Tag Archives: queer cinema

TIFF18: Boy Erased

Jared is a good guy. He goes to church with is parents, where his father is the pastor. He plays on the high school basketball team. He’s kind to his girlfriend. But when he gets to collage, the world isn’t quite so good to him in return. He makes fast friends with a fellow runner, but that leads to a surprise sexual tryst one night that the other guy can’t live with. So, he tries to destroy Jared’s life, forcibly outing him to his deeply religious parents.

Jared (Lucas Hedges) respects his parents (Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe) so he goes to gay conversion camp as instructed, in the hopes that they can turn him straight.  Conversion therapy is nuts. I mean, it just is, on principle. What kind of whack jobs really believed this would work? And what kind of whack jobs wanted it to? It would almost MV5BMjQ4MDM0MjMxOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTkzNzY1NTM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1555,1000_AL_make a handy queer dating service, as it is probably the biggest concentration of homosexual folk any of these kids has seen before, if it wasn’t so nasty and abusive. That’s what it really boils down to. The head instructor, Victor Sykes (Joel Edgerton), blames your “problem” on some member of your family who made you gay. He wants you to pick someone to focus your anger on. He wants you to learn to “act” “straight” (did you know that the triangle is the straightest shape?). He focuses on behaviour – if you stop playing football, you are no longer a football player. Problem solved.

I mean, this whole thesis feels strangely out of date. Why is Hollywood still trying to convince people that gay is okay? I think societally we’ve moved past this point, except all these scripts that have been languishing for years are only now getting produced, and they’re already obsolete. You have to check out indie cinema to see some truly of-the-moment lgbt themes. But okay, gay conversion therapy is a horror. Of course it is. But the thing that’s great about Boy Erased is that Jared is such a strong character. Everyone and everything in his life is trying to make him feel wrong and ashamed and dirty, but he doesn’t. When he confirms to his parents that he thinks about men, he knows it goes against everything they believe, but it doesn’t seem like he’s internalized that self-hatred. It can’t be easy, in that house particularly, to know that his very being is not only repugnant but blasphemous to the people he loves most. And yet when he consents to the therapy, it’s for them, not for him. We never get the sense that he believes he needs to change. And that’s kind of astonishing to see.

Eventually Jared need to come to terms with disappointing the people he loves. And maybe he’ll need to cut out the people who are adding toxicity to his life. Those are hard choices, but they’re the right ones. This movie is really more about his parents needing to learn that they’re the idiots, and they’re the ones in need of education and re-conditioning. But while Nicole Kidman, in all her church lady big-hair, bejeweled glory, sort of comes around, there’s not a lot of remorse on the part of Russell Crowe’s character. And that’s where the movie falls short. Jared is surprisingly at ease with himself but the movie doesn’t give him nearly enough credit. Director Joel Edgerton, perhaps unsurprisingly, spends more time on his own character, than he does on the ones with real influence in this story.

Boy Erased is a good, competent little movie that will fail to make a big impression.

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TIFF18: Papi Chulo

Sean the weatherman has a meltdown on the air, so he’s sent home for some mandatory personal time off. His partner left him recently, and left a large, unpainted circle on their deck to boot. Pretty, soft-hands Sean (Matt Bomer) is out of his element in the hardware store. He buys the paint with help but the actual painting doesn’t go well, so the next day he trolls the lineup of available day workers and brings home Ernesto.

Ernesto (Alejandro Patiño) doesn’t speak English and Sean doesn’t speak Spanish. Odd couple alert!

The thing about this movie is, it sounds pretty light and predictable. And it is. But that doesn’t do it justice, because in fact it was one of my favourite movies at the festival. And maybe that’s because 90% of the movies I saw were depressing as shit and this one comes with a hint of optimism. But it’s the movie that I needed without knowing I needed it, and I felt like a life line.MV5BMTg1ODNhODQtMTQ3YS00OTY4LTk2OGItZDExZTNiM2VlMWU5XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTQ1MTYzNzY@._V1_

 

Poor Sean. His friends and coworkers see him floundering and all agree that he needs to talk to someone, but to Sean, the act of doing so is the same as admitting that he’s alone and things are bad. He can’t. But he does find himself opening up to Ernesto. Ernesto who continues to be paid $20 an hour for “painting” finds himself hiking the canyons instead, and posing for Instagram pics. Although it looks like friendship, Sean is using Ernesto in at least 2 strange ways:

 

  1. As a therapist. A therapist who is easy to talk to because he can’t understand him, thus there is no fear of judgement.
  2. As a replacement boyfriend. Sean has Ernesto doing couple-y things, like renting a boat to row around the lake, and going to parties where he lets everyone assume they’re dating.

It’s not a great pretext for a relationship of any kind, but it’s done with such sweetness from both sides it’s hard to condemn…until it inevitably escalates. But your heart aches because on some level we all understand this awkward reaching out, the inability to call it what it really is, the denial and the loss that motivates it.

Matt Bomer is very vulnerable in this, he teeters between faux-cheeriness and complete abandon and at times we’re scared for him because he feels like our friend and we see him spinning out. Alejandro Patiño is great too – the perfect mix of skeptical and concerned. I love these two together so much that I don’t want the movie to end. I don’t want Sean to get better, to outgrow a friendship I understand is toxic for him. This movie makes me selfish because it has entertained me and sustained my soul during a dark day of movie watching. Papi Chulo is a huggable movie, perfect for watching in bed with a big bag of pretzels.

Hurricane Bianca: From Russia With Hate

Bianca Del Rio is the drag name and alter ego of Roy Haylock, who won the 6th season of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Acerbically funny, Bianca went on to star in her own movie where her razor-sharp barbs cut up a classroom. If you missed my review of Hurricane Bianca, high school teacher Richard (Haylock) is fired in small-town Texas for being gay. Richard returns to the school as Bianca, and becomes teacher of the year. But Principal Deborah (Rachel Dratch) is suspicious, and with grudges against both Richard AND Bianca, she sets out to destroy either one. Of course, with some skeletons in her own closet, she probably shouldn’t go poking at the wigs and padding in someone else’s. Let’s just say the movie ends with Deborah being sent to jail.

Cut to: Hurricane Bianca the sequel. Deborah’s out of jail and mad as hell. Richard has MV5BODE0YmU3ODctOThjMC00ODJkLWIwNTEtNzFkNTM3ODQ2MDA1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTUwNDQ4NQ@@._V1_retired Bianca but is still teaching in Texas. He should probably be a lot more suspicious when he gets a letter in the mail saying he won a contest he never entered – a contest whose cash prize only Bianca can pick up. In Russia. Deborah of course has heard it’s illegal to be gay in Russia and figures the Russians will just do the dirty work for her, and she’s probably not wrong.

Hurricane Bianca: From Russian With Hate is peppered with cameos from faces you’ll recognize and drag queens you’ll love (including D.J. “Shangela” Pierce, back again, and actually quite a natural). And Bianca gets a new sidekick named Rex (Doug Plaut, a scene-stealing weirdo).

If you liked the first, this one’s as deliciously snarky. When jokes land, they land like death drops. This is dark comedy realness, a Russian whore extravaganza eleganza, and if you don’t love it I don’t know how in the hell you’re gonna love yourself.

 

BPM (Beats Per Minute)

In the early 90s, a group called ACT UP Paris is putting pressure on the government and the pharmaceutical companies to do more, to do something to combat the AIDS epidemic.

I’ve seen lots of great documentaries about AIDS advocacy in the 80s and 90s and am forever in awe of how the gay community basically saved themselves. They had to. Of course the world was immediately scared of AIDS, but this was at a time that they were still afraid of homosexuality as well. HIV as not exactly a sympathy magnet. People thought it would basically kill off a bunch of deviants and sinners, and lots were okay with that. So the gay community rallied for itself. Even as they were being decimated by a unforgiving disease, they had to organize and go to bat for basic things like treatment and education and access and understanding and when all else failed, for the right to have their partners hold their hands while dying.

1238247So the truth of a film like BPM (aka Beats Per Minute aka 120 battements par minute) hurts. It hurts to see such a strong group of people fighting to save their own lives, but watching the group, watching their friends and colleagues, go missing one by one. They send postcards with the faces of their dead comrades to the Prime Minister knowing one day that face might be theirs. They act as guinea pigs for drug companies that withhold information, and go to jail for demanding it. And they continue to fight even after it proves not to “just” be a “gay disease” but one that would spread to lots of vulnerable populations. Their hard work is what saved us all.

Nathan (Arnaud Valois), a newcomer to the group, can’t help but be enchanted by Sean (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart), an HIV-positive member who is using the last bit of his strength to fight the good fight. Even though this is inevitably a very sad movie, there is also hope, and the struggle to find positivity even when things look bleak. It’s about fellowship and caring and justice. BPM doesn’t resort to melodramatic shenanigans. It has confidence in its story. It tells it straight, and it’s actually more affecting this way. 

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.

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.