Tag Archives: LGBTQ+ movies

Journey to Found Family

Queen Tut

by Eva Fraser

Raw and full of representation, Queen Tut is a heartwarming film that makes you feel. Directed by Reem Morsi, it centers on Nabil (Ryan Ali), a young man from Egypt who moves to Toronto. After his chance encounter with Malibu (Alexandra Billings) outside her club, a safe haven for the LGBTQIA+ community, Nabil begins a journey to find where he truly belongs, realizing his true self through drag. 

Comfortable being itself, this film feels real. It doesn’t try to perfect life; it is unfiltered in the best way possible. The effortless intricacies present in the lead performances,— the awkward pauses and subsequent misunderstandings, and the gentle moments in between— fully immerse the audience in the story of a queer community fighting for their rights and fully realizing them at the same time.

Additionally, the makeup and costumes for characters both in and out of drag feel instinctually right, mimicking life in a way that doesn’t seek perfection and instead embraces the quirks that make us human.

The use of color creates a visual aid: Nabil’s home is filled with neutral tones and grays, while Mandy’s Malibu’s club is teeming with vibrancy. Fabric also plays a central role in Nabil’s character development, and the film takes such care to make every scrap special and charged with meaning— whether through flashbacks or a simple close-up of shimmering sequins in Nabil’s hands, the audience can feel the significance. Through simple yet effective devices, QueenTut lets us develop a strong sense of empathy for the narratives of many characters.

Religion heavily features in the film, looming in the background as a ceaseless pressure in Nabil’s life. Although overbearing in certain settings, it is also a key to Nabil’s growth and acceptance of himself. Queen Tut shows us that religion doesn’t have to be interpreted in one way— it can be whatever best serves us. 

One aspect of the film that did not quite click was the pacing. At points, time felt unclear and disorienting. This doesn’t detract from the viewing experience too much. Time can be tricky in life, ebbing and flowing with different emotions and situations, and Queen Tut, although perhaps not intentionally, acknowledges it.

All aspects of the film contribute to the central idea of community as a family that you choose— one that is accepting and grounded in the face of change. This film welcomes the audience into its family, leaving viewers with a sense of hope and self-acceptance.

Pretty When She Smiles

The People’s Joker

by Hope Madden

When Vera Drew’s The People’s Joker premiered at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival, Warner Bros. and their lawyers promptly shut it down.

How in keeping with the spirit of the film, an autobiographical glimpse into the filmmaker’s transition that skewers homogenized corporate-controlled art. A multimedia collage of sorts, the film sutures live action with animation to tell of a young person, fed up with their narcissistic mother and absent father, numbed by the conveniently prescribed “Smylex” that’s helped keep reality at bay lo these many years. The numbness doesn’t keep our hero from heading to Gotham City to fail wildly as a comic, though.

Moments in the film that directly address the filmmaker’s own life story deliver an emotional punch that somehow feels at ease inside this wickedly satirical take on the death of fringe art.

Vera Drew also stars as the performer who becomes Joker, then Joker the Harlequin, her deadname being bleeped throughout the film, a la Kill Bill. The transition from put-upon son to underground comic outcast to what she was meant to be all along creates a strong and emotional structure for the film.

In its own way, The People’s Joker homages as much as it lambasts. The film is dedicated to Joel Schumacher, whose Batman Forever provided young Joker his first inkling that he was not who he was meant to be.

The film takes aim at Saturday Night Live and superhero culture as essentially a hollow impersonation of what once was outsider art, and it achieves its aims by being, very clearly, outsider art.

Gotham City—ever the cesspool—withers under the fascist rule of Batman and Lorne Michaels, whose United Clown Bureau Live (clearly SNL) is the only legal form of comedy in the city.

Batman’s not all he’s caped up to be, either.

It’s an incredibly impressive effort both behind and in front of the camera. Her film is wildly imaginative but devastatingly personal at the same time. But her clear-eyed image of corporate comedy has even more bite.  

Crooked Line

Glitter & Doom

by Rachel Willis

Being unfamiliar with all but one Indigo Girls song, I was still impressed with how well their music is worked into the romantic musical, Glitter & Doom.

Director Tom Gustafson weaves the tunes into the budding summer romance of Doom (Alan Cammish), an aspiring musician, and Glitter (Alex Diaz), a hopeful circus performer. These two are first drawn to one another while Glitter is filming an audition tape for clown school in Paris.

When the two meet again, the meet cute duet is a bit jarring at first, until we learn that our duo can sing. However, the scene is stolen by the choreography, which is a fun, entertaining highlight in what would otherwise be an underwhelming moment of connection.

There honestly isn’t much to this story, though. The characters seem made to encourage each other’s ambitions. And though they’re presented as opposites, their winning duets don’t help paint them as people with diametrically opposed life perspectives.

Sure, it’s hard not to notice Doom’s outlook matches his name. This is most obvious when he interacts with his mother (Missi Pyle). Glitter, on the other hand, radiates positivity, except when dealing with his loving but unsupportive mother (Ming-Na Wen, who has her own lovely singing voice). In fact, the mother-son relationships are the most interesting parts of the film—not exactly what you want when the focus of your story is a romance.

But when your two leads have the kind of chemistry that Cammish and Diaz have, it’s hard not to be pulled into their tale. Their ups aren’t very high, nor their lows very low, but it’s hard not to root for them – both as a couple, and as they pursue their dreams.

Not much really sets this movie apart except for the music, and each scene seems to drive you toward the next musical number. While it’s not entirely unappealing, it is a bit underwhelming.

Fierce Love

Coming to You

by Christie Robb

Writer/director Gyuri Byun’s Coming to You is a monument to the love and support families can provide for their children even if it takes the older generation a minute to get there.

The Korean documentary follows Hankyeol, a person who is gender-fluid, but pursuing a legal identification change from female to male. This requires the partnership of his mom, Nabi. (In Korea, up until 2019, this process required filling out 18 different legal documents—including parental approval regardless of the child’s age. So, even if you’re an adult in your 30s.)

Sharing the spotlight is Yejoon, a gay man, and his mom, Vivian. Initially, Vivian thought Yejoon would be better off living abroad for the rest of his life rather than living in a homeland that lacks same-sex marriage rights.

Right now Korea isn’t a super-friendly space for the LGBTQ+ community. But PFLAG (an international organization dedicated to support, education, and advocacy for LGBTQ+ people and their loved ones) and other groups are working to change that.

Coming to You, a documentary years in the making, illustrates the challenges and struggles of parents in a conservative society when they find out their kid doesn’t fit society’s expectations for who they are and/or how they behave. A society that can be hostile and violent. Homophobic. Transphobic. A society where suicide is the leading cause of death of people aged 10-39 (BBC).

But, it’s not all struggle. There’s hope and joy here, too—changes in the legal system, evolving attitudes after challenging conversations, fierce love and devotion. Support. Allyship. Love.

Centered on the mothers’ journeys to acceptance, the film could have benefitted from a deeper exploration of the children’s experiences. A few more interviews with them would have really strengthened the project.

But the moms are raw and honest, flawed but trying. And the extent they are willing to listen, love, and change to support their kids is just beautiful.

Juiced Up and Sloppy

Love Lies Bleeding

by Hope Madden

Awash in the stink and the glory of new passion, Rose Glass’s Love Lies Bleeding treads some familiar roadways but leaves an impression solely its own.

Lou (Kristen Stewart) and her mullet work a shitty job in a low rent gym in a nowhere town, looking with disdain toward essentially everyone. Until Jackie (Katy O’Brian) blows into town from wherever and Lou can’t take her eyes off her.

But every stranger has a backstory, and that’s the rub of romance movies, isn’t it? Everybody’s fresh and clean. Not Lou and not Jackie, but for now, it’s all good. Jackie wants to go to Vegas and compete in body building finals. Lou wants Jackie.

Glass blends and smears cinematic gender identifiers, particularly those of noir and thriller, concocting an intoxicating new image of sexual awakening and empowerment. She routinely upends images of power and masculinity, subverting expectations and associations and fetishizing the human body anew.

For Lou and Jackie, love is a wild and dangerous drug, heady and unpredictable. The same sentence describes Glass’s film. She likes to make you uncomfortable, and as soon as you acclimate to one type of confrontation, she’s on to the next. But her style has energy to burn, and her leads are just as explosive.

The supporting cast—Jena Malone (obviously destined to play Stewart’s sister at some point), Dave Franco (with an even more impressive mullet), and the great Ed Harris—command attention with dimensional, damaged and damaging performances.

Glass is not out to break new ground, plot wise. The story is rock solid but delivers essentially a smartly crafted hillbilly noir thriller—a la Red Rock West, Blood Simple, Killer Joe— but with few truly surprising plot turns. The execution, however, is something you’ve never witnessed.

Anyone who’s seen Glass’s magnificent 2021 horror Saint Maud may be better prepared for the third act than newcomers to the filmmaker’s vision, but it’s a wild and unexpected turn regardless.  It’s quite something—bold, original, and wryly funny in the most unexpected moments. There’s heartbreak and horror, sex and revenge, a little magic and a lot of steroids. Glass’s juice has the goods.

Binary Schminary

Fitting In

by Christie Robb

It’s hard enough being a typical teenage girl. Then, layer on being the new girl in school. With a single mom who is taking on side hustles to pay for college tuition and breast reconstructive surgery post mastectomy. Then, throw in a cute boy who has cheekbones that could cut granite who wants to go all the way, and a charismatic nonbinary hottie.

And, just when you’ve found a ride-or-die BFF who will accompany you to the gynecologist for a birth control consult, you find out your reproductive organs decided to develop atypically. Instead of a canal you’ve got a dimple.

Fitting everything in just got a whole lot more complicated.

Writer/director Molly McGlynn’s background in TV comedy (she’s directed episodes of Grown-ish and Grace and Frankie) serves her well in this feature. She can find the right balance of pathos and humor inherent in stuff like using a series of medical dildos to DIY a vagina.

The movie is also semi-autobiographical and it always helps to write what you know.

Maddie Ziegler (West Side Story) is perhaps a little bit more comfortable with delivering McGlynn’s one-liners than she is surrendering to the emotional depths. Her mom, played by Emily Hampshire (Schitt’s Creek) is a gem, sparkling with a wider emotional range. But Ziegler does an absolutely fantastic job conveying the body horror of being a newbie in stirrups acting like it’s normal to have a chit chat while some dude you just met with no bedside manner tries to plumb your hidden depths with a chilly metal device.

Fitting In is sex positive and fun and smart and silly. It explores the way that binary notions of sex and gender are limiting. It can actually pull off opening with two quotes—one from Simone de Beauvoir and one from Diablo Cody (writer of 2007s Juno and the upcoming Lisa Frankenstein). And the flick’s  got the absolute best visual metaphors soundtracked to Peaches’ 2000 jam “Fuck the Pain Away”.

Seriously.

Barbarian at the Gates of Hell

She Is Conann

by Hope Madden

What did I just watch?

It’s called She Is Conann, and it defies simple summarization.

French filmmaking provocateur Bertrand Mandico would like to take you on a strange journey. Conann, played throughout this experimental epic by six different actors (Claire Duburcq, Christa Théret, Sandra Parfait, Agata Buzek, Nathalie Richard and Françoise Brion) is no ordinary barbarian. But is she the most barbaric of all barbarians? At her death, her life is recounted to the Queen of Hell to make that determination.

Who is telling the tale? Rainer, a dog man (played by a woman, Elina Löwensohn) who’d been Conann’s near-constant companion since her earliest days of barbarism. They are, ahem, close.

This weird fever dream is told mostly in black and white with filth and sparkles, which makes the seemingly random pops of giallo-esque color more striking. We meet Conann at 15 in what is closest to the barbarian concept of the Schwarzenegger series that gives Mandico’s film its name. All swords and mud and conquest, the stage is set for vengeance to grip the orphan’s mind and set her on a path to rule all.

But her first real foe turns out to be herself, as she is forever murdered when visited by the version of Conann from one decade hence. This allows Mandico to leapfrog around time, creating bizarre and intoxicatingly staged eras that mix queer iconography with punk and disco, then symbols of conquest from the Roman Empire to Nazi Germany.

Rainer is always there, flashing photos as both witness and artist, one of dozens of ways the film links art with consumerism, artist with consumption. (Indeed, eventually the link is quite literal.)

Easter eggs to Naked Lunch, Blade Runner and many more, while fun, also embellish each era’s aesthetic. The result is morbid and macabre, grotesque and cynical and of course, strangely beautiful.

She Is Conann drags a bit, feeling every second of its 105-minute running time. Some eras grow more tedious than others, but a fresh and entirely bizarre surprise is around every bend. This is not a film you leave thinking, Oh, I saw that coming. The result is more of a bewildering if absolutely entertaining WTF?

Bad Touch

You Can Live Forever

by Cat McAlpine

When Jaime’s (Anwen O’Driscoll, delivering a memorable performance of youth in crisis) father dies, her unstable mother sends her to stay with family in Quebec. Jaime is left in a strange new place to navigate her grief, sexuality, and attempted indoctrination by Jehova’s Witnesses.

Writer/Director team Sarah Watts and Mark Slutsky construct a taut canvas for their characters’ longing, repression, and resentment to build upon. You Can Live Forever is shot with lingering, even dreamlike takes, in direct opposition to the ever-mounting tension. With a relatively unknown cast and a focus on the interconnected lives of a small community, Watts and Slutsky deliver a sweet and painful coming-of-age tale. The resulting film immediately feels claustrophobic and grounded.

Everything about Jaime’s world shrinks and isolates throughout the film. Several new friends worry that she doesn’t speak French, and will struggle to get along in Quebec. She drops her walkman in a river, losing one of her favorite forms of escapism. Her aunt and uncle, while seemingly understanding that she is not “in the truth,” continually urge her to attend meetings with them at church.

Though the Jehovah’s Witness community is welcoming and warm, there’s a cold truth to their world. Birthdays are not to be celebrated. Appropriate behavior must be supervised. Defectors are not to be acknowledged.

Jaime becomes entranced by another young member of the church, Marike (June Laporte, in a sweet, wide-eyed performance). When Jamie asks what happened to her mom, Marike responds, “She’s not in the truth anymore…we’re supposed to imagine that she’s dead.”

The girls grow close at a lightning pace. Sleepovers with a misplaced hand or arm rapidly blossom into stolen kisses in dark alleyways. Jaime teeters between two selves. She smokes cigarettes and plays video games with Nathan (Hasani Freeman, charming) and she pretends to proselytize so she can spend more time with Marike.

Marike knows that Jamie doesn’t believe, but she doesn’t lose her faith as she discovers her own sexuality. “I can believe enough for the both of us,” pleads Marike. Jamie is challenged to choose between a delayed love that may never come (in an uncertain afterlife) and happiness in her life now.

When all the growing tension comes to a head, the religious community does what they do best: deny, divert, and convert. None of the tension is truly relieved, and everyone is left to continue grinding their teeth until they die.

That lingering tension and guilt stays with you, just like societal shame, religious trauma, and all the other oppressive forces in our lives. And the lack of resolution, the lingering touches and sidelong glances, are what keep You Can Live Forever on the mind once the screen fades to black.

Solo Act

Chrissy Judy

by Christie Robb

Judy (Todd Flaherty) and his partner Chrissy (Wyatt Fenner) are co-stars of an underwhelming New York drag act. Then, Chrissy up and quits and moves to the hinterlands of Philadelphia to make a go of it with his on-again-off-again long-distance boyfriend Shawn, leaving behind the remains of a humdrum double act.

Judy, still ambitious, but now 30 and feeling out of step with the young, struggles to choreograph the next act in their life.

Judy is obsessed with nostalgia and the vintage glamor of old Hollywood, so it’s fitting that the film itself is beautifully shot in black and white and scored in a mix of old standards and jazz. The dialogue often harkens back to the fast-talking banter of old screwball comedies, updated with modern slang, a lot more cursing, and the occasional references to douching.

Written, directed, edited, produced by AND starting Flaherty, there’s a real emotional depth to this one. Flaherty and Fenner manage to convey the complex layers of a long-term and somewhat complicated friendship.

Avoiding the heteronormative tropes of typical romantic movies, this one feels like part rom-com, part coming-of age while offering a novel take on a love story.

Semper Fi

The Inspection

by Hope Madden

We’ve seen it so many times, often very effectively. A sloppy recruit, someone with nothing to lose but himself, does just that during boot camp. Maybe it ends in ambivalence and horror (Full Metal Jacket), maybe it ends in heroism and an unwitting invasion of Czechoslovakia (Stripes), maybe it ends in romance (An Officer and a Gentleman).

While the story that writer/director Elegance Bratton (Pier Kids) tells with The Inspection follows those familiar beats, it’s messier, more frustrating, more honest and more human than all the others together. As it should be, since it is his own story.

Jeremy Pope delivers an astonishing, raw performance as Ellis French, a 25-year-old homeless gay Black man. His mother Inez (Gabrielle Union in the finest performance of her career) cast him out at 16. We meet Ellis on the day he enlists in the Marines.

And you thought Bill Murray was going to have a tough time.

While the steps in the screenplay are familiar – the recruit has much to escape in his day-to-day; he joins and gets to know a group of men of different backgrounds, each of whom will be tested alongside him; he comes out the other side a different man. But Ellis French’s stakes are higher, his difficulties are more dangerous, and the lessons learned along the way probably affect those around him more profoundly than they affect him.

Bratton also pulls away from audience expectation by avoiding the cliché of one-dimensional recruit characters. There’s good and bad, heroism and cowardice, in everyone on the screen. In this way Bratton allows a certain moral ambiguity to seep into the film. That gray area becomes the space for forgiveness to take shape.

What Bratton brings to this well-worn story is an idea perfectly realized by Pope. The Inspection is a showcase for the idea that resilience comes from a balance of strength and forgiveness. French finds ways to forgive what to most would be unforgivable. This is how he perseveres. It’s a beautiful, difficult lesson to learn, even for a viewer. But thanks to that resilience, we have this exceptional film.