wasteland, we’re also reminded of the empowerment of taking back your own agency. ★★★★

Homegoing Across a series of searing moments in one harrowing night, Homegoing weaves a powerful story about the absolute terror that young Black men face in 21st-century America, and how amplified that terror becomes with the added pressure to be the right kind of Black and the right kind of man. The aimlessness of the plot and the clunkiness of the symbolism of the lead being a mortician’s son is tempered by the power of seeing affection and kindness between two traumatized friends. ★★★

Before the Eruption They’re hiking on a volcano, get it? Someone coming out to you can feel as sudden as a volcanic eruption, DO YOU GET IT? Volcanoes build new landscapes just like we rebuild ourselves, DO YOU GET IT NOW? Just in case you still aren’t there, the lead character can write all about this fraught metaphor in a postcard that he’s also reading in voiceover, and then he can show you that postcard on screen at the end.

Mountain Lodge

Mountain Lodge A few years ago, my obsession with Yankee Candles began after reading a long Tumblr about the “Chris Evans candle,” also called the “boyfriend candle” on some corners of the Internet, thus dubbed because it smells like being in a Mountain Lodge when your sexy boyfriend comes in from chopping wood to keep you warm and safe. This is that Tumblr – like, the exact same one – dramatically read by a series of AIs over a succession of hilariously fitting viral videos and images. This is my story. I feel seen. ★★★★★

How to Be Queer What happens when someone so intensely Type A that they have notes on their phone planning out their entire life in excruciating detail figures out that all of the parts of those plans that involve a romantic partner use the wrong gender? The most painless coming out ever committed to film, apparently. It’s cute, it’s funny, it’s harmless. ★★ 1/2 

The Recorder After 18+ months living and working from home with my roommate, the idea of living and working from home with a partner who decides to take up the recorder and thinks that they can soundproof their practice by doing it under a blanket is agonizing. This takes that discomfort and turns it up to 11 with a surreal encounter with a woman trying to sell a (cursed?) recorder and…also possibly murder our incipient artiste? The definition of surreal, somehow amplified by the terrible acting. ★★★

How Moving Here’s a typical exchange in this short film: “The water pressure’s amazing!” “Okay.” “Are you getting a condom?” Two mismatched and unlikeable men move in together after one moves cross-country and the other proves himself ill-equipped for adulthood. No thank you.

Break In It’s a tale as old as time: you accidentally send your embarrassing, explicit fanfic about your coworker to her, so you decide to break into her apartment in the middle of the night and delete the message, uncovering a meth lab along the way. Kooky humor and tight pacing more than make up for some iffy line-readings. ★★★ 1/2

Luv U Cuz Our inconsistently but occasionally beautifully animated, interspecies, sexually liberalized future is apparently full of the same old troubled romance clichés as our bland present. Don’t worry, in the future queer people in movies are still required to do drugs in the bathroom at clubs and argue about polyamory. 1/2

Nuclear Family A bit of a cheat, as I watched this one earlier in the year during My French Film Festival. A young man tries in vain to keep his budding gay love life separate from his troubled family life while on vacation with said family at a nudist camp. It’s bittersweet, lovingly shot, and sparing with its words, choosing instead to let its tremendous lead say everything with his face. ★★★★

Fishbowl Two young Chinese women return to their tight-knit, conservative families for a Chinese New Year, with their own unspoken secrets and unhappy histories. They’re supposed to be long-time best friends on the verge of being something more, but from one scene to the next the writing alternates between “two people who’ve just met” and “old married couple.” A potentially powerful story told through two good leads is wasted by inconsistent plotting and an ineffective, sudden end. ★★

Borekas Imagine being trapped in the middle of nowhere, with nothing but your anxiety and your secrets and your fraught relationship with your father, watching the seconds tick by as the possibility of missing the flight that will take you back to your comfortable life looms. Borekas starts out frustratingly, all moodiness and glares, and while that part long overstays its welcome, it does build to an emotionally satisfying climax. ★★★

How to Die Young in Manila A boy decides it’s a good idea to stalk another boy that he thinks is the sex worker he hired for the night. He’s really terrible and obvious about it, and also there are bloodied, dead bodies everywhere that are supposed to symbolize the risk he’s taking and his loss of innocence, but are just…odd. An effective moment at the end showing how fickle young lust can be makes up for it a little bit. 1/2

Mother Bunker Don’t worry, even our robot overlords will be into drag. A supremely creepy waste of five minutes. 1/2

NSFW (Angry Yellow Meat) [18+] The warning is in the title! The director has taken all of the dick pics he’s received since 2018, spliced his singing mouth onto them, and made this hilarious rapping music video with phenomenal lines like “You send me dick, I made art out of it. Equality,” and “Decolonize the grid.” Weird but watchable at a very long-feeling three-and-a-half minutes. ★★★ 

Exorcism and Other Supplications My notes say “Haute Couture Afrofuturistic Queer Orgasmo-fantasy.” What is essentially an ad for Jamall Osterholm’s latest collection is also an effective film about the exploitation and violation of QTPOC bodies. ★★★ 1/2

Dwarf Planet

Dwarf Planet Eddie is gay, lonely, fat, home alone, and flush with cash from his recent birthday. Greg is fit, conventionally attractive, and a sex worker who finds himself standing in Eddie’s bedroom. Over the course of eight minutes, we watch Eddie and Greg laying next to each other in their underwear, staring at the solar system diorama on Eddie’s ceiling as he talks about the day he found out Pluto was no longer officially a planet and his father found gay porn in his bedroom. We see Greg do something that doesn’t ever get to happen to fat gay men in media: he starts to see Eddie as human, as more than a plot device, a joke, a sideshow. Opening up to the affection Greg shows him, Eddie buries his face in his shoulder, crying out “This is going to be my life! Paying people for it! No one is going to want me!” It’s hard to express how transgressive it feels to hear someone say how it often feels to be fat and gay so plainly, and have someone else really hear them. ★★★★ 1/2

Bodies of Desire What starts out feeling like an athleisure ad quickly becomes an empowering (and seriously hot) exploration of South Asian sexuality in all its forms, underpinned by the powerful words of poet, narrator, and director Varsha Panikar. ★★★ 1/2 

The Man of My Dreams The idea of love, of finding the person that matches you perfectly, can be intoxicating. It’s easy to let that imagined person become an obsession, to the point that when they’re really there in front of you, you don’t believe it. The only way to know for sure is to reach out and try. Lead Henry Bae is one to watch. ★★★★

Childhoods A tale of the conflict between ambition and comfort expressed through an argument between two brothers, one who still lives in their childhood home of Amsterdam and the other who has moved to New York. Childhoods is hopelessly stuck up its own ass and even at the end doesn’t seem to fully recognize that growth and maturity aren’t exclusive to those who move on from their roots. 1/2

Rebel I expect there’s supposed to be a powerful takeaway here about queer identity as an escape and the dual lives of someone who’s expected to be masculine but doesn’t identify as such. I expect it, but it sure doesn’t come across. 1/2

Run Out Groove A queer breakup where one half of the couple is an artist who feels misunderstood, how stunningly original. Points for interesting production design, at least.

Jupiter & Europa Understated and lovely animated short about two astronauts stationed on the Galilean moon of Europa that slowly start to realize that they orbit around each other. ★★★ 1/2

Farewell A lovingly-animated short about a woman dragging the literal baggage of a long life full of love but marred with sadness to her final destination. ★★★

The Beauty President In 1992, Joan Jett Blakk became the first drag queen to run for president. Sneaking into the Democratic National Convention by changing into drag in the bathroom, she and her supporters raised the visibility of the queer community and AIDS awareness, teaching the lesson that if you aren’t given a voice, you need to take it. ★★★★

Little Sky Sky left China with their mother as a child; now they’re back, a pop star on the rise with traumatic memories of their childhood there. Little Sky is ultimately a joyful and uplifting story about overcoming the past and the expectations of tradition, brought down by some weird editing choices and weak acting that doesn’t really help in a film that wants to show rather than tell. ★★

Little Mx. Sunshine Jordan, a transfemme nonbinary person, wakes up next to Taz, their confused and closeted lover. The two argue about Taz’s discomfort with his attraction to Jordan in a way that I expect will be very triggering for some. A lot of ultra-wordy philosophizing and unnecessary coarseness that flips from gentle sweetness to caustic bitterness on a dime and seems to exist solely to be able to commit the line “The strangest things come out of your mouth when my c**k isn’t in it” to film. 1/2

Fisherman [18+] The fishing rod metaphor is more than a little on the nose and strained nearly to death in this wordless aquatic orgy short. It’s at least nice to look at, in a “this is basically porn with a good cinematographer” sort of way. 1/2

Virgin My Ass! [18+] Listen, sometimes you’re just doing a choreographed dance with your best friend, and out of nowhere he asks you to top him, and then begs you to top him, and then is kind of a jerk about the whole situation! These things just happen, apparently! Funny, painful to watch, and well-acted. ★★★ 1/2

The Way We Are “Everyone knows [that] it doesn’t have to be this f**king hard!” For so many of us, even in 2021, the first time we learn about ourselves and where we fit into society is through the hurtful things we hear others say about people with desires like our own. For these four women who were founding members of ALOT (Asian Lesbians of Toronto) in the late 1980s, it was only through forming a new community that they learned that we can’t choose who we are, but we can choose how we relate to it. Their stories are powerful, the impact of their love immeasurable. ★★★★ 

Senior Prom

Senior Prom At Triangle Square, an LGBT+ retirement community in Hollywood, the annual senior prom is the event of the year. To these people, prom represents everything negative in their pasts: “It was the heterosexual world,” “The straight world is cruel,” “The world was still in its closet.” It’s easy to understand this perspective when it’s coming from a woman who was arrested in Los Angeles for “masquerading,” aka wearing jeans and a button-down shirt. Senior Prom is an opportunity to rewrite the painful memories of their high school years, when they couldn’t live openly as themselves and either avoided prom altogether (the case for almost all of the women interviewed) or went with opposite-sex dates (the case for almost all of the men interviewed). Now they get to celebrate themselves every day. ★★★★

Coded JC Leyendecker was an artist who designed hugely popular, highly effective, and instantly recognizable advertisements in the early 20th century. He was also a gay man who coded his queerness into every piece he produced. He revolutionized advertising using male models, pioneering the use of men as sex symbols in ads – without Leyendecker, we may never have seen Adam Driver become a horse! Leyendecker’s ads were subtly suggestive, furtively sexual, and extremely seductive, and the companies that profited from his work were quick to drop him by the wayside with the rise of cultural conservatism at the end of the 1920s, leading to the rise of his protegé, Norman Rockwell. It’s sad if fitting that upon Leyendecker’s death in 1951, the short NY Times obituary spoke about his more than 50-year relationship with model and muse Charles Beach in the most coded of language. Leyendecker transformed the pain of not seeing himself represented in media into the power of forging that representation himself. It’s about time we remember him for it. ★★★★ 1/2

Trade Center Once upon a time, the World Trade Center was a gay cruising hub. It was still actively in use as such on 9/11. In Trade Center,the mythology of a building that is so integral to the modern American psyche is transgressed. Images of the monuments to 9/11 in the present-day World Trade Center are intercut throughout, reminding us that the queer community lost something that day, too. ★★★ 1/2

Eden [18+] Little more than a vapid collection of images of the lead cruising and hooking up. I’d say you’d be better off heading to OnlyFans if you want some titillation, but I suppose come October Eden will be a more accessible choice. This joke is already outdated 15 minutes after I wrote it, but you get the point! 1/2

Private Photos [18+] Has there ever been a film that portrayed a threesome positively and as good for a relationship? If there has been, this isn’t it. Aside from a briefly powerful scene that showcases the vulnerability of letting a stranger into your home, letting them see your life, letting them remove your glasses and your clothing and all of your layers of armor, this is sex-negative mush, building towards a weird and unnecessary twist. 1/2

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Did you watch any of Outfest’s virtual offerings? Sound off in the comments below!