Tag Archives: queer cinema

The Feels

Andi and Lu are being celebrated at their joint bachelorette party. Andi’s friends are fun but their clique is perhaps intimidating to those on the outside – which number only Lu, and her one friend Helen, the only friend of hers to show up (the elusive Nikki is forever “on her way” and “almost there”). Of course Helen is a notable odd duck, would be odd no matter which pond she was quacking in, the type of forward, abrasive character you’d expect Melissa McCarthy or Fortune Feimster to play (though in this case played by Ever Mainard).

When Nikki does finally arrive, she brings Ecstasy, and conflict, and it’s hard to say which is ultimately worse for the group. Secrets come out, secrets GET TOLD. Like, for example, the fact that Lu (Angela Trimbur) has never had an orgasm and fiancee Andi MV5BNDkxODNhNTQtMDgyNy00YjM5LWE5NzEtMjk1YThmZTc4MzBmXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTEzNDY5MjM@._V1_(Constance Wu) is the last to know because Lu’s been faking this whole time. Which, you can imagine, is not a great thing to be learning when you’re mere moments away from marrying the person. And in the company of everyone you know. So that it becomes THE topic of conversation for the rest of the weekend, which is fucking awkward, dude!

The Feels isn’t bursting with originality. It isn’t bursting with anything. It’s a pretty low-key movie. But in between Helen’s bouts of inappropriateness, the ladies talk some real talk, which is kind of refreshing; taboo subjects get a full airing here. It’s a safe place for women to dish about their sexuality, and more. But despite some great inter-cast chemistry, a safe space for feelings does not necessarily a fun or exciting movie make. It was all right, but in the end, easily forgotten, which is not something I imagined I’d be saying about a movie about the mysteries of the female orgasm ACTUALLY TOLD FROM THE FEMALE PERSPECTIVE.

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To Each, Her Own

Simone and Claire are celebrating their 3rd anniversary together. Simone promises that should she blow out all the candles at once, she’ll finally come out to her family. She gives good blow, but can she keep her word?

Simone (Sarah Stern) insists that she’s ready, in fact beyond ready, to come out: the problem is her family. And when we meet them, well, it may be true. Her mom already treats her like an odd duck because she’s a non-practicing Jew. Of course, all the idiosyncrasies that Simone nitpicks about her mother are also true of her, she just can’t see it yet. Give it some time. We all turn into our mothers, ESPECIALLY the crazy ones. And it turns out there’s already a disappointment in the family; Simone’s brother is gay, and her father is very clear on the “fact” that homosexuality is a IMG_20180624_123946disease, one that he does not want brought into his home. Simone fears that a second coming-out will prompt a heart attack, but her father’s health concerns seem, frankly, a bit brought on by himself. Perhaps worst of all, her oldest brother operates a Jewish dating site, and neither he nor his mother can think of a better way to marry her off, with or without her consent.

Does all of this create problems for poor Simone? Of course it does. But, um, so does the handsome Senegalese chef (Jean-Christophe Folly) at her favourite restaurant. The way things are going, Simone may not have a Claire (Julia Piaton) to come home to for much longer. Is this movie merely masquerading as queer cinema? It feels a tad, I don’t know, homophobic at times, like it really doesn’t respect lesbians or their relationships very much at all.

What To Each, Her Own boils down to is a lot of stereotypes and a lot of ideas that don’t quite amount to much, and certainly not to a very satisfying conclusion. If this is a comedy, it isn’t an overly comedic one, but it’s certainly not super romantic either, so it kind of waffles about in the farcical gray zone, sort of toying with stepping over the line in racial, religious, and sexual spheres, so in that way it’s a real triple threat. Or a triple non-threat. A triple mistake. A triple cringe. I guess this is me not really recommending this movie at all, unless you’re that rare, self-hating gay Jew who enjoys taunting fathers into cardiac arrest.

 

Disobedience

Ronit and Esti were childhood friends and young lovers but their Orthodox community forced them apart and Ronit left in disgrace and scandal, shunned by her Rabbi father. Years later, she returns upon his death and finds that her mere presence sets tongues wagging and old rumours flying. Esti is still there and has forged herself a new life within the boundaries of her religion. She is married to a mutual (male) friend and it isn’t terrible.

Old passions are reignited between Ronit (Rachel Weisz), who lives as a photographer in NYC, and Esti (Rachel McAdams), who wears a wig to cover her hair and has careful, kosher sex with her husband every Shabbat. But as good and devout MV5BN2U1ZjllMWQtYzBlOC00ZGQyLTg0YTUtNWQ3YmI3ZjYwNmIzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc5OTMwOTQ@._V1_as Esti’s present life is, even the memories of her past with Ronit are scorching enough to make everyone nervous. In their community, straight marriage is the only option, and it’s not so much an option as an obligation. Esti stayed, and conformed; Ronit left, and flourished, though she has all but abandoned her faith.

Disobedience isn’t graphic or specific of pointed. It goes about things in a rounder, softer way, nuzzling up to the subject and laying at its feet. This movie gives you two Rachels for the price of one, and they keep things on simmer for a really long time. On screen like they’re magnets; there’s an electric current between them that’s full of little zaps but no big surges. I really liked Weisz’s choices in particular, how she subtly plays with her hair, reminding us that hers is on display while Esti must cover hers up. And how the uncovering of hair then becomes an act of intimacy, a form of foreplay, a zap in the movie’s current. It’s not just sexual repression that bubbles over in Disobedience; religion and culture are enmeshed in this story. And while the cast does an admirable job of making this feel true, I’m not sure this is director Sebastián Lelio’s story to tell.

Weisz and McAdams communicate a lot through glances and silence. Lelio’s interpretation is a little literal for my taste, but the women here elevate the material and make it something special.

 

Duck Butter

Naima is having a bad day: she’s not fitting in on the set on an indie Duplass Brothers movie and her roommate is a bit of a wet blanket. So she’s in the right kind of mood to fall in love with the beautiful and exotic lead singer at the club that night, and she does. Naima and Sergio go home together and have an amazing time but when Sergio proposes that they should spend the next 24 hours together in an intense, sex-forward, date-skipping, get to really REALLY know you kind of thing.

Naima (Alia Shawkat) cuts and runs of course, as any sane person should. But when the Duplasses fire her she kind of has a change of heart and begs Sergio (Laia Costa) to forgive her reluctance and cowardice and soon enough, their little love experiment is in full swing. And how. These two ladies are not afraid to let shit get REAL. And it’s shot in nullsuch a way that things feel authentic and raw, and the intimacy translates so that we too are made uncomfortable by the too much, too fast. I totally get the wanting to fast forward past the awkward part of dating, the artifice of it,the hiding of one’s true self, but if there’s a way past it, all this movie does is prove that this isn’t it.

But it pretty compelling to watch. I mean: Alia Shawkat. She is a gift to the indie movie scene. She’s versatile and has a pure and brave energy. Her chemistry with Costa is terrific, as it absolutely must be to make this movie work. Shawkat and Costa are impressively willing to go there. It must have been emotionally draining to be so present and in the moment, but they give the movie a bold and brazen but fleeting vibe that’s unique to this 90 minute capsule.

The film is imperfect just like the characters, just like their romance. And if you can imagine spending 24 hours with a stranger who is also your lover and new best friend, it flags a bit in the middle, just like you’d do in real life. But there’s something just so refreshing and weird about this film, about the collision between two people in a certain time and place, that I couldn’t look away.

Now, if you need any more convincing that representation matters, here’s an interesting tidbit. On Rotten Tomatoes, Duck Butter is rated Fresh by nearly every single female critic, and it is rated Rotten by all the men save one. Movies mean different things to different people, and that’s okay. Just don’t let half of those people convince you theirs is the only opinion that matters.

Alex Strangelove

Virginity.

I know none of you whores actually remembers those early days when your genitals were dusty in the corners from disuse, but if you’re aching for a refresher, Alex Strangelove (actual name: Alex Truelove, which is worse) is a teenage boy who can’t wait to lose his to his high school girlfriend, Claire. Except it keeps not happening, and not because Claire is shutting things down. In fact, it’s Claire that reveals to their friends that she’s been attempting to de-virginize him for a year, and Alex keeps shying away. Alex is no alpha male; he’s smart and sensitive and vaguely neurotic. But he’s also 100% sure he wants to fuck Claire.

Except not. And especially not after he meets a very cute boy at a party that he can’t get out of his head.

Alex Strangelove is about a boy coming to grips with his sexuality, which may or may not involve actual sex. The love triangle between Alex (Daniel Doheny) and Claire (Madeline Weinstein, no relation to the monster) and Elliott (Antonio Marziale) feels very simplealex-strangelove-e1523976102143 and pure and wholesome and innocent. It’s funny how when you’re a teenager yourself, everything feels like drama, but watching it as a grown-ass woman, I realize how exceedingly easy it all is, and I just want to make them all grilled cheeses and tell them to just enjoy this. Finding yourself is a magical time, if not always an easy one. But Alex’s coming out isn’t going to be traumatic. His friends want nothing more than for him to be happy. I hope that is increasingly the case in 2018 but I know it’s still far from universal. It sucks that for some people, a certain amount of bravery is still required in simply claiming your truth and identity.

Which is why this movie feels particularly important to share right now, in June, the month of Pride. Gay, or straight, or anything in between, owning who you are is a twisty path. And even if you’ll be met with nothing but acceptance and open arms, it can be scary to slap a minority label on yourself and show it to the world. This movie is not a particularly good movie, to be honest, but it’s the kind that feels true to the time. It’s no John Hughes – but if you’ve recently rewatched almost any John Hughes, you’ll agree that those movies haven’t aged very well: racist, homophobic, sexist…we can’t really excuse that shit anymore. Those movies are dinosaurs. And if this isn’t quite a replacement for the classics, it’s a step in a gayer direction.

Behind The Curtain: Todrick Hall

Dear Todrick Hall,

I’m sorry. As a film reviewer at a festival, we have dozens and usually hundreds of choices to make, and a tight schedule to keep, and we just cannot see them all. This documentary was available to me and I didn’t make time for it because I had no idea that it would blow me away. I’d have to wait to discover that for myself on Netflix. So I’m late to the party, but I brought tequila and nachos. Peace?

You may or may not know Todrick Hall as a Broadway and Youtube star. Having found the roles for gay African-American men to be quite limited, he simply started creating his own. He re-wrote other people’s songs and created short films to accompany them, and gained huge notoriety on Youtube because of it.  But Todrick Hall is no flash in the pan; his talent is of such cosmic, galactic proportions that of course he would burst out of MV5BNDY3YmM4OTUtYjRiMy00ODMyLWI1OTEtM2ZjNmRiNzJiMjEzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTI4MjIwMjQ@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,666,1000_AL_Youtube and make a scene wherever he landed. But one of his absolute greatest accomplishments is a musical that he wrote and produced himself. Biographical, and inspired by The Wizard of Oz, Straight Outta Oz is an all-original production that covers the yellow-brick road he followed from being gay in small-town Texas and the struggles and hurdles that led to fame and acceptance and being fabulously gay anywhere he goes, including but not limited to small-town Texas.

Hall is enormously talented and handsome enough to coast on his looks, but what makes this documentary great is that he’s transparent and genuine. Behind The Curtain means actual access. And director Katherine Fairfax-Wright’s skill is for setting her subject within real social context. This musical was being mounted in a time when young black boys were being gunned down by police, a fellow Youtube star by the name of Christina Grimmie was murdered by a “fan”, and Hall’s old stomping ground, Pulse nightclub, was terrorized, a hate crime that left 49 dead. Both Todrick Hall and this documentary operate within this very real world, but both manage to remain optimistic and inspiring.

I hope one day I’m lucky enough to sit in his audience, but until then we can content ourselves with some of the amazing Youtube content he’s created.

I’m sorry we still live in a world that couldn’t immediately recognize the glittery, amber rays emanating from this shining star, but this kind of light cannot be contained under a bushel for long. Todrick Hall is destined for success because he knows the value of friendship, which is evident by the tight crew he keeps around him and the family that he’s made of his own choosing. And because of his voice, which is strong and knowing. And because he actually has lots to say with it, and the means to write it down, coherent and catchy. And because he wants it. He wants it so bad he’s not going to sit down and wait for it, he’s going to go out there and create it, and god damn do I admire that.

 

 

The Cakemaker

One day, a handsome man named Oren walks into Thomas’s German bakery, looking for cake and coffee, and possibly a gift suggestion for his  young son. By the end of the day, Oren and Thomas are lovers, but their affair must be put on hold as Oren returns to Jerusalem to see his son and wife. A month, he tells Thomas as he walks reluctantly out the door, trying to make it sound insubstantial. One month.

Only Oren never does return, and Thomas’s calls go unanswered. There’s been an accident in Jerusalem, and Oren was killed. He isn’t coming back, to Thomas or to anyone. Grief-stricken, Thomas travels to Israel to feel close again to his ex-lover, MV5BZWRjODFhZGYtYzI4NC00M2M0LWI4MmQtZjQ4ODk5ZWIwNjQzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTUwNDQ4NQ@@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,744_AL_wrapping himself up in the city where he last knew he was alive, and he finds himself in the cafe of Oren’s widow, Anat. Thomas (Tim Kalkhof) takes solace by inhabiting different aspects of his dead lover’s life, and it’s not long before he’s helping out in Anat’s cafe, and erm, doing other things for Anat (Sarah Adler) besides. Of course, Anat is unaware of the relationship her husband had with Thomas, so it’s only her grief pushing her into Thomas’s strong but unfamiliar arms.

The Cakemaker is slow and deliberate. It feels a bit like a recipe, with ingredients lovingly chosen and carefully measured, and everything kneaded together with slow, sensuous strokes. There are no surprise ingredients, but the way they’re blended makes for a very interesting movie, equal parts delicate and passionate. Writer-director Ofir Raul Graizer stirs his creation in a way which suggests that our identities, religious, political, sexual, whatever, they’re fluid. And grief is complicated. It’s sad of course, because love is inevitably sad, but it’s the journey more than the destination, the story of survival, the getting there, and the rest is just cake crumbs.

 

 

The Cakemaker screens as part of the Toronto Jewish Film Festival and if you’re lucky, you can catch it tonight, May 9, 8:30pm, at the Cineplex Cinemas Empress Walk 9.

Wild Nights With Emily

Emily Dickinson, that is.

This movie started and I was like: ugh. They’re really flaunting their teeny-tiny budget. This is a period piece but the costumes look rented and the sets are old (but not old enough) houses and the accents are atrocious and the props are vintage perhaps but certainly not antiques. But once I let go of my authenticity bias, I relaxed and could appreciate that no, this film can’t afford to look like an ethereal Austen period piece, but it does have something important to say.

Emily Dickinson was a brilliant American poet who was never published or recognized during her lifetime because her lifestyle was not “becoming.” In order to publish them MV5BOGIyNjg0NWItYjMzMS00N2I0LTllYjUtMzBhMjJkMDgzMWM3XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTc5OTQwMzk@._V1_posthumously, a narrative was created about her that has ever since called her a recluse, a virgin, a socially awkward spinster, which are all words attributed to women who just didn’t fit the mold. In reality, Emily had a passionate love affair with her brother’s wife, Susan. Many of her fieriest poems are dedicated to her – and name her. Traces of their relationship were of course literally erased from history in order to sell her poems to a conservative market. Dickinson was a woman ahead of her time in so many ways and this movie’s ambition is to have us reconsider the things we think we know about her.

Director Madeleine Olnek knows that letting Dickinson’s true flag fly may prove controversial, and that people generally don’t enjoy lectures about feminism, so she’s made a film that we can laugh at. And the best signal that this movie will be tongue-in-cheek is her casting of Molly Shannon as Ms. Dickinson. Molly gives Emily an energy and a joie de vivre that has been absent in our conception of her. But it’s clear from her poetry that Dickinson was in fact a woman of real passion – she loved and was loved. She was also constrained by her gender, class, and status, and all of those things have shaped our image of her. It’s only thanks to Susan’s daughter that we know of their great love and lifelong relationship, and to dedicated scholars who have uncovered the clues that were of course there all along. Don’t watch this movie if you can’t think outside the box. But do watch if you think the world needs more feminist, lesbian heroes – they’ve always existed, they just need our acknowledgement.

SXSW: The Shorts

Are We Good Parents?

Director: Bola Ogun

One day before school, a daughter lets slip she’ll be shopping for her homecoming outfit, and her parents are floored to find out that a certain “Ryan” will be picking her up for her first dance. As soon as the daughter’s out of earshot, Mom and Dad are questioning their whole parenting motif. They’d always assumed she was gay. What have they done wrong? Is she actually straight or just rebelling, or has something they’ve done or failed to do made her feel unsafe to come out?

The script is flipped from the hetero-normative expectation that a kid is straight until you hear otherwise. It’s an interesting statement to make but one which might have worn thin with a less authentic-sounding script (by Hailey Chavez). But this is no after-school special; Are We Good Parents is genuinely funny, thanks in large part to Tracie Thoms and Sean Maguire, who really tap into the self-doubting roles of two loving parents to a straight kid. This short film has big heart but it really makes you think about the assumptions we make not just as parents but as a society, and what ‘coming out’ really entails.

A first-generation American from Nigerian heritage, Ogun was born and raised in Texas and has a bright film making future ahead of her. Her film is making its world premiere at the SXSW film festival on March 10 and screens again March 12 and 15 as part of the Shorts Program 3.

 

The Coffin Club
Director: Briar March
This short is a documentary about a club formed by senior citizens in New Zealand. Through a lively musical number, the real members of the club tell us how they’ve formed a club that makes their own coffins. Sure they save some cash with their hand-made confections, but the best part is how they personalize their final resting places with glitter, paint, and pictures of Elvis. The film is 3 and a half minutes long, the whole thing sung (with Jean McGaffin and Kevin Quick providing spirited vocals), and it covers the snacks they nibble on between their morbid arts and crafts, and the trouble they got into from local funeral homes who felt their bottom lines were being hurt.
I am several decades too young and not a joiner by nature but I am desperate to be a member of the Kiwi Coffin Club. These are people who know that a box is just a box – but why not make the thing beautiful? They’re demystifying death, and preparing for it in their own way, putting their own stamp on a funeral that is usually designed by others. But it’s also clearly a social thing, with lots of camaraderie. If the club is looking for new members, I’m a great beaker and I have my own glitter, a glue gun of course, and a whole drawer full of ribbons. I’m not much of a singer, but I can snap and believe I look quite fetching in a top hat.
This doc is just minutes long but I felt like I’ve made some real friends. I could have watched for hours more. The production is great, and director Briar March turning the thing into a musical extravaganza shows us there’s more than one way to flip death the bird.
This film screens in the Documentary Shorts 1 block on March 10, 12, and 15 and honestly, it’s a whole lot of fun.

Love, Simon

I wondered whether we needed a ‘coming out’ movie in 2018, but Love, Simon surprised me. It surprised me most of all by being good, but also by making a case for its existence. Simon is a high school student with a secret. He’s gay. And it’s not that he’s particularly afraid of how his family or friends will react to the news, which is nice, and sadly not everyone’s experience. But Simon’s still holding back just because he feels that life will change for him once he’s out, and he’s not feeling ready to rock the boat.

The thing is, no matter how gently the boat would actually rock, it still should be Simon’s choice when and how to come out – and that should remain true until the proverbial ‘coming out’ is no longer necessary (ie, when hetero is no longer the ‘default’). But in the MV5BZjdmNjI4NjctNWEwNi00M2EwLTg4MzItMWFmMTU0MDJiMzA0XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTE0MDE1MjQ@._V1_film, Simon (Nick Robinson) has that stolen from him. Another kid, Martin (Logan Miller), learns his secret and exploits it, uses it to blackmail him for his own ends. Which, okay, further illustrates that everyone in high school is desperate and scared and going through something. But saving yourself should never  be at somebody else’s expense. Unfortunately, that’s a lesson both Martin AND Simon will have to learn, because to protect his secret, Simon makes some bad choices that will hurt the very friends who will love and support him if and when he does choose to be out.

It’s a pretty solid cast and a pretty solid story and a good reminder that just because being gay is a little more…mainstream? tolerated? understood? – it can still feel like a thing that sets you apart. And while being gay is not a choice, we should all be allowed to choose our own path. Sexuality doesn’t really set us apart but secrets do. And living your truth is the only way out.