Tag Archives: queer cinema

A Kid Like Jake

What kind of kid is Jake? Like most kids, Jake is many things, and to his parents, he is everything. But when they say “a kid like Jake,” they mean how Jake is different. How Jake likes to dress up in little girls’ dresses. How Jake’s gender identity is maybe fluid. No one says those exact words, of course, because Jake is still young. Jake is so young that his parents, Alex (Claire Danes) and Greg (Jim Parsons), are in the midst of registering him for school. Not public school, hopefully, which has been deemed unacceptable. So they’re making the rounds, doing interviews and writing application essays – thousands of kids for just a few hundred slots, and Alex and Greg need Jake to get financial aid on top of it.

But how old is old enough to even know something like that? I have one nephew who, as MV5BZjFkZjI4ZGQtODRmNi00MWNmLTllYzAtM2Q2MGYwNzhkYjY0XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTExNDQ2MTI@._V1_a baby, was always attracted to my baubles. He’d pull on them and gum them as a tot but when he was old enough, he’d steal them and be a very well-accessorized toddler. Another nephew insisted on having his finger nails painted whenever his mother did hers. One little guy had a dolly that he loved to play with. Once, when we brought him to Build-A-Bear, he insisted on our purchasing him a pink stroller for his bear. We obliged of course, and presto, change-o: instant mall hazard, a 3 year old on a complete tear, careening his plastic stroller possibly right into your shins. Does any of this mean anything? Other than that kids aren’t born knowing about gender stereotypes. Most kids will do whatever’s fun, grab whatever’s sparkly, unless of course they’re shamed.

Jake seems to gravitate more toward things traditionally thought of as ‘girly.’ His parents don’t think too much about it, until it’s time to submit applications and they need a hook that will distinguish him from the thousands of other kids. A friend and early childhood educator (Octavia Spencer) suggests that Jake’s gender questioning play might be worth a mention. But when tensions are high, it turns out Jake’s parents are a little less tolerant than previously believed. Not that they’re anything but accepting of their child – it’s toward each other that they harbour resentments, and those babies are coming out!

Truth be told, the subject is treated with kid gloves. It’s sensitive, and they’re so worried about blundering into it head-on, they perhaps fail to graze it fully from the side. No matter. It’s still ripe with interesting questions that are worth considering.

 

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The Joneses

Jerry Jones left his wife and 4 sons to begin his transition to Jheri – this being in the 80s long, long before the average Joe knew very much about transgendered people and what it all meant. Forget average Joes, Jehri couldn’t find a doctor in all of Mississippi who was willing to talk about her particular concerns. Jheri was in her late 30s when she left to build her new life, and though surgery was always a goal, her financial obligations were first and foremost to her kids so it wasn’t until age 60 that she was able to scrape together enough to go to Brussels and finally have the surgery she dreamed of.

Now 74, Jheri lives in a trailer park with two of her grown sons, Brad and Trevor, after MV5BMTUzNDk1OTQ0NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODUyMDE2MDI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1333,1000_AL_years of estrangement (her ex-wife didn’t feel Jheri should have any contact with the kids). Jheri helps another son, Wade, run his business, and is grandmother to his two kids, who don’t know Jheri is transgender. After hiding her true identity for so long, this lying in reverse doesn’t sit well with Jheri either, though she wants to spare her grandkids any pain or bullying.

With grown children dependent on her, some of  them disabled, Jheri struggles more than most 74 year olds, but not only does she still pray before every meal (like a good old gal in the Bible Belt), she also sings and dances and struts her stuff in her kitchen when a good song comes on. Her joie de vivre is infectious, admirable. Suppressing her true self for so many years means Jheri loves her hair and makeup and high heels, and she’s living her best life now.

Life is complicated. Families are complicated. Jheri is a remarkable woman, a remarkable matriarch, and so is the documentary that tells her story. It’s not always nice or neat, and I admire the candor, and the courage it takes to be so revealing. Director Moby Longinotto pulls together something truly unique – above all, sending the message that it’s okay to still be figuring things out, it’s okay to not have all the answers. Love solves a lot, and I truly believe that sharing like this will go a long way in destigmatizing which is still a difficult concept for some – but on screen, Jheri is a woman, mother, and grandmother like any other, filled with hopes, dreams, and perhaps some regrets. She is inspiring and real and relatable. These are some Joneses worth keeping up with

Pariah

Pariah: 1. A person without status 2. A rejected member of society 3. An outcast

Alike is a Brooklyn teenager coming to terms with her identity. Or rather, she knows herself to be gay, but feels how deeply unacceptable that is to the world around her. Her mother is desperate to shape her in her own image: she buys her clothes that are worlds away from what she’d choose for herself, she chooses friends she deems appropriate and bans the ones that aren’t. Her father calls her a daddy’s girl, and she is, she’s much closer to him, but she still can’t share the side of herself she’s afraid he’ll reject.MV5BMTg1ODg0NTA1NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjY1ODg4Ng@@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_Pariah is one of those unassuming movies that punch you in the gut. It’s written and directed by Dee Rees (Mudbound) and it’s got such a specific and unique angle that it’s unlike anything else in the genre. Alike exists on the periphery of her community; Rees situates her in a familiar black, urban neighbourhood, one that’s rarely if ever been seen in a queer movie. Rees grounds her character in authenticity; Alike is shy and often quiet, but she’s always thinking. She’s an exceptional student and a brilliant poet but she doesn’t need words to communicate her frustration and sorrow. Adepero Oduye may be a fresh face, but she was absolutely the right choice for the role. She is present, commanding, assured.

Rees has an eye for shooting city streets. Their grit seems to reflect the heaviness of Alike’s heart and the conflict she feels between who she is and who she’s expected to be. Rees doesn’t flinch away from the difficulties in coming out. She has us encounter conflict head-on. But even as things get worse at home, Alike finds the strength and courage to be the hero we all need, but most of all a hero to herself, claiming her identity no matter the consequences, honest about who she is and what she’s worth. It’s a tremendous movie, really, one that rises to its heroine’s occasion – when Alike chooses herself, it’s the most beautiful we’ve ever seen the city. Both are breath-taking.

Pariah established Dee Rees as a director of note – she’s got something to say and a visual style to back it up, a real feast for the eyes and a jolt to the heart.

 

 

Transformer

Janae Marie Kroczaleski was just going about her business in 2015 when she was publicly outed by a Youtuber without her consent. Her parents disowned her, her sponsors dropped her: overnight her life had been decided for her. Born Matt Kroczaleski, she had known for a long time that her true identity was female. Matt joined the Marines to help “push down the feminine stuff.” He married and had 3 children. But Matt never felt right in his skin. If he had to live as a male, he had to be the biggest, strongest guy he could be, and he was. A power-lifter known to his fans simply as ‘Kroc,’ Matt became the strongest man in the world for his size.

Still, he thought constantly about living as a woman, and didn’t feel authentic in his body. Over a period of 10 years, he began transitioning many times. He didn’t quit VWrtDx-gbecause it was difficult, or because he was unsure. He’d quit because he couldn’t reconcile the two halves of himself: the need to be strong AND be a woman. In his male skin, he needed to be the biggest, the most muscular, but as a woman he wanted to be petite. When he cut weight, dieted and stopped lifting, he deprived himself of his friends, his support system, the world he knew and the lifestyle he loved. Muscles were a security blanket of sorts. It’s hard to let those go.

Director Michael Del Monte makes a fascinating documentary because he’s chosen a subject who is open and accessible. Janae is courageous and enlightening. It may not have been her idea to go public, but she embraces it bravely. I loved her willingness to speak candidly about failed transitions. I adored scenes with her family – her sons are terrific people who are not only supportive but engaged in her transition, asking intelligent questions while treating her in the same loving way they’ve always treated their father – they know this is the same person, only happier and more honest. These young men have a lot to teach adults twice their age.

The documentary bracingly follows Janae as she makes this transition her last. She’s going to learn that all women are strong, by necessity, no matter what they look like on the outside. Matt Kroczaleski went through a lot in his life, but Janae understands that her path will be hardest to follow. In this documentary, she loses her job, encounters protesters, has “elective” surgery that for her is life-saving, life-embracing, is a supportive and knowledgeable judge at transfitcon, and evaluates her ass in a pair of skinny jeans. The world is complex. Janae is realistic. Transformer doesn’t speak for all transgendered people, but it speaks wonderfully to one woman’s experience. It’s personal, it’s intimate, and it’s a beautiful portrait of a life in transition and a woman coming in to her own.

 

 

TIFF18: Colette

When Matt and I were perusing the TIFF titles this year and came across Colette, we thought it must be this year’s Big Eyes (in which a husband, Christoph Waltz, takes credit for his brilliant wife’s, Amy Adams, paintings). We weren’t wrong, but we were giving Colette insufficient credit.

Colette (Keira Knightley) is a young country bumpkin who didn’t even know how to operate a snow-globe when she met her husband Willy (Dominic West), who dazzled her. He was a writer, worldly, enamoured with his own success and reputation. But the well is dry and they’re broke. To keep her husband happy and their household afloat, Colette sits down and writes a book about her own school girl experiences. Although Willy MV5BM2Y4MzdhMGUtNGE3My00NWZkLTkxMTEtMmU4ZThmNTZlZWQ3XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjU3MTYyOTY@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1399,1000_AL_criticizes it for being too feminine and “full of adjectives” he signs his name to it and sends it off to be published. Of course it gets gobbled right up. Does Willy eat crow? He does not. He celebrates “his” success without a trace of irony and then gets mad at his wife for “implying” that she wrote it. Which, again, she did. This book does worlds better than any of his ever did so he’s eager to keep the gravy train going (imagine an actual gravy train! what a weird expression, especially since the carafe gravy is traditionally served in is called a boat). Anyway. He can’t help but lock her in a room until she produces another best-seller. It’s only logical! And she does. And when, oodles of success later, it begins to chafe and she suggests getting at least partial credit, her name alongside his, he bucks. Preposterous! Women writers don’t sell, he reminds her.

Living under those circumstances, it is perhaps not surprising that she explores her options, by which I mean, sleeps with women. She is emboldened, solely by the women in her life, to assert herself. And though the laws and the norms of the day prevent her from claiming all that she may, they also inspire her to finally break free from the leash that kept her bound to a husband who viewed her as a meal ticket, their marriage as a business transaction. Even a long leash chafes.

Keira Knightley has earned herself the crown for period films long hence, but finally she has found one that is worthy of her – or, better stated, a film that can maximize her limited gifts has found her. She sparkles here, breaking outside her box to march up a hill of empowerment. Colette is familiar but not generic. It relishes the vibrancy of the period, but it also embraces its grittiness. The messaging here is anything but subtle but it doesn’t take a gentle hand to sit back and hear her roar.

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.

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.