A spectacular, sprawling French-Canadian family drama, C.R.A.Z.Y. never confines itself to a single genre. Rather, it embraces them all. Lavishly told, it evokes a time, place and period with the kind of majesty only the finest works of cinema achieve. The driving narrative focuses on gay teenager Zac (Marc-André Grondin), and the means by which he comes to terms with his emerging sexuality. But it’s also the story of Zac’s turbulent relationship with his four brothers and harsh father (the explosive Michel Cote). The movie carries itself effortlessly from the ’60s to the ’80s, taking us on a far-reaching journey that ultimately finds Zac in the desert outside Jerusalem, walking in the steps of Jesus Christ. Directed by Jean-Marc Vallee, C.R.A.Z.Y. has the epic feel of Scorsese’s Goodfellas, minus the mobsters and violence. The cherry on top is the way Vallee deftly weaves flights of fantasy into the dramatic tapestry (a scene at Christmas Mass in which Zac takes flight leaves you stunned by its beauty, grace and sheer audacity). In short, C.R.A.Z.Y. is a gay film that’s inclusive of the rest of the world. It’s one of those movies you watch once and never, ever forget.
When director Rose Troche introduced us to the lovelorn Max (Guinevere Turner, who also co-wrote the film), the awkward Ely (V.S. Brodie) and the circle of women around whose lives Go Fish was constructed, she wasn’t so much blazing a trail for The L Word as she was warning against it. Unapologetically art house — filmed in black and white and shot through with all manner of clever tricks and gimmicks — Go Fish is also unapologetically rooted in reality. The female characters simultaneously defy and embrace stereotypes, offering audience members of all races, ethnicities, shapes and orientation a chance to see themselves on-screen. Troche’s decision to create a lesbian-themed film for a gay and lesbian audience and not another fantasy-fueling bit of entertainment where the gay women are always blonde and seemingly plucked from a Victoria’s Secret catalog, transforms a very simple love story into something fresh, surprising and delightful.
John Cameron Mitchell’s wildly imaginative comedy/drama/musical features brilliantly subdued lighting effects and animated sequences. It’s also got an infectious punk score by Stephen Trask, and a strong cast, including Mitchell, who earned a Golden Globe nomination for his delightful portrayal of the title character. But above and beyond the surface cinematic treats, the story, which began life as an Off-Broadway production, subtly, even slyly, captures the ongoing struggle for recognition of the transgender community in a mainstream society confused by black-and-white cultural norms about gender and sexuality. Hedwig may be just an accidental transgender — on account of a botched teenage sex-change operation that left her with an ”angry inch” below the belt. But this fictional male-to-(not-quite-)female transgender effectively stands in for many actual transgender people who might understandably harbor some resentment over mainstream society’s routine transgender ignorance, even discrimination. Hedwig, the ”internationally ignored song stylist,” doggedly pursues respect in a world that makes fun of her and bluntly refuses to understand her predicament. Such a world may prefer Tommy Gnosis, the milquetoast straight man who stole her ideas and music. But ultimately, Hedwig cannot be denied.
Writer and director C. Jay Cox made Latter Days after the success of his screenplay Sweet Home Alabama, and in some respects Latter Days is as fluffy and filled with clichés as that Reese Witherspoon blockbuster. But it’s far from a hoary story. In fact, Latter Days was the first feature film to examine the impact of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ anti-gay and ”ex-gay” policies. Principally: the dastardly reality that those Mormons who don’t get ”cured” of homosexuality are generally excommunicated from their families as well as the church. Various Mormon and religious-right groups threatened boycotts of theaters and video stores presenting the film, which, naturally, helped increase attention to it. Latter Days draws on Cox’s personal experience growing up Mormon, including time spent as a missionary, before coming out and living life as a former Mormon gay man in Hollywood. The film was a huge hit on the gay film festival circuit, in large part because the interchange of religion and homosexuality is just a key theme, not the main plotline. (Also helping popularity is an attractive cast and several nude and sex scenes.) At its core, the film is a gay love story, focused on the relationship that develops between a closeted Mormon missionary and his openly gay neighbor. They meet cute — and stay that way.
Long before he buzzed onto your TV as the Nasonex bee, and even before portraying Andrew Beckett’s partner in Philadelphia, Antonio Banderas was the big-screen bottom of 1987. Specifically, it was the dawn of the Pedro Almodóvar invasion into U.S. art houses, and Banderas was ankles-up in Law of Desire. But while the more famous Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, to follow a year later, may have been gay director Almodóvar’s blockbuster, Desire was his LGBT offering. Banderas plays young Antonio, harboring a dangerous desire for Pablo, a gay film director, while Pablo is still carrying a torch for Juan. Despite the era, Law of Desire, refreshingly, had nothing to do with AIDS. Instead, these characters, including scene-stealing Carmen Maura as Pablo’s transsexual sister, Tina, illustrate not the frailties of they physical body, but the passions and perils of desperate longing.
Terrence McNally’s Tony Award-winning Love! Valour! Compassion! was a far better play than a movie (Oscar didn’t so much as glance its way). And yet the movie’s worth a viewing, if nothing else than to see original Broadway cast members Justin Kirk, Stephen Bogardus and, especially, John Glover act their thespian hearts out. (Regrettably, in one of queer cinema’s greatest instances of miscasting, Buzz, the award-winning role originated by Nathan Lane, was mangled by Jason Alexander.) A soul-searching tale of a group of gay friends who use vacation time to work out their interpersonal problems and internal issues, L!V!C! is like a latter-day Boys in the Band, but with the bitchiness set to mute. McNally has penned some iconic gay works, but one of his finest achievements is a comedy that queer cinemaphiles might consider a throwaway. Yet The Ritz is anything but. An exuberant, uproarious door-slamming farce, The Ritz is notable for its setting — a gay Manhattan bathhouse in the ’70s. (The plot involves a straight businessman hiding from a homicidal mobster.) Like L!V!C!, The Ritz mines members from its original Broadway cast — Rita Moreno, Jerry Stiller, Jack Weston and the scene-stealing F. Murray Abraham as a feisty bear-lover (or, as they called it in those days, “chubby chaser”). The surprise scene-stealer is hunky Treat Williams, who plays a police detective with an unfortunate vocal issue. For those who remember the way bathhouses once were — complete with female entertainers! — The Ritz is a throwback to an era long gone. For everyone else, it’s a history lesson with a terrific sense of humor.
We often think of gay films as works of art that can help others learn about our life experiences — to help straight viewers understand lives beyond their own. Funny thing is, we gay, lesbian, bi and trans filmgoers sometimes need our own experiences expanded — to understand gay lives beyond our own. Love of Siam is a perfect little concoction of familiar gay tropes — adolescent sexual ambiguity, unrequited gay love — in a wildly melodramatic Bangkok setting that feels both familiar and foreign. The full plot is too complicated to compress here, but at its core is a love story of sorts between teen boys Mew — a rising boy-band singer — and Tong, whose troubled family has left him adrift. The ending is not what you might expect — no one really gets their heart’s desire — but it’s uplifting nonetheless. Love of Siam is earnest and un-ironic in ways that American gay films rarely dare without falling into pathos. For that alone, it’s worth a viewing (or two).
It’s not necessarily clear what one is getting with My Own Private Idaho. As with any masterpiece, each viewing reveals a new hue or mood. Between the Shakespearian themes and dialogue, to the streets of Portland, Ore., and Rome, and just a touch of narcolepsy for whatever reason, gay director and writer Gus Van Sant’s Idaho may leave you scratching your head. Which is fine. The Mona Lisa is what you make it, and so is My Own Private Idaho, with its bits of goofiness, stinging betrayals and iconic imagery. While much of this peculiar picture is timeless, there are elements that anchor Idaho to an era. This was River Phoenix at his best (Idaho is to Phoenix what Rebel Without a Cause is to James Dean). Further, Phoenix as a scruffy gay hustler, plying his trade in Seattle and Portland, could have been the poster boy for ”grunge.” On one hand, Idaho is a beautiful, enigmatic and delicate story of abandonment. On the other, it is a time-capsule escape to a place where lyrics were slurred, heroin was fashionable and River was king. As an added bonus, Keanu Reeves’s particular style of L.A.-enunciation acting actually worked in this instance.