Coming out of hibernation: A look at "Front Cover," "The Falls" and LGBT cinema
Coming out of Oscar hibernation is always tricky here at Awards Wiz. I've honestly been trying to come out for several weeks now. I made it to the theaters a few times...saw "Captain America; Civil War" (better than I expected) and "Swiss Army Man" (by far the best thing I've seen this year). I managed to do a couple of long gestating rewatches with the likes of "Bugsy" and "Half Nelson," and even began a summer movie piece where I pontificate on summer movie memories (my go to when I don't exactly know what I want to write about but feel driven to write something. The delay on publishing? Well my excuse was that I needed to see a couple of more movies to justify writing something. "Indignation and "Tallulah" have another week before they are released...but who knows if they will make it to Oxford, my lovely college town that does a pretty good job of getting stuff...although they couldn't be bothered to bring in "Absolutely Fabulous" tomorrow, even though they are showing "Hilary's America." Politics aside, couldn't they have a little camp to go with their satanic propaganda?
The thawing actually began a few weeks ago when I was offered the wonderful opportunity to program the LGBT block for the Oxford Film Festival. Last year, I managed to go to a couple of panels and see two films at the festival, but it was smack dab in the middle of Oscar season, so I wasn't able to do more. For the brief amount of time I was there, I did notice something that people like me always look for when they are in the depths of the festival experience. And that is an identity. I'm very much looking forward to being a small part of next year's identity development. When made this offer, I couldn't help but think about the Oscars...and while I love them, my coverage of them has, at times, been more about obligation and expectation than actual passion. More will certainly be revealed closer to February.
The majority of my entertainment this summer has come from Netflix...most specifically a binge watch of the "Gilmore Girls." A show I have watched already in its entirety. A bulky rewatch that is the perfect fanning for my noncommittal summer flame. A couple of nights ago I was getting ready to perfunctorily watch an episode (I am nearing the end of the 6th season) when suddenly I considered watching something else. Perhaps I could go back to "The Killing" (another rewatch!) or perhaps "Lady Dynamite." Or maybe I could even go back to my DVR and watch more of season one of "Mr. Robot." Not ready to give up Netflix altogether (switching from HDMI 2 to HDMI 1 always seems like such a hassle in the moment) I opted to explore "My List" and stumbled upon "The Falls." I couldn't quite remember putting it there, but decided to give it a shot. A coming of age story of two young Mormons coming to terms with who they are, what they believe and who they love.
While not perfect, the film, directed by Jon Garcia and starring Benjamin Farmer and Nick Ferrucci had me in its wiles well before the credits rolled. Mostly due to the chemistry between the two leads. So hooked that I quickly bought the sequel from Amazon and began stalking both actors on social media. If I admit it, it's not creepy right? And finally and excitedly discovering that a 3rd film is in production. All these thoughts (obsessions/compulsions!) took me back to the days of "Beautiful Thing," "Latter Days," "Shelter" and "Gypsy 83." LGBT films that had quite the effect on my being. I love these movies because I actually get to see myself on screen, still coming of age after all these years--yet also spoiled by their depiction of romance that might never come to fruition in my life because these films are, after all, fiction.
A few weeks ago, I was invited to cover "Front Cover" a light, fun and often touching film written and directed by Ray Yeung and starring Jake Choi and James Chen. Choi plays Ryan, an out, Chinese American fashion stylist who has stuffed away his Asian heritage and dreams of being assigned the front cover of "Mais Oui!"magazine only to be paired with a possibly homophobic, probably closeted Chinese movie star from Beijing (Chen). This tumultuous pairing leads Ryan to examine his relationship with his Chinese heritage, what he is willing to do to propel his career forward, and what it means to be an out/proud gay man in the fashion world. Chen and Choi are both great, never crossing over into caricatureland, a testament to both their acting and Yeung's directing. Once the relationship softens after an uncomfortable photo shoot (a moment in the film that I found a little over the top, but understandably necessary to drive the plot forward) we meet Ryan's parents (played by Elizabeth Sung and Ming Lee) in the film's best scenes. When Ryan's mom is able to have a quiet moment alone with the movie star, the masks come off. We are treated to a beautiful examination of what it is like for a mother struggling to balance firmly planted roots and beliefs steeped in tradition and unconditional love for her son.
I was asked recently by a filmmaker who is working on a short film he hopes to submit to the festival what I look for when examining LGBT films, and I said to him, referring to narratives: "Having already begun the viewing process, I would say that in the forefront of my mind I can't help thinking that many of the LGBT films I see seem to put a message in front of story. I watch these films just like I watch any other film. For example, I know that the Transgender community is underrepresented in the LGBT film landscape..but if the film doesn't have all the components of a good film: acting, directing, story, etc...I would have a harder time putting it in. That being said, we want to represent the community as a whole."
But...now that I've thought about that question a little less intellectually...I sometimes simply want to see two men fall head over heels, romantically in love. Even if that love doesn't quite make it all the way to the credits.
Check out "The Falls" on Netflix as well as "Front Cover," opening August 5th in New York (Village East) and Los Angeles on August 12th (Sundance Sunset 5) with a national release to follow.