Photo: Screenshot from Céline Sciamma’s Tomboy
Are you watching the Oscars on Sunday? I’m guessing that unless you are a dedicated movie buff (and chances are if you have kids it’s a bit hard to find time for nominee screenings, at home or otherwise), you may have missed a few of the (surprisingly!) good roles for gays in some of the year’s best films. Or maybe you know all about them and this is a refresher for you.
Either way, I thought I’d do a run down of some of the excellent gay-themed movies that came out this year in the excitement leading up to Sunday’s show. If this rush of quality gay topics in film continues, maybe we won’t have to roll our eyes and groan through Wolfe Videos anymore.
Weekend is one of the most believable – possibly THE most believable – films about a modern gay relationship in the past five years. In short, you should see it. Set in Nottingham, UK, Russell is a gay guy with straight friends and the ennui of a twentysomething stopped at the starting line of life. Point 1 for Weekend: Russell’s gayness is a casual fact about him, no more important than his preference for video games or knit hats. Point 2: Glen, a one-night-stand whom Russell meets at a club and brings home, sparks a connection with Russell, and starts to explode the casual gay equilibrium Russell has set up for himself through some serious discussion, interspersed with casual sex and coke. The film shows how a meaningful connection between any two people forms, and how Russell and Glen’s gayness might inform that connection (Russell has a habit of writing about his encounters, Glen tapes Russell’s thoughts on his appearance in a post-coital exchange). Yes, the gay lifestyle is accepted, and even “normalized” for Russell, but the closet looms in unexpected places, and ultimately, the film not only shows a beautifully meaningful encounter between two people, but also comments on the future of gay domestic life: It’s not quite yet as American as Apple Pie (or in this case as British as – um – Meat Pie) and maybe we don’t want it to be.
Kind of Like: Before Sunrise, Lost in Translation
This story of a young Brooklyn lesbian is notable for the off-the-beaten-gay-path subjects it covers. Yes, it’s a bit of a coming out story, but it’s also a story that examines butch identity and lessons learned amongst teenage bisexual confusion. The film follows young butch lesbian Alike (Ah- lee –kay) and her quest for her first meaningful sexual experience, while at the same time dealing with her parents’ cultural and personal denial of her lesbianism. Alike’s central story nicely puts a gentle twist on the classic trope of a teen boy questing to lose his virginity, and the film as a whole raises provocative questions about cultural expectations and double standards in the African-American community when dealing with homosexuality. There aren’t easy answers in Pariah, but at the heart of the story there’s a character who, like the movie, fights to rise above those easy prescriptions and conclusions.
Bonus: In Living Color alum Kim Wayans goes dramatic as Alike’s mother – and gives one of the most critically-acclaimed performances of the year.
Kind of Like: A much better Precious
Beginners, directed by Mike Mills, stars Christopher Plummer as Hal, the newly out-of-the-closet father of main character Oliver (Ewan McGregor). The catch is – Hal came out after Oliver’s mother died, and after a lifetime of domestic coupledom. Soon after that, Hal is also diagnosed with cancer. So what happens when you’re 70-plus and finally free to explore your sexuality with a limited lease on life? A tender, complicated relationship with two younger men – one your lover, and the other your son. Faced with news of his father’s new lifestyle – and new outlook on life – Oliver takes us through his father’s rebirth and back into the past to examine his own unanswered questions.
Bonus: A really cute talking dog, Melanie Laurent as Oliver’s hot but not totally believable love interest.
Kind of Like: Me and You and Everyone We Know (directed by Mike Mills’ real-life girlfriend, Miranda July), a less sentimental Fried Green Tomatoes
Other LGBT Films to Check Out
In all fairness, there were a couple of other films released this year that deal with gay themes and relationships. In not all fairness for everyone, I have not seen them yet, so I can’t write about them. But I can show you the trailers and plot summaries!
Plot summary From IMBD: “A family moves into a new neighborhood, and a 10-year-old named Laure deliberately presents as a boy named Mikhael to the neighborhood children. It is heavily implied that Mikhael is a closeted transgender boy. This film follows his experiences with his newfound friends, his potential love interest, Lisa, his younger sister and his parents. It focuses in on the significance of gender identity in social interaction from an early age, the difficulties of being transgender and young, and how Mikhael navigates these in the background of childhood play and love.”
Kind of Like: Ma Vie En Rose
Plot Summary From IMBD: “In 19th century Dublin, Albert Nobbs (Glenn Close) is an eccentric man who works as a waiter in Morrison’s Hotel run by the stingy and controlling Marge Baker. Albert saves his money so that one day he will be able to eke out a better life for himself by owning his own business rather than work at the hotel. One day, a man named Hubert Page is hired by Mrs. Baker to paint one of the rooms in the hotel. Hubert shows Albert that he can follow a slightly different life path than the one he envisioned for himself – one closer to the life that Hubert leads with his wife Cathleen.”
Full of women in drag, much has been made of Glenn Close’s age in this role (she first played the role onstage in the 80’s) – one couldn’t help but think the plot might make more sense if Albert was younger. Nevertheless, both Glenn Close and Janet McTeer (who plays Hubert) are nominated for Academy Awards on Sunday, so based on the performances and premise, it’s a film worth watching.
Kind of Like: Tipping the Velvet
Keep the Lights On
Set in the late 90’s, Erik is a documentary filmmaker with a closeted boyfriend in an on-again, off-again relationship for nearly a decade. According to Salon’s Andrew O’ Heir, Keep the Lights On is “a loving but entirely fearless portrait of gay urban life at the turn of the millennium, seen through the prism of one dysfunctional love affair.”
As O’Heir points out, Keep the Lights On, Like Weekend, “isn’t a movie about identity or coming out or facing oppression. It’s an unstinting relationship drama … about two guys who fall in love in the most tolerant and diverse metropolis in America, surrounded by supportive gay and straight friends, and manage to screw it all up with drugs and craziness and horndoggery.” Now if only someone would do a lesbian film that meets this level (specifically one that doesn’t have to do with one half of the lesbian couple having sex with a guy).
Read O’Heir’s full review here.
A few other LGBT films from this year are mentioned over at Queerty, including the Mardi Gras drag ball documentary The Sons of Tennessee Williams, and the foreign dramas Gun Hill Road, Heartbeats, and Gigola. In the interest of length, I’ll let you read up on those in their excellent slideshow, Six LGBT Movies the Oscars Ignored This Year But Shouldn’t Have.
Any quality gay-themed films I’m missing? Share below!