GAY FILM REVIEWS BY MICHAEL D. KLEMM
Strand Releasing, 2005
PG-13, 96 minutes
Unrated, 88 minutes
2005 was a very good
year for queer cinema. Brokeback
Mountain, Capote and Transamerica immediately come to mind,
but these weren't the only independent titles that crossed over to mainstream
critical acclaim. The list also includes Gregg Arraki's stunning Mysterious
Skin, (reviewed last fall in Outcome)
and a haunting meditation on familial loss entitled Loggerheads.
Loggerheads, written and directed by Tim Kirkman, (Dear Jesse, The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me), masterfully weaves three seemingly unrelated stories into an emotional kaleidoscope. A young drifter named Mark (Kip Pardue) comes to Kure Beach to observe, and to help save, the nocturnal Loggerhead turtles. He is also being observed, in turn, by George (Michael Kelly) during his morning jogs on the beach. George rescues Mark from being arrested for vagrancy and invites him to stay at his motel.
nearby Eden, a stern preacher and his wife, Elizabeth, (Chris Sarandon
and Tess Harper), are troubled by the gay couple who has just moved into
the neighborhood with their young son. When Elizabeth asks if she should
invite them to church, her husband says "Let's see if they come on
their own." Their sudden arrival opens old wounds as Elizabeth longs
to re-connect with their estranged son. In the third story, a middle-aged
woman named Grace (Bonny Hunt) has returned home to live with her mother.
Empty and unhappy, she embarks on a search for the son she was forced
to give up for adoption when she was 17.
About midway, astute audiences should realize how the three tales will connect, and the drama gains in power as the eventual intersection grows near. In the meantime, it is a pure pleasure to watch these subtle character studies unfold in sometimes unexpected ways. Mark and George, for example, do not fall into bed together on their first meeting. We learn that Mark is HIV+ and ran away from home as a teenager, and that George lost his lover in a drowning accident (or was it?). Director Kirkman displays a fine eye for character detail. Watch Elizabeth complain about the large anatomically correct statue of Michelangelo's David in her neighbor Ruth's front yard. When she suggests moving it to the backyard "so we don't have to look at it," Ruth counters with "That's your solution for everything, isn't it?"
The film's central metaphor is the loggerhead turtles who return to the same spot where they were born in order to nest. Meanwhile, parents and offspring are unable to find each other, and live their lives as empty shells. This could have been a bad Lifetime TV movie, but the writing is sharp and the acting is outstanding. Each of the three segments are wonderful stories in their own right. And it was nice, for a change, to see two gay men in a movie who are not defined by just sex for a change.
The disc sports a fine director's commentary, interviews and deleted scenes.
Just when I thought I never wanted to see another high school coming out movie, along comes one that is new and refreshingly different. The film is called Dorian Blues. Michael McMillan plays Dorian Lagatos, a misfit teen who declares that he is gay in a hilarious opening montage that recalls Wes Anderson's Rushmore. Dorian's home life is a nightmare. His father is a tyrant who entertains no opinions besides his own. Dorian's star athlete brother is clearly the father's favorite, and his mother rolls pennies in the kitchen, oblivious to everything.
Dorian has no problem with being gay but, after sleeping with the school dork, he races home, brushes his teeth and runs to confession. Turning to his brother Nicky for help leads to an encounter with a prostitute. The night ends with Dorian recognizing his pastor's "ex-gay" pamphlets for the pure bullshit that they are. Coming out to his father is a predictable disaster and he runs away to college in New York City. Everything isn't roses there either, but at least he can be himself.
The comic scenes are endless. Dorian encounters a drunk social worker, is unable to confront a dummy (representing his father) in a therapist's office, and listens to the prostitute his brother paid for sing pitch-perfect Billie Holiday tunes instead of getting horizontal. I almost needed CPR when he was seduced by the school nerd while dancing to The Monkeys.
The sharp script is a delight. When Dorian's brother rescues him from from a bully, he tells him to stay in the closet and to remember how the Nazis said that if you tell a lie often enough that people will eventually believe it. To this sage advice, Dorian replies "So... your advice is that I be more like Hitler?"
Dorian Blues is a quirky, offbeat comedy in the vein of Hal Ashby's classic Harold and Maude, or - to use a more recent example - the strange but oddly hypnotic Napoleon Dynamite. Like Ashby's film, Dorian Blues deftly juggles the comic and the tragic. Most of the film is laugh-out-loud funny, but it also has a big heart. The relationship between the two brothers is one of the most touching I have seen in any movie. When Dorian tells Nicky that he is gay, his more popular brother is on his way to a party but - when Dorian starts to cry - Nicky stops and says "You really need to talk now, don't you?" and stays up with him through the night.
In each scene, the actors know when to be over-the-top, and when to pull back for emotional resonance. The cast is perfect. Michael McMillan is deliciously deadpan as Dorian. And seeing Steven Fletcher, who played the wife-beating Brad Vernon on the soap opera One Life To Live back in the late 1970s, as the bigoted father was a hoot.
The fact that writer/director Tennyson Bardwell is not gay is illuminating. Even though most straight filmmakers are usually clueless how to depict queer life, this one's new spin on the old tired coming out formula is the best I've seen since Edge of Seventeen. This one is also recommended.
[Reviewer's note 2011: Michael McMilliam memorably played the smiling, but dangerous, pastor of the Church of the Sun in the second season of HBO's great homo-erotic guilty pleasure, True Blood.]
On Tim Kirkman