David Freyne’s ‘Dating Amber’ is a gay coming of age Irish comedy drama from Director David Freyne and it is a charmer. It stars Fionn O’Shea as Eddie, a gay teen set in 1995 who is struggling to accept himself. Cue in Amber (Lola Petticrew) who proposes that they present themselves as a couple in order to protect each other socially – she is a lesbian. We have seen this story before, but Freyne gives the film fresh spins. I was taken by O’Shea, who is wonderful here, giving a nuanced performance – his eyes are very expressive and he is able to show emotions even without dialogue. (O’Shea was also wonderful in ‘Normal People’ as one of Marianne’s boyfriends) And Petticrew is wonderfully brash, and you can see the differences in both characters that when they get together, you are excited by the prospect. The film also shows the struggles teenagers used to face regarding the issue of sexual orientation. I am far removed to the youth experience now and I don’t know if it has improved, but the film is accurate in showing the mixed signals we used to get regarding acceptance and religion.
‘A Stormy Night’ is one of those two-ships-crossing-in-the-night kind of movies, and it is one of my favorite genres of ‘love story’ films. This one comes from Spain, though the dialogue is mostly English. Written, directed, and starring David Moragas, who stars as Marcos, who is on his way to San Francisco to attend a screening of his film. But he gets sidelined in New York because of bad weather. He spends the night at an apartment of one of his friends, and meets Alan, the friend’s housemates. I think we know from the start where this could end up. I wish the situation felt more organic, but that’s a minor complaint – we can see two souls connecting. Some people have compared this to ‘Weekend,’ but it’s a little less deep than that film, and that’s fine because relationship, and even ships sometimes just touch when they cross. I thought the two leads had enough chemistry together, enough for me to believe and root for something to happen. And even though What happens in the film doesn’t fully satisfy, it left a very deep impression on me.
We have all been stuck indoors and nowhere because of this Covid 19 and maybe I am just inching to go somewhere that I enjoyed ‘Happiness Adjacent.’ This film, shot entirely on an iPhone, is set on a cruise, and I am a big fan of cruising. Sure nowadays it is probably not the safest way to vacation, but I just like the experience. And when I first started cruising, I had this ‘fantasy’ of falling in love while on one (my reality check, of course, is that it’s probably quite unlikely that those things happen) and this film delivers that fantasy. Hank is left alone by his best friend so he has to travel alone, and the ship has not even left the port yet when he meets Kurt, a married man. But since this is a fantasy, the married man is bisexual, and his wife is puking from seasickness and before you know it, Kurt has ‘late night workouts’ at Hank’s cabin. But is there more to them than two ships that pass in the night, on a ship? I think it would have been more realistic if both parties would have acknowledged that things could be just light, but yes, sometimes you get caught in an emotional trap that you cannot control. I thought the film was more than effective given the limitations odf the production and the leads – Ian Dick and Adam Fried were good enough. In these pandemic times, the film was a good reminder of the good old days,
I chanced upon two films from two separate countries that are quite different from each other.
From Russia comes Viatcheslav Koturevskiy’s ‘Sibera and Him,’ about two men falling in love in the midst of Siberian country. A lot of people have compared this to Brokeback Mountain and I can see why – this is set in the open country as well, as two men travel to check on one’s grandmother, who hasn’t been answering her calls. But this is Putin’s Russia, and these men cannot be themselves, to very tragic results. I thought the film was slow moving, and even its scant running time felt long. But there was always something that caught your attention, and seeing barren Siberia felt very conducive to what the characters are feeling.
‘Cousins,’ (Primos) from Brasil, directed by Mauro Carvalho and Thiago Cazado, is much lighter compared to the Russian film above. In fact, it is quite joyous considering Brasil nowadays seem to be as restrictive, as far as gay rights, as Russia with its new homophobic President. Two distant cousins (one just out from prison) hang out at a house, and they just start to fall in love. In the beginning, there is not much conflict, but their religious neighbors rear their ugly heads after. But it is treated almost comically, and this really is one of those feel-good films. But, there isn’t much else here if you are looking for some depth. But sometimes all you need is two young actors with great chemistry and you’re good to go.
It’s proving to be a great season for gay rom coms. I recently just raved about ‘The Thing About Harry,’ and now we have James Sweeney’s ‘Straight Up.’ But wait, this film isn’t really your ‘traditional’ rom com. Well, it doesn’t seem to be traditional anything. It is about Todd (played by Sweeney himself) who is probably gay, but more than that, has neurotic traits that prove to be very funny only in films. He is longing for someone – anyone – and in his scientific mind, he thinks he should date women, much to the aghast of his friends (‘You’re a Kinsey five, four maybe if you are not wearing cashmere’) Then he meets Rory (Katie Findlay) and they are soul mates in every single way, except for one thing: sex. But really, we don’t really need that anymore in this day and age, right?
We will all have thoughts and theories about this and the film will make you agree, disagree, and question everything you have ever believed in love. And it’s all the wonderful for it. Sweeney and Findlay have chemistry for days, and Sweeney’s screenplay is so exhilarating that you will believe – even root – for them as they try as hell to make it all work. You will go against what you believe in in wanting something that is surely improbably, and probably impossible. I could definitely identify with these characters – surely we have all been there before, in the middle of something deep in our hearts we feel is wrong, but something about it feels so right. there was a point there towards the end when I thought it was going to a place it didn’t want to go. At another point, I thought I had figured out where it would, but in landed somewhere a little unexpected for me – the movie always kept me on my toes. Above all, these characters touched my heart. I felt like I knew them, and didn’t want to part with them. Yeah, for about one hundred minutes, I felt like I was in love, and thank you very much for that.
Sometimes all it takes is eight minutes for an ugly cry. For some odd reason, this short film showed up on my Facebook page (targeted marketing?) and all the comments were glowing and positive. So I thought to myself, eight minutes watching it will probably not kill me. Well, it kid of did. It killed my heart right that very second and it ripped it to shreds and before I knew it, there I am in the middle of mu living room in tears. Basically, it’s about a young boy going to the prom, and his parents are all excited for him. The mom wants some info and has been pestering the young boy but he is tight-lipped. When the date arrives later on, it is only his father who is there, but the boy rushes to go to the car as he didn’t want to have his date come in. When the father looks out, he sees his son is with another boy. What happens next is heartwarming and so very cute. I am heartened to find these kinds of movies exist, as durign my days the thought of this would send everyone reeling. But, progress can still make good art, and this one I will cherish…
I didn’t realize that ‘Adam’ was such a controversial movie. I didn’t even think its themes are very controversial. Directed by Rhys Ernst (who himself is a trans man) this is a story of Adam, who stays with his lesbian sister (Margaret Qually) in New York City for the summer, and gets drawn into the lesbian/trans men scene. He meets a young woman, Gillian, who he instantly falls for, but she thinks he is a trans man, and he goes along with the lie. Taking the politics out of the film, I think it’s your standard coming-of-age tale about someone finding himself in the world and hopefully learning a lesson or two. In that sense, I thought the movie was very sweet. Numerous films have been made about this, involving mistaken identities, lies not being corrected, and above all, stupid things we do for love. Is the film harmful for trans people? I don’t exactly know if it is – I saw mostly human characters here, all flawed like the rest of the world, cis or trans. This was a mostly entertaining film, and that’s all I can take away from the film.
Intimacy, when captured on film, is a glorious thing. It’s somewhat indescribable, as it is more felt. Lucio Castro captures it perfectly in ‘End Of The Century,’ and here I am, days after seeing it, and I can still feel things from it. Set in Barcelona (that alone scores points for me) Javi (Ramon Pujol) and Ocho (Juan Barberini) first see each other on the beach, but they don’t really connect until later when Ocho sees him by the balcony of his Air BnB, calling him out by the graphic on his shirt, ‘Kiss.’ (That graphic would prove to be significant later on) He asks him to come up to his room, and they kiss passionately. There’s a tenderness and urgency at the same time in their kiss, and afterwards while sharing some wine and cheese on a rooftop, they discover that they have met each other before – and we see them decades earlier in their younger years, on that time they first met. I instantly connect with both of them, and maybe it’s the romantic in me, but these things always resonate – ships that pass each other, haring fleeting moments. You never know if you will ever meet them again, and as you separate and reflect on what you have, you discover a real ache in your heart. In some weird sense, you feel the same thing as you watch Castro’s film:: for some brief moment you witness two souls touch each other, and you also feel an ache. Some people have described this as similar to Richard Linklaer’s ‘Before’ series and it is an apt comparison. I often wonder if Javi and Ocho would ever connect again, and not knowing makes it more painful, but at the same time all the better.
The love that dare not speak its name: this theme depicting homosexuality in movies used to be the norm, but in this day and age, is it still relevant? I thino f that even as I see two movies back to back exploring that very theme.
First is ‘Rafiki,’ directed by Wanuri Kahiu. This film was the first Kenyan film to be screened at the Cannes Film Festival, and it comes with a bit of controversy, as it has previously been banned in its home country, and the battle even went up to their Supreme Court, with the court overthrowing the ban. (It finally was screened in theaters to sold out audiences) The film presents a simple love story, as two daughters of competing politicians fall in love. The conflicts are layered – they battle homophobia and then the familial entanglements. It’s a bit too melodramatic at times, but the performances by Samantha Mugatsia and Sheila Munyiva as the star-crossed lovers really elevate this. It captured my heart and melted it.
Stanley Kwan’s ‘Lan Yu’ also did, though it is a less successful film. From 2001, this film depicts a relationship between a successful businessman and a country boy. In its synopsis, the film boasts that it is a story from the 80s amidst the back drop of the rallies from Tiannamen Square. And though they vaguely reference it, we don’t really see it. Hu Jun plays an assumed corrupt businessman who pays for his involvements afterwards, and there’s enough conflict there, so the sad ending felt tacked on and unwarranted. Still, I cared about the characters enough to be touched by the film.
‘Cola de Mono’ is set at Christmastime, but it’s really not your typical Hallmark Christmas movie. It’s a little bit dark and very very gay. The title is based on a drink that Chileans prepare for the Holidays, and the term is also a gay slur. The film is a about a set of brothers who both come to terms with their sexuality on Christmas Eve. The theme is on the dark side, and even though I had read the film labeled as a thriller, I was very surprised by the turn if events towards the latter part of the film. It is also quite explicit, and director Alberto Fuguet definitely has a very specific point of view that he slaps into the film. I thought it was a very interesting film, even if I really did not enjoy it in the sense that it wasn’t a feel-good kind of film. It’s a little offfbeat for the Christmas season, but offbeat doesn’t necessarily mean bad.