By Jeff Walsh
So, I requested to be sent screeners of the "youth" movies being shown at Frameline, San Francisco's LGBT film festival, which is currently happening in San Francisco. I'm not certain if this is indicative of the larger programming this year, but the films I received nearly all focused on trans and gender identity issues, which will certainly appeal to a lot of people on the site here.
Keep in mind, these movies are just playing the festival circuit now, so you may have to hunt down when they are playing a festival near you, and the wait may be a bit longer for a DVD release.
Here's a breakdown of the films I received:
Gun Hill Road - This is the opening film of the festival, starring Harmony Santana as a trans teen whose is taking estrogen and testosterone blockers and starting to live more openly as a woman, until her father, played by Esai Morales, returns home after a stint in prison. Dad doesn't seem to notice his perceived son's more feminine ways or interests, and you don't get the sense that he's going to be all that accepting once he figures it out. While Morales' character is a thug, it did provide an interesting backdrop for a story about trans issues. With great performances all around, including Judy Reyes (from TV's Scrubs) and Oasis favorite Robin De Jesus, this is a movie that never gets too Hallmark, and balances each character's journey honestly.
Spork - This movie is about a teenaged hermaphrodite nicknamed Spork who decides to get her revenge on the mean girls at school by winning the school dance contest, even after her black next-door neighbor Tootsie Roll is injured after dancing so intensely she created a puddle of Afro-Sheen, in which she slips and falls. A stylized mash-up of Heathers, Hairspray and every teen movie since John Hughes, it often reminds you of so many other films that its chief offense is not having a unique enough voice on its own. But, it is meant to be a fun ride, and it certainly manages that just fine.
Romeos - This German film had a hot guy on the press art, so I figured I'd use this as the gay intermission in my mini-film festival. So, of course, it ended up being about a transguy who forms an interesting relationship with the aforementioned hot guy while in mid-transition. The unique relationship between the two, who both live double lives to some degree, was the most interesting dynamic in the movie for me. The actor playing Lukas did a phenomenal job, and I actually had to search online afterwards to figure out if the role was played by a guy or a girl. Such a great performance by this actor. Possibly the best of all the movies I reviewed, with Gun Hill Road as a close second.
Tomboy - From the start, I worried this French flick was going to suffer from Gay Movie Syndrome, whereby the fact that a film is marketed and shown to a primarily gay audience makes the reveal late in the film redundant and obvious. Thankfully, the movie didn't go down that path. Instead, we get the story of a 10-year-old tomboy named Laure, who recently moves to a new location at the beginning of the movie and decides not to tell the neighborhood boys she's a girl. Since puberty hasn't hit yet, she doesn't need to worry about binders or any of the usual trans concerns. Her only problems are how to pee outdoors with the rough-and-tumble boys after playing soccer, how to go swimming barechested and not be bulgeless in her Speedo and the neighborhood girl who starts gets a young crush on the new boy in town. Well handled and the prepubescent angle gave a new take on what is becoming its own genre these days.
Out For The Long Run - This is a documentary about gay high school athletes, and a lot of the expected ground is covered. To me, the interesting bits were how insightful some of the subjects were about their interest in sports. Austin Snyder, a gay track stay from Berkeley High School, admits that the time demanded by his sport helps to distract him from dealing with the fact that he doesn't have a boyfriend. Snyder's is probably the most complete story in the film, as we follow him to college, where he already met and started a long-distance relationship with another gay sporty freshman in advance of his arrival. His literate hyper-aware presence made the movie for me (and reminded me of our own swimmerguy). Having gay Olympic athletes share their stories makes sense given the topic, but at this point, Greg Louganis and other older athletes don't exist in the same world as Snyder's generation, so instead of fleshing out the story of these young athletes, it just seemed like the ghosts of sports past popping in here and there. But if this topic interests you, the film certainly will as well.
Au Pair, Kansas - This movie is an odd genre mashup that failed to deliver for me. A recently-widowed Traci Lords hires an au pair after her husband's recent death from cancer. So, she hires a soccer-loving Norwegian named Oddmund to look after the kids and help her with the ranch. As I watched this movie, it was becoming a likely candidate for Gay Movie Syndrome, and it delivered in spades. There are some questions whether Oddmund is actually gay or just seems that way because he's European. At some point, you wonder if one of the kids might be gay, especially the younger one. There's a drag queen in the town, who makes one or two cameos, but that isn't enough to make this a gay movie. Traci Lords doesn't seem gay, but someone should be. Eventually the gay angle is revealed, and the payoff isn't amazing. I've seen better fish out of water stories. Better small town community deals with gay issues stories (Big Eden is what kept coming to mind, as I watched this). Better family dramas. Don't get me wrong, the movie looks good. The performances are all fine. And if you watch the movie, it will probably entertain you. But ultimately, the story tried to do too much, and couldn't follow through without a lot of the genres mentioned above not getting their fair shake.
If you're in San Francisco, you can get showtimes for these movies at http://www.frameline.org/festival/
If you're not, you may have to wait a while. But here are all the trailers: