LGBT Movies: Outfest LA 2023, Part 1

Outfest LA 2023 opened on July 13 (virtual screenings start today, July 17) amidst major turmoil for the film industry. With the Screen Actors Guild joining the ongoing Writers Guild of America strike in the largest labor action in the United States in decades, the small, independent queer films highlighted in the Outfest selection are more important – and more precarious – than ever. I’ll be reviewing a sample of this year’s feature film selection over the next two weeks, and encourage all of you to take a look at the complete selection and join some virtual (or in-person if you happen to be in LA!) screenings before Outfest wraps up on July 23 (with virtual screenings running through July 30). SadClown reviewed a few of the films I’ll be looking at today as part of his Frameline roundup, so be sure to take a look at his thoughts, too! 

Big Boys, courtesy Perfect Dog Pictures.

My Outfest 2023 journey started with Corey Sherman’s Big Boys, a contained and uncomfortable dramedy following obese gay teen Jamie (Isaac Krasner) as he comes to terms with a burgeoning crush on his cousin’s new boyfriend Dan (David Johnson III) on a family camping trip. Jamie’s cringe-inducing, precocious awkwardness isn’t portrayed in a mean-spirited way – Sherman’s script brings the laughs while also handling Jamie’s sexual journey with the utmost sensitivity – but it also isn’t remotely subtle. It also isn’t nearly as progressive when it comes to Jamie’s weight: while his crush on Dan (to say nothing of an early scene of Jamie jealously watching the bear couple that live across the street) speaks to a broad comfort with being fat, most of the punchlines are food-related (Jamie bringing half of his family’s spice rack and an instant-read thermometer on a two-day camping trip; the requisite hot dog gag; an argument between Jamie and Dan late in the film about proper hydration and blood sugar maintenance while hiking) and Jamie’s weight is at the core of the ongoing conflict with his anachronistically homophobic, sex- and shrooms-obsessed brother Will (Taj Cross). Jamie is portrayed tenderly, on the cusp of young adulthood but still full of childish fun and innocence, but Big Boys ultimately feels slight and more convinced of its emotional depth than comes across on screen.

Big Boys is streaming through Outfest LA July 24-30, and will be screening in-person July 22.

The Mattachine Family, courtesy Huckleberry Media.

A murderer’s row of queer character actors (Nico Tortorella, Juan Pablo Di Pace, Jake Choi, Emily Hampshire) can’t distract from the didactic sentimentality of Andy Vallentine’s The Mattachine Family. After their foster son’s birth mother wins back custody of him, LA-based photographer Thomas (Tortorella) comes to terms with his desperation to be a father while his husband, former child star Oscar (Di Pace), moves to Michigan to bury his feelings and try to revive his floundering career. Vallentine leans hard into telling rather than showing, turning up the melodrama with frequent lengthy montages laying exposition over Thomas’s photographs of his found family. Regular flashbacks to the early days of Thomas and Oscar’s relationship do little to develop the loving relationship they’re in the throes of mourning, and most of the present-day character development is handed over to the supporting cast, small bursts of life amidst Thomas’s persistent dourness. The Mattachine Family excels most when it’s conveying the many forms family can take in the 21st century – a callback to the titular Mattachine Society, an early gay rights group – but it also has a clear, traditional idea of what it thinks a family should look like and so can’t avoid vilifying any characters with conflicting desires. 

The Mattachine Family is streaming through Outfest LA July 24-30, and will be screening in-person July 22.

Egghead & Twinkie, courtesy Egghead & Twinkie EPK.

The heartwarming, uproariously funny Egghead & Twinkie, from writer-director Sarah Kambe Holland, follows teenage lesbian Twinkie (Sabrina Jie-A-Fa) and her straight best friend Egghead (Louis Tomeo) on a cross-country road trip to meet Twinkie’s DJ online girlfriend after Twinkie’s disastrous coming out leaves her feeling alienated from her parents as well as Egghead. On their journey they meet a scene-stealing gang of characters ranging from a bruiser of a Southern diner chef to Jess, a boba-pushing queer server at her family’s rural Texas Chinese restaurant (an absolutely winning Asahi Hirano). A bright, colorful balm to the frequently gloomy and grueling palette of queer festival films, fun comic interludes à la Heartstopper and thumping needle drops keep things in motion between set pieces and set the otherwise fairly predictable hijinks of the pre-college last hurrah and coming out/coming of age film apart from the pack.

Egghead & Twinkie is streaming through Outfest LA July 24-30, and will be screening in-person July 21.

Writer-director Fabian Stumm stars in Knochen und Namen (Bones and Names), a chamber drama following long-term partners Boris (Stumm), an actor in rehearsals for a new film, and Joni (Knut Berger), a writer finishing a new autofictional novel that dissects their relationship. Beautiful cinematography shot across a series of drab, claustrophobic, grey industrial spaces and a soundtrack focusing on boisterous Baroque string compositions contribute to the intimate chamber feel of the film while also lending a distant, clinical nature that emphasizes how routine and lifeless Boris and Joni’s interactions have become. The two stand in stark opposition to each other, with Boris fragile and sensitive, trying to puzzle through what’s gone wrong in his relationship and getting very little in return from his partner, and Joni on a hair trigger, constantly raring for a fight but refusing actually to engage in any substantive conversation or emotional exploration. The most distinct energy comes from Joni’s underexplored, shoplifting prankster niece Josie, but in general the rotating cast of supporting characters – comprising the cast and crew on Boris’s new film and Joni’s family – keeps the focus on the central couple, helping each to gain perspective on what their relationship means to them. Knochen und Namen (featured in the header image) is a film as contained as its central characters feel, weaving a tight, compelling narrative with characters whose robust interior lives leave you wanting more, but satisfied you could live with them for 100 minutes.

Knochen und Namen (Bones and Names) screens in-person only at Outfest LA on July 20.

You can find more of my reviews (and musings on the Oscars) here on The Avocado, and on Letterboxd.