Gay Films At the Tribeca Film Festival
The Tribeca Film Festival, founded in 2002 at least in part to help revitalize the Tribeca neighborhood after 9/11, has migrated and grown over the years; in 2014 I saw almost everything in Chelsea. An apt location because there were a lot of gay movies. Tribeca shows so many movies that you can always curate your own mini-festival within theirs.
The best of the LGBT lot was surely LOVE IS STRANGE, which we reviewed in this space for its Sundance debut. I didn't see all the gay titles but that's a safe assumption since Ira Sach's drama about newly married seniors (John Lithgow & Alfred Molina) who lose their apartment is already feeling like a future classic. Among the documentaries I heard good things about MALA MALA which looks at Puerto Rico's sizeable drag community (some of whom are already names thanks to RuPaul's Drag Race's unofficial 'Puerto-Rican slot' each season).
Gay films usually make their way to DVD (built-in audience) if not always theatrical, so watch out for them if they sound interesting to you.
We'll look at four gay films (two with Hollywood stars) AFTER THE JUMP...
MATCH is a three character drama about a ballet instructor (Patrick Stewart) who agrees to be interviewed about his career for a dissertation by a visiting couple (Carla Gugino & Matthew Lillard). They seem more interested in his sexual exploits with other dancers than in his talent. The formerly-randy chatty professor is all too happy to share details until he realizes this couple has arrived under entirely false pretenses. It's not quite accurate to say that "the shit hits the fan" or "all hell breaks loose" because the movie's drama is so keyed up from the beginning that the unsubtle twists, though they come early, have been inauthentically forced down your throat from their first encounter. I was gagging. And not in the good way. It doesn't help that Patrick Stewart, usually reliable, appears to be giving a stage performance from the largest of Broadway houses. The intimacy of the camera, especially when there are only three characters in an medium sized apartment, begs for a little subtlety.
BOULEVARD trains its eyes on a timid bank manager Nolan (Robin Williams) who is obviously bored with his quiet life with his wife (Kathy Baker). One night on a drive he impulsively picks up a male hustler named Leo (Roberto Aguire, good in a surprisingly tricky part... no pun intended). Obviously smitten, Nolan keeps returning for more. The movie stays vague and strains credulity about what's actually happening in their hotel rooms; The movie isn't a purposeful cock-tease, just a prude. Nolan's obsession with Leo starts to unravel the life he isn't really living anyway at the bank, with friends, and at home. The movie, which means well, is likely to win at least a small appreciative fanbase, but it's underwhelming and a little dull where less timid writing and direction could have made for a potent if still limited coming-out drama. Meatier scenes would have gone a long way in making its more sordid elements (the evil pimp!) feel less awkwardly grafted on from an entirely different picture.
It'd be wonderful to sing the praises of these two dramas about older gay men to make it a happy trend given the considerable beauty of Love is Strange but sometimes movies just don't work. Boulevard is meek, quiet, and chaste and to these eyes underwritten despite being crowded with characters and plot details (what we really need is to dig deeper into Nolan's affair and what it's unlocking in him.) In some ways Match is its bizarro twin: aggressive, loud, and horny but also overwritten and claustrophically under-populated. Maybe a mash-up would save them though it's difficult to imagine a film which could succesfully marry the coarse verbosity of Stewart to the asexual mouse that Williams is playing.
DER SAMURAI, part of the Midnight program for more gonzo moviegoers, is a Queer Horror from Germany. It starts strange with a hot ginger cop carrying a bag of raw meat into the woods to feed a wolf. It only gets weirder. It's the most politically offensive film of the bunch. Offense will happen when you put a man in a dress and hand him a samurai sword to hack up a town with. But horror films are meant to set hairs on edge, and in this particular case we're talking the short and curlies - an erection is a darkly funny plot point once and an actual disturbing visual later.
The blonde samurai and the hot ginger pursuing him are caught in a bloody psychosexual cat and mouse game ... or more accurately given the film's allegorical subplot, wolf and wolf. The cop is straight-laced but not so straight, and his motives for the actions he takes and doesn't to stop the samurai's mayhem are often unclear. What's even less clear is which parts of this are actually happening since there's more than one suggestion that what we're watching is not the whole truth. Let's just say that the cop might have a very tenuous grasp on reality.
I'm not sure that it's good, but it doesn't overstay its welcome at a concise 80 minutes and it's memorable.
BAD HAIR is the keeper of the lot. It's quite unassuming in form, really, a low key repetitive and observational summertime drama about a mother and son in the Venezuelan projects who just aren't getting along. But form and lack of "plot" can fool you. This is a very strong movie that builds considerable feeling. The nine-year old son "Junior", beautifully played by first-timer Samuel Lange Zambrano, is a precocious biracial tween who hates his curly hair. He wants to get it straightened and look like a famous singer for a class photo. He instinctively knows to hide this desire from his mother, who is newly unemployed and deeply stressed. Over the course of the movie we glean more and more about their relationship. They rely on but don't quite love each other enough and have considerable trust issues. The rift between them is the boy's homosexuality. She knows he's gay even if he hasn't put it into words yet and her deep fear of this leads to some ill informed acting-out on her part.
The movie is devastating detailed about the process by which insidious external homophobia becomes internalized and confusing for baby gays. But the movie is also exhilarating as only the truth, artfully and sympathetically told, can be. And somehow, against the odds, I think Junior will come out of this okay. 'It gets better,' Junior! He's full of character and his inner resolve (he likes what he likes) will surely pay off in the long run, despite those undoubtedly rough teenage years ahead.