By Glenn Dunks.
It's sometimes hard to keep up with all the films hitting VOD from the festival circuit, particularly those under the LGBTQ banner that can so easily get lost by audiences. More and more films including those with big stars and major filmmakers are now taking the direct route so competition is fierce. Let's take a look at some of the titles hitting the regular services over these first few months of the year. If your interests extend beyond the buzzier must-see titles like Carol and Moonlight, you should definitely keep an eye out for them and others like them.
I’m just going to say it – Juliet Stevenson should be next in line for a Rampling/Huppert style dalliance with Oscar. She is far and away the best thing in this pretty if frustrating drama about a mother and son in the south of France. She is exquisite as Beatrice, a permanently sad Woman Who Lies To Herself™ on the verge of divorce who has travelled to the family holiday house to pack up their possessions so the place can be sold. Never too far away from a glass of wine or an angry/tearful breakdown, Stevenson’s performance is the kind of body-shaking reminder of her talent that, should they watch it, ought to inspire somebody to give her another showcase.
[More on Departure and three more queer titles after the jump]
Elsewhere, Andrew Steggall’s debut feature is not without its quaint charms, but has an unfortunate liability in the central character. As written by Steggall, Alex Lawther’s (The Imitation Game) Elliot is a sopping, highly-affected and pretentious amalgam of tired queer tropes. He has a fondness for staring off in the distance, musing on philosophy, and wearing costume military jackets and sweater vests. As the film charts his crush on a sexually ambiguous Frenchman, Phénix Brossard’s Clément, Elliot is cloying and never rings true. “You’re a bit of a cliché”, Clément suggests – the only moment of acknowledgment that he’s a bit of a wanker. At one stage he literally pets a wounded bird, while later when stalking the French countryside for the deer he fears his car hit late one night he muses that “Maybe it has blood pouring from its eyes as it limps across the field” with nary a wink of irony. He is, to put it mildly, a bit much.
Steggall nevertheless has a keen eye for moments of erotica in a young man’s life: a close-up of muscle on his love’s arm, the late-night penetrative exploration, the way Elliot stares at Clément’s face and attempts a bullish touch. This coupled with the nicely detailed production design – those blue-brushed walls!! – and Stevenson’s performance make Departure a strong debut, albeit one that can’t quite overcome its impulses.
Departure is on VOD on March 7th.
I AM MICHAEL
Guys, what’s the deal with Justin Kelly? Were you as deflated by the bland sleaze of King Cobra (a lifeless chore of a film) as I was? Sadly, I Am Michael (actually made before Cobra; it premiered at Sundance 2015!), doesn’t find the director any more at home within the quieter world of Michael Glatze’s true story. Glatze (Franco) was a journalist, filmmaker and gay activist in a relationship with Bennett (Zachary Quinto, his charm intact for the most part), whose interaction with a religious youth spurs his own spiritual reconsiderations. Or maybe it’s his heart condition? The film doesn’t make that definition clear. Michael eventually finds god, attends a biblical school, becomes a pastor, and even finding a fiancé (Emma Roberts, because of course).
It's perhaps commendable that Kelly, who also wrote the screenplay, pulls back from editorializing on the matter, but with a story such as this with its many pointed angles and thorny elements, it's a choice that comes off lacking in bite. As a result the end product feels slight and lacking in nuance. I Am Michael is a film that wants to at once wrestle with the very concept of queerness while also avoiding anything and everything that would make it interesting. It makes a great big deal about what homosexuality “means”, but does little to navigate these ideas beyond simplistic speeches as characters tell us directly and blandly what’s on the surface and nothing more. James Franco, too, is in desperate need of the apparent charisma that the real Michael Glatze must have had. His Michael is a bore and so is this film.
I Am Michael is on VOD now.
A tricky narrative is handled with a surprising deftness in Sasha King and Brian O’Donnell's Akron. Even if its first-time director baby steps are apparent, its attempts at ignoring many of the traditional beats of the young gay male coming-of-age drama are admirable. Opening with a tragic accident before segueing to a laissez-fair meet cute between two college athletes, Akron is less interested in the mechanics of gay dating than it is what happens when a seemingly perfect gay coupling is thrown by an unexpected curveball.
There has been a lot of talk lately following films like Carol and Moonlight (and popped up again out of Sundance with Call Me By Your Name) being called “universal”. And while it’s true that the story of Akron would be virtually unchanged by swapping genders of one of the leads – I think some like to call that post-gay? – it is still nonetheless gains much of its impact from exploring its story of past guilts resurrected to the present day by doing so with a same-sex couple. There was ample room to include race and class, but they go sadly unexamined in this film that is nicely photographed and features a pair of fine performances by Matthew Frias and Edmund Donovan in potentially difficult roles.
Akron is on VOD now.
I guess you could call this a coming-out drama for a different generation, as Piotr J. Lewandowski directs this film about a son (Jannis Niewohner) coming to terms with the facts behind his parents’ marriage and revelations about his father (Andre Hennicke from Downfall). Like Holding the Man in 2015, Jonathan’s most remarkable sequence is a sex scene on a deathbed, a poignant moment of gay sexuality on screen, the likes of which we rarely see.
Still, as emotional as these scenes of later-generation intimacy are and as mature as Lewandowski’s approach is to this material, he unfortunately spends too much time on the dreamgirl saviour plot of the titular son. That plot is a murky slice of trite romance that hasn’t an ounce of the power or the impact of the rest of the film since it falls back on familiar beats. It works as a neat bait-and-switch for straight audiences, I suppose, to see the two juxtaposed, but it’s a novel concept that doesn’t necessarily work in execution. Instead it simply renders half the film less vital and interesting.
Jonathan is on VOD now.