The 2014 iteration of Outfest, Los Angeles’ premier LGBTQIAetc film festival, has now come and gone. For 10 days, West Hollywood was abuzz with new movies that explore all manner of non-heteronormative characters, topics, and ideas. Here are capsule reviews of the feature films we caught at the fest:
A teenage boy falls for another boy on his track team in this Dutch coming-out dramedy. It’s strangely notable only in how unnotable it is. If this was about a straight kid, no one would give it a second glance. Yet that is in of itself strangely progressive. A part of integrating previously persecuted minorities into the mainstream is normalizing their experience. This isn’t to say that Boys is bad at all. It hits some nice, genuine beats. But it’s so stuck to convention as to be vanilla as possible. Also it illustrates well the pitfalls of digital indie filmmaking, because some of it looks great but other parts look horrid.
The first half of this quiet, contemplative drama follows a Moroccan youth as he spends his days having sexual encounters with random men and trying to keep his unstable family at peace. The second half takes him to Europe, after he’s finally escaped the culture that repressed him, only to have to deal with the consequences of leaving everything he knew behind. The front half is by far the stronger one, the most potent look at buried desire that I’ve seen in a while. It’s also challenging, and in a legitimate way, not through any buzzy faux-controversial provocation, as it deals with how the protagonist’s homosexual longings even extend to his distant older brother. The back end loses something from dropping away the atmosphere of the main character’s situation in Morocco. Based on director Abdellah Taïa’s own autobiographical novel, Salvation Army is the best film I saw at the fest.
Rich white people have rich white people problems. Also, one of them is gay. Patricia Clarkson does her damnedest to save things, and it’s an admirable effort, but the movie still sinks. What really galls is that this film, about a millionaire family going through their last get-together at their extravagant vacation “cabin” (it’s a damn estate), actually preemptively defends itself from criticism of its wealthy characters. It even puts one speech about the virtues of fundraising dinners in the mouth of a black woman who actually had to work her way into her money. It’s like Arrested Development without the irony. It goes through all the motions of a fake-indie movie, replete with go-nowhere subplots that are supposed to tie into their characters’ development but don’t. All in all, thoroughly gross.
The Foxy Merkins
Two homeless prostitutes who service wealthy, usually closeted women strike up a friendship. Lisa Haas gives a spectacularly awkward performance as the inexperienced, insecure Margaret, while Jackie Monahan plays off her perfectly as the supernaturally nonplussed Jo. While there are a few odd diversions (interview segments with lesbian hookers feel like nothing more than an easy way to drop exposition) and recurring jokes that lose their punch, this is mostly a very fun movie. It feels like a filthy, extended episode of The Simpsons or similarly absurdity-minded prime time cartoon.
Tom at the Farm
Freshly-Cannes-prize-winning Quebecois wunderkind director Xavier Dolan stars in his own film as the eponymous Tom, who travels to the eponymous farm after the death of his boyfriend. There, he finds his boyfriend’s mother and brother have a less-than-pleasant reception in store for him. Some outstanding sequences of suspense pepper this thriller, along with simmering class resentment between the stylish copywriter Tom and the rough-and-tumble farming locals. The movie is somewhat oddly paced, not so much building tension as it goes but wavering in it along the way, and leaving a big “reveal” of sorts to a weirdly late stage. But it has a terrific look and sound (the score is delightfully sinister), and a gripping tone of dread.
A riff on Rosemary’s Baby that gets less interesting the more it ends up like Rosemary’s Baby. Still, this creepy tale of a woman (Gaby Hoffmann) who slowly falls apart after the death of her child, suspecting that it may have been foul play. She’s pregnant with another baby, and worries that it too is in danger. Hoffmann is reliable as ever, this time playing a ball of nerves whose paranoia at some times feels totally justified, while at others seems dangerously off-point. It’s very short (only a little over an hour), so there’s no fat on the plot, which sticks almost entirely to a spacious, unnervingly white townhouse. The answers the movie provides aren’t as satisfying as its mysteries, but it’s a creepy little surprise.