Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

03 March 2015

Some 2014 Gay Movies Now on DVD

Let's start with a movie that isn't gay at all: Daniel Patrick Carbone's Hide Your Smiling Faces. This movie is a kind of old-school David Gordon Green picture – semi-rural life with kids trying to figure out who they are. The two brothers in the movie are coming to grips with the death of a young friend of theirs, and this movie is gorgeous. It tells its story in abstract, poetic ways, and it doesn't bother with the classic Hollywood narratives that might find the boys figuring out how to heal or finding solace in a new friend. Instead, it explores the frustration and terror of being a boy, of trying to fit in with other boys, of the impossibility at this age of understanding anything that one's parents have to say.

I want to say, too, that one of the reasons I love films like Hide Your Smiling Faces – and DGG's George Washington and Jordan Vogt-Roberts' Kings of Summer from last year and Benh Zeitlin's Beasts of the Southern Wild – is that they really are about childhood (pace Richard Linklater). These films are not movies about the experience of parenthood masquerading as films about childhood. They attempt to capture the lost, bizarre, truly difficult feelings that children experience, and they sort of refuse to make a kind of sense of those feelings.
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I really liked Pride, as well, and I was surprised about this. Matthew Warchus's film is a rather straightforward account of a group of gay activists in 1980s London who begin to fight to raise money to support the National Union of Mineworkers' strike. I thought this was going to be a feel-good drama that repeated well-worn platitudes about the LGBT community and capitulated to the kind of capitalist-supporting identity politics practiced in the U.S. to which I object so much. But it isn't this at all! Pride is unabashed in its fight against fascism in the UK, and its message is not "acceptance" or "self-love" or even the "pride" in its title, but rather one that embraces radicalism, and understands that struggles to fight fascism can actually be won through unity. What's so fascinating about this is that the movie is not interested in identity between the miners and the queers; it is interested, rather, in coalition. One doesn't have to recognize one's self in other oppressed groups: one simply needs to fight.

Pride is, in this way, also a beautiful and moving tribute to the work of gay activists who attempted to enact real change in the world. Ben Schnetzer, the movie's lead actor, is great, and the film's supporting cast (Karina Fernandez, Dominic West, Bill Nighy, Paddy Considine, Jessica Gunning and Imelda Staunton) are mostly familiar faces who are all excellent.
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Love Is Strange is just as cinematically conventional as Pride in many ways, except that this is a quirky comedy-drama about a gay male couple who gets married once marriage is legalized in New York. The man supporting the family financially through his job at a Catholic school where he teaches music, however, loses his job once he gets married. The Catholic school fires him for being gay.

The men (instead of leaving the city) move into other people's apartments – separate other people. Love Is Strange becomes a film about people's foibles, about the limits of love for our relatives, neighbors, and friends. Of course, the reason that the men are in this situation is fundamentally homophobia, but this is a movie about family dynamics, and the struggles of living with people we love very very much but don't actually want to live with.

Love Is Strange is presumably a riff on Leo McCarey's 1937 film Make Way for Tomorrow, so its conventionality has its roots, but I didn't find this movie very interesting, to be honest. The performances in it are lovely, but it is a little too dependent on narrative for my taste, and it often felt directionless. But then... the movie's ending is something else altogether. Ira Sachs' movie all of a sudden becomes an art film, representing loss and grief through images of sunlight and the trees and a skateboarding teenager. The end of Love Is Strange really does justify its title, and if it doesn't quite redeem the film in its entirety, it helped me to realize that hidden within this conventional film was an art film, secreted away and hiding. I expect Ira Sachs' next picture to be much more intriguing.
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Finally, I must tell you about Arvin Chen's Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? (明天記得愛上我), a beautiful, whimsical, and very smart Chinese film about a man in his late 30s with a wife and a young son who has a kind of gay re-awakening. The film stars Richie Jen and (the excellent) Mavis Fan, and this is, more than anything else, a romantic comedy with themes similar to something like This Is 40 – about reaching a place in one's life that one no longer understands, seeing one's self in a new light as one reaches a scary age.

Mavis Fan is amazing as the jilted wife, and Stephen Wong Ka Lok is the most beautiful love interest.

But it's the way that the film works that is so good. Early in the picture, Richie Jen's manager floats away with an umbrella, and this signals a kind of child's world or fantasy realm, even though we are definitely dealing with real-world problems. Late in the film, when a drunken karaoke version of The Shirelles' "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?" becomes a beautifully produced musical number, Arvin Chen's movie has earned the right to play with reality in this way. This is a lovely, lovely film.

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