Queer cinema has been experiencing a boon of late, with independent productions earning critical acclaim and even, in the case of Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight, major awards recognition. In recent years the likes of Carol, Call Me by Your Name and A Fantastic Woman have all made significant contributions to queer cinema, and now Love, Simon sees a major studio getting involved. To celebrate the release of the first mainstream rom-com to feature a gay protagonist, here are nine great LGBT-themed coming-of-age romances you may have missed.
Don’t be fooled by the sugar candy-coating – Darren Stein’s G.B.F. is an incisive look at coming out in high school in the era of gay-straight-alliances. When Tanner (Michael J Willett) is forcibly outed, the three most popular girls at school are determined to have him as their gay best friend to secure their bids for prom queen. The film provides a remarkable analysis on the commodification of homosexuality. While crushing stereotypes, it creates a hilarious, heartwarming, and endlessly quotable experience. It is also a celebration of camp men, celebrating the embrace of typically feminine qualities.
“I’m not running, I’m choosing,” claims Alike (Adepero Oduye in a brilliant performance) a 17-year-old African-American who comes to embrace her sexuality in Pariah. Dee Rees’ first fiction film is a tender and realistic account of a girl unabashedly loving herself for who she is. Though her journey is a difficult one, there is never any doubt that Alike is at peace with and embraces her butchness, finding comfort in baggy clothes and boxer shorts. Featuring sensational cinematography from Bradford Young (Arrival), Pariah is a powerful meditation on self-love.
Excited to escape her depressive father, 16-year-old Cyd (Jessie Pinnick) spends the summer with her aunt, a novelist, in Chicago. Director Stephen Cone expertly combines the warm nostalgic colours of summertime with a thoroughly modern and of its time romance. Cone places equal interest in Cyd falling for a local girl as he does in Cyd’s relationship with her aunt as they learn more and more about each other. What makes Princess Cyd so lovely is its host of fascinating female characters, all enveloped in a rich warmth and generosity.
Desiree Akhavan directs, writes, and stars in Appropriate Behaviour as Shirin, an Iranian American bisexual who is trying to rebuild her life after breaking up with her girlfriend. The film has a particularly fresh feeling, focusing not only on bisexuality but also Iranian American culture, two things brushed aside by Hollywood. The film has a lot to say about the pressures of being closeted while in a relationship, and also happens to be consistently funny throughout. New York rom-coms have been done to death, but Akhavan brings an irreverent and exciting take, making the film worthwhile viewing.
Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan stars as Hubert in the semi-autobiographical I Killed My Mother, which Dolan wrote and directed at age 20. The film revolves around Hubert and his mother (the great Anne Dorval), who are constantly fighting. Hubert has a boyfriend, unbeknownst to his mother. The film has a significant arthouse flair, but what is striking about Dolan’s feature debut is the way it tackles the fear and self-loathing surrounding coming out. Oozing with style and delivering wild performances, I Killed My Mother is a fascinating look at being in the closet and mother son relationships.
C.R.A.Z.Y is another Canadian film about a young gay man, but in this instance focuses on the relationship between father and son. Bolstered by a terrific soundtrack with hits by David Bowie, Pink Floyd, and The Rolling Stones, the film explored the life of Zac as he deals with homophobia in 1960s, 70s and beyond in Quebec. Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, C.R.A.Z.Y. is a psychedelic, invigorating exploration of Zac’s lifelong desire to find acceptance within his own family.
One of the key figures of the New Queer Cinema movement, Gregg Araki delivered his masterpiece with Mysterious Skin. Araki’s film is a staggering look at how a horrific childhood trauma can shape adolescence. Joseph Gordon Levitt shines as reckless young prostitute Neil, while Brady Corbet plays Brian, who is convinced he was part of an alien abduction. The film is frequently hard to watch and emotionally draining, but is absolute must-see cinema. A portrait of growing up not quite like anything you have seen before.
This Brazilian coming-of-age romantic drama features Leonardo (Ghilherme Lobo), a blind teenager hungry for independence. He spends most of his time with his female best friend, but his world is changed completely when a new male student arrives. Daniel Ribeiro’s directorial debut is adapted from his earlier short film, and is a unique look at both blindness and homosexuality. The Way He Looks is like being wrapped in a warm hug – it is charming, sweet, and a wish-fulfilment fantasy that feels rightfully earned.
Laure is a 10-year-old girl moving to a new home in Paris with her family. A local girl mistakes Laure for a boy, and asks her name. Laure chooses the name Mikael, and starts to present as a boy to the local kids. Céline Sciamma directs with such naturalism that it feels more like the viewer is a fly-on-the-wall than an audience member. Tomboy explores gender ambiguity, creating a compelling investigation into a child’s quest to discover their authentic self.
Published 7 Apr 2018
By Thomas Curry
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