It seems like a convergence of two dissecting worlds – a gay Muslim-American living in West Hollywood? I am sure they exist, and is now the subject of Mike Mossalam’s film ‘Breaking Fast.’ Can you be gay and still be a practicing Muslim? The film posits the question and shows us Mo, a gay doctor who lives in the gay community of West Hollywood. When the film begins, we see him breaking up with his boyfriend because of religious reasons – the boyfriend wants to marry a woman as a beard. But then he meets Kal, an All-American guy and sparks are instant – but this is dubbed a ‘Ramadan Rom Com’ so we see them meet cute and break cute.
I think this is quite a charming film, an unexpected pleasure. It tackles how a dry religious gay guy can live in modern gay world, with all the extraneous trappings. But it explains the concept well, via a musical. Indeed, in ‘The Sound of Music.’ when Maria goes back to the abbey after realizing she has fallen for the Captain, she is told, ‘Just because you love another man doesn’t mean you love God less.’ The movie is filled with delightful little references like this, without making the subject matter feel too light. Haaz Sleiman plays Mo, and he is great, and matched well by Michael Cassidy’s Kal. I really enjoyed much about the film, and appreciate the authentic feel, from the food to the Weho locale. It is also nice to see a film centered around a non-white, kind of middle-aged protagonist – not everyone in the gay community looks like Matt Bomer, after all.
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.
A couple, Yoav and Dan (Oded Leopold and Udi Persi) is celebrating their fifteenth year anniversary. But there’s trouble brewing. All their friends are wanting to have children, and Yoav’s friend Alma is just announced that she is pregnant. This causes a whirlwind of events that spiral downwards for Yoav, a mid life crisis of sorts. Yuval Hadadi’s ’15 Years’ is kind of timely. Ever since marriage equality, a lot of gay couples have been starting families, and it is upsetting the status quo for some guys – do they join the mainstreaming of gay life, or hold on tot heir ‘individuality’? I wish the film went deeper in that, but we only see the surface in Yoav is feeling, and at times, it makes you feel unsympathetic towards the character. the acting is good, and it will more or less make you believe the situations they are in, but you can’t help but try to understand.
From South Africa comes Olivr Harmanus’ ‘Moffie.’ (the title is a derogatory slang word in Afrikaan for gay) Based on a true story, the film is about a teenager, Nicholas, who gets drafted in 80s South Africa, during the time that the times of Apartheid. Nicholas, played by Kai Luke Brummer, is gay, and he has to hide in the closet as he goes through a brutal training process. And brutal might be an understatement, because they are forced to do inhumane activities to toughen them up for battle. And he has to witness when some other soldiers are busted for homosexual activities. Hermanus films these scenes with deep homoeroticism, as Nicholas falls for a fellow soldier, Stassewn. But the love story is only used as a backdrop to the story of a young man in battle, not the other way around. I found the film very difficult to watch most of the time, but I felt rewarded by the power of the storytelling.
Alex Thompson’s ‘Saint Frances’ was such a welcome treat. I did not know much – or anything – about the film before getting into it, and in the beginning, I didn’t know if I wanted to see a movie about a nanny. But of course, the film is much more than that. Based on her screenplay and starring Kelly O’Sullivan, this is one of those films wherein you feel like you are getting to know the character, and right after you see the film, Bridget feels like a friend. You may have disagreed with some of her choices in life – indeed, some of them even exasperated you, but you also have grown to love her, and accept her for who she is. This is also because of O’Sullivan’s fantastic performance – she looks like a more sedated Amy Schumer but has the same twinkle in her eye. She is relatable because she is one of us – at what point have we really figured out life? Everyday everyone struggles looking for where we fit in the world.
Who she is a thirty four year old woman who is starting to see all her contemporaries already starting families. But she is still a server, and she is pondering this because at one point, her friends thought she was the next Sylvia Plath. She starts working for a lesbian couple for the summer as a nanny for a six year old and a newborn and there she learns more about what she can accept about herself and what society ‘expects’ of all of us.
Blood seems to be a recurring theme in the film, though, and if you are queasy about that sort of thing, be fore warned. But the film is a delight, and a bright light in the darkness of our world right now.
I had been looking forward to seeing ‘Almost Love.’ I used to love these kind of gay New York movies – erudite, intelligent New Yorkers who know and love the city as they go through their lives. But maybe I have been away from NYC so long now. I can’t identify with any of the characters anymore, or maybe I am too old for them – these people sound so whiny and privileged that I instantly disliked them. Or maybe I am just reacting to the times. There is a pandemic going on, and these people are making fun of the homeless. Maybe in another time these people’s problems may have been relevant, but right now, ‘gay white people’s problems.’
Scott Evans, though. Some people may think of him as the lesser Evans brother, but he is good here. I didn’t like his character much, but he tries hard and almost successfully makes the character human. And you notice Kate Walsh in her small role. Patricia Clarkson does a hilarious cameo that is almost worth it. All these ‘almosts’ make you appreciate the effort, but in the end, almost is not good enough.
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.