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FILM REVIEW: LGBTQ Movie ‘Brotherly Love’

Brotherly Love Film LGBTQ Austin Anthony Caruso

A review of Anthony J. Caruso’s LGBTQ film shot in Austin, TX, Brotherly Love. 

(AUSTIN) – At nearly two hours, Anthony J. Caruso’s slow-paced film, Brotherly Love, feels a bit long; some of the characters might be seen as negative stereotypes; and yet there’s something oddly likable about this low budget indie, shot on location in Austin with a local cast.

Brotherly-Love FILM REVIEW: LGBTQ Movie 'Brotherly Love'Auteur Caruso stars as Brother Vito, a young gay man torn between his life with his gay friends and the vows of poverty and celibacy he’s about to take as a brother with the Catholic church. As the story opens, Vito, who lives in a monastery, still goes out cruising with his gay best friend Tim (Chance McKee). Vito desperately wants to jump into the car of the hot man who’s checking him out, but he stops himself, thinking of his upcoming vows. He goes to the White Party with Tim, where he feels out of place.

Vito doesn’t know what to do. He genuinely loves God and the church, but also loves his former life. He seeks counselling from Sister Peggy (June Griffin Garcia), a friendly, understanding nun, who thinks that Vito needs to get away for awhile so he can think things over. Vito is driven halfway across the country to spend the summer living and working in a halfway house for people with AIDS. There he meets Gabe (Derek Babb), a friendly, lonely landscaper who immediately takes a liking to Vito. The attraction is quite mutual, with Vito once again feeling torn between his love for the church and his natural desires. Will Vito remain true to his vows, or will he give in to Gabe’s not-to-subtle come-ons? The two are obviously falling in love, despite Vito’s pretending otherwise.

Vito and Gabe make for a hot, sweet couple. Actors Caruso and Babb have great onscreen chemistry, with Babb giving a particularly fine performance as a man who cannot live without love in his life. We learn that Gabe was once married.

“Now I have an ex-wife who hates me, a mother who cries whenever she talks to me and a father who fired me from the family business,” Gabe says sadly. Babb expertly conveys the emotions of the sweet, loving Gabe, who knows that he and Vito would be perfect for each other, if only Vito would open his eyes. Caruso is also quite good as he battles his mixed emotions.

8D74891A-9172-9A2B-8FF84BA5301C36AB FILM REVIEW: LGBTQ Movie 'Brotherly Love'
Derek Babb, Anthony J. Caruso

 

Other aspects of the film don’t work quite as well. Chance McKee, as gay best friend Tim, appears to be a good actor, but his role is written as a stereotype. Tim is an over-the-top queen–he’s too over-the-top to be believable. He’s loud and brash, and talks endlessly about parties, clothes, and hot guys. We never learn who Tim is, all we’re told is that he likes to party a lot.

At one point Vito and Gabe meet a friendly lesbian couple, one of whom is an ex-nun who left the church to be with the woman she loves. That woman turns out to be a character who makes Tim seem tame in comparison. She’ll do anything for attention–after Sunday church services she smears chocolate cake on her face and laughs hysterically. It’s embarrassing to see a middle-aged woman carrying on like that. This character is a victim of bad writing–less would have been more.

Another flaw in the film is that the AIDS house where Vito is supposed to be working is presented as an afterthought. Vito shows up and meets the residents, who talk about Barbra Streisand a lot. With one exception, the house residents are not seen again until the end of the film. At no time during the film is Vito shown doing the work he was sent to the house to do–he spends the entire film with Gabe. How did the church elders and the house residents feel about that?

While far from a perfect film, Brotherly Love still entertains due to the terrific chemistry between Caruso and Babb. The burgeoning love story between these characters is sweet and romantic, and their scenes together are well written. They make Brotherly Love worth checking out. The fact that both men are nice to look at is an added plus.

Breaking Glass Picture’s DVD of Brotherly Love includes the film’s theatrical trailer and a lively commentary track from Caruso. You can purchase the film on iTunes, Google Play, and Amazon.  Visit its official Facebook page and Breaking Glass’s Picture’s website.

Were-About-It-2 FILM REVIEW: LGBTQ Movie 'Brotherly Love'

Film Review: Yen Tan’s “1985”

Yen Tan’s 1985 is a quiet, well-written, and fabulously performed picture that quietly blows a kiss toward a generation of LGBTQ fighters.

Last Monday, LGBTQ film nonprofit, QFest, and queer Houston magazine, Spectrum South, presented the final night of QFest’s annual queer film festival at Rice University’s Rice Cinema, screening the new film, 1985. Starring Corey Michael Smith of Gotham fame, 1985 was written and directed by filmmaker Yen Tan and is set in the titular year surrounding the loss of life to the HIV/AIDS crisis.

QFest-Header Film Review: Yen Tan's "1985"The film sported a wonderful screenplay, and found a way to depict HIV/AIDS in the ’80s in a way that will not only make a person’s eyes well up with tears, but plays on the idiosyncrasies that help LGBTQ people laugh throughout tragedy without playing on stereotypes and cliches. The film revels in the fact that the LGBTQ community has come a long way since the earliest days of the HIV/AIDS virus, but still has a long way to go when dealing it is perceived by those on the outside. This film was a real tear jerker through its entire length. Smith plays Adrian, a man who makes viewers feel for all people who are dealing and suffering from this, past and present. His emotional scenes of tearful breakdowns are just as moving and convincing as his off-the-cuff one-liners to his childhood friend, Carly (played by the incomparable Jamie Chung), and his little brother, Andrew (played by young actor Aidan Langford).

vmadsen Film Review: Yen Tan's "1985"
Virginia Madsen, who stars as Eileen

The film’s supporting cast, however, receives equal acclaim to that of its star billing. Witches of East End and Designated Survivor star, Virginia Madsen, stars as Adrian’s mother, Eileen, who — in spite of her seemingly conservative ways — continually drops nuggets of affection for her son to let him know of her open-mindedness and liberalism (even revealing she voted for Mondale over Reagan in the 1985 election). Though often subdued and timid — likely a product of her role as a housewife during the time — Madsen’s performs brims with the honest love of a mother looking to connect with her child on a level transcendent of sexual orientation. Even Michael Chiklis’s performance (the The Shield star who portrays Adrian’s male fragility-epitomizing father) cracks the egg shell of 1980s homophobia and ignorance by letting his son know — near tearfully — that he can always count on his father for anything, even after learning Adrian’s seemingly well-kept secret. The film would also be nothing without the aforementioned Chung, who breathes something unexpected into this story that viewers might not go in expecting from a film about a gay white male — the power of feminism and liberation for women of color. Chung’s Carly is an old girlfriend and longtime friend of Adrian’s who is doing her best to grapple with why he can’t love her. But upon understanding the truth, the character wastes no time in carrying the Adrian on her shoulders, putting aside her own insecurities and hurt feelings for the man dealing with his impending death. That role — however small in the scope of the story as a whole — could not have been played by an actress other than Chung. As she jokes about her Korean upbringing while doing stand-up, she exerts the sort of strength that comes only from years of torment and inner-demons not easily translated to an authentic seeming character.

langford Film Review: Yen Tan's "1985"
Aidan Langford, who plays Andrew in the film.

But the real star of this film is reserved for none of the adults. Instead, the unsung hero of Adrian’s story and of the film as a production, is young actor Aidan Langford, whose character also is struggling with his identity and possibly his sexuality. No lines are delivered in this film with more conviction or honesty than those of Langford, nor are the scenes that really bear the soul to its audience. Langford’s childlike innocence, coupled with his innocuous upset with his brother he feels abandoned by are just as heart-wrenching as scenes dealing with the greater issues of HIV/AIDS. In fact, the part of the film that touched my heart most was when Aidan left his brother Andrew a recorded message on an eight-track because he knew that his brother one day would may go through the very same scrutiny of being judged because of his sexual orientation. And while the performances of all the actors in this montage are powerful, none are quite as visceral or real as Langford’s.

LGBTQ people have had many challenges, but still have so many more ahead such as the perception of AIDS to straight and cisgender people, equal rights, and fighting back the stereotypes of gender norms. I give this movie four stars and would recommend all to see this film. This film makes you think twice about how you treat people, simply because tomorrow is not something that is promised.

Were-About-It-1 Film Review: Yen Tan's "1985"

About That Movie: The Miseducation of Cameron Post

Lesbian LGBTQ Miseducation of Cameron Post Film Chloe Grace Moretz

A film review of the new LGBTQ film The Miseducation of Cameron Post, which stars Chloe Grace Moretz as a young lesbian at a conversion camp.

Though it’s had a limited release, even by indie film standards, The Miseducation of Cameron Post is mandatory watching material for any queer person raised in a conservative state.

CAMERON_POST_QUAD_2_MR About That Movie: The Miseducation of Cameron Post

The film, starring Chloe Grace Moretz and directed by Desiree Akhavan, is a movie adaptation of a book of the same name by Emily M. Danforth. The award-winning YA novel follows the life of teenager Cameron Post, from her parents’ death through high school and to her stay at God’s Promise, an LGBTQ+ conversion therapy camp in Montana. While the book explores Cameron’s life at a leisurely pace, the film focuses primarily on her time at conversion camp, where she meets fellow rebels Jane Fonda (Sasha Lane) and Adam Red Eagle (Forrest Goodluck). The scope of the movie is limited in comparison to the book, but that scope allows the reader fully to absorb the lives of the dozen-or-so teens at God’s Promise.

 

The movie and book are both set in the early 90s, and director Akhavan captures the period with earthy colors, grunge-y costuming, and a killer soundtrack. Stars Moretz, Lane, and Goodluck all put in compelling performances as a misfit band of queer teens trapped at the camp and struggling to hold their true identities dear. On the opposite end of the film, conversion center leaders Reverend Rick (John Gallagher Jr.) and Dr. Lydia Marsh (Jennifer Ehle) delivered performances that landed somewhere between chilling and heartwrenching; their words will ring as uncomfortably familiar for LGBTQ+ people raised in the conservative South. Though the film shares themes with cult classic But I’m a Cheerleader, this new movie explores the trauma of a conversion center in a way that is more earnest and less tongue-in-cheek. There are plenty of lighthearted moments of rebellion, angst, and teen longing; but the overall effect is far more serious.

Blog-MisEdFilm2 About That Movie: The Miseducation of Cameron PostAlthough the story takes place over two decades ago, the core message still feels timely and important. The continued existence of conversion therapy camps is a worst case scenario for LGBTQ youth; but you don’t have to be at a conversion therapy camp to suffer from the effects of homophobia. I was raised in the church, as were all of my friends growing up. We heard it all — that being gay is a choice, that it’s best to ignore those impulses, that a true Christian would abstain from romance and attraction by any means necessary. It is no wonder that so many of us weren’t able to come out until our 20s, when we had the independence and safety of adulthood. Many teens aren’t lucky enough to come out when the time is right. To see that experience honored on the big screen was validating and necessary.

The greatest disappointment about The Miseducation of Cameron Post had nothing to do with the quality of the film itself but rather with its release. Though the movie played to Sundance and won the Grand Jury Prize, its theater release has been incredibly limited. At the time I am writing this, the movie is not available at any theater in Texas, despite the fact that it is gay young adults trapped in the South that need this movie the most. Additionally, its limited release began rolling through theaters in August and September — hardly primetime for a movie to gain traction when most major releases are scheduled for the beginning of summer and winter. Perhaps because of the poor release timing, the film still hasn’t grossed it’s first $1M in profit. There is no word yet on when this movie will be available to rent or buy.

1_W01KuzCh2f8PVzb0udY7KA About That Movie: The Miseducation of Cameron PostI wish that movies like this could break through from indie to mainstream. Perhaps I am still waiting for the lesbian equivalent to Love, Simon, although this movie’s decidedly more somber setting doesn’t have the same romantic dramedy appeal. I’m still waiting for a lesbian movie to garner the accolades and fans that Call Me By Your Name found easily. Again, this is no fault of The Miseducation of Cameron Post, nor do I say this to bemoan the success of other LGBTQ films. I just want to see a lesbian-centered film succeed in a big way, dammit.

I’ll keep waiting for the lesbian box-office hit of my queer dreams, but The Miseducation of Cameron Post provides a great step in the right direction. I look forward to more WLW representation in movies and literature in the future.

Why You’ll ‘Love, Simon’

Love, Simon tells the story of one teenager’s coming out and the struggle to find your identity as a queer person.

Let me tell you, I’m a crier—and not a pretty one, either. But when it comes to films, it takes something particularly special to cause me to audibly sob in a dark theater surrounded by strangers. In this case, that something was Love, Simon.

After unceremoniously missing the advance press screening weeks ago due to showing up at the wrong theater, the About Magazine staff was given the chance to see the film (thanks to gay actor Matt Bomer). The film, adapted from Becky Albertalli’s 2015 novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda and directed by television writer/producer Greg Berlanti of Dawnson’s Creek fame, stars Nick Robinson as titular character Simon Spier, a high school senior who is so determined to hide his gayness that he goes to extraordinary lengths at the expense of those he loves. And if that story sounds familiar to any of you queer folks out there, that’s because it probably is.

Simon has a good life. He has parents who adore him (played by actors Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel) and a little sister he actually likes. His friends, Leah Burke (Katherine Langford of 13 Reasons Why acclaim), Abby Suso (Alexandra Shipp of X-Men), and Nick Eisner (fairly newcomer Jorge Lendeborge, Jr), have a Brat Pack-like ritual involving morning drives to school punctuated by classic rock, iced coffee, and stories about Nick’s dreams from the previous night. At school, he blends slightly into the foreground, neither exalted by his peers nor taunted by them). On the outside, one might presume that Simon Spier has a perfectly normal life. Only, he has one very big secret:

He’s a flaaaaaming gay.

After another closeted (read: masc) gay student (“Blue”) posts anonymously to the web that he’s keeping the same secret about himself that Simon is, Simon sends an email to the student’s alias Gmail account. And as the two begin to share their back-and-forths about all the good and all the bad that they have had to deal with since discovering their queerness, Simon finds himself falling in love with someone he’s not only never met, but whose identity is just as much a secret to Simon as Simon’s is to Blue. The forays that follow, however, are less lovely. When Simon’s schoolmate, Martin (Logan Miller) finds Simon’s open email account, he decides to blackmail Simon into helping him win over the affections of Abby, who until that point had only been a nuisance to her. In doing so, Simon must pry Abby and Nick away from one another, trick Leah into believing that Nick is in love with her, all while trying to discover the identity of his new love. However, when Martin is displeased with Simon’s efforts, he publicly outs Simon to the entire school. The domino effect to follow results in Simon losing his friends, coming out to his family, and Blue telling Simon the pressure is simply too much for them to continue their conversations.

However, the most compelling thing about this film is neither its story nor its characters. In fact, it’s what they present by telling story as characters—the feelings. I, as mentioned, found myself sobbing at what others may have thought were silly moments in the story. And why? Because I could relate to them.

True, most of us didn’t have the perfect, John Hughes upbringing bestowed upon Simon in the film. But when you scale back those elements and look at the intensity of the emotions the actors are conveying, it’s relatable. I mean, Christ, who doesn’t remember that panicked feeling of not knowing what the next day at school would bring as a pubescent teenager?

There’s a specific moment in the film when Simon decides to come out to Abby before anyone else in his life—a girl he’s known only a few short months. Later, when his best friend, Leah, asks why he came out to Abby instead of her, Simon explains that it’s because Leah has known Simon for so many years that he wasn’t ready for their entire dynamic to change, and that he wasn’t worried about that with Abby. This was reminiscent of my own coming out to a friend I’d known a handful of months who was also close to my oldest friend. The doubt of telling those closest to you certainly comes with a fear of rejection, but also with the fear of being unable to adapt to the new climate, whatever that may be. Then came the moment when his mother told Simon she’d been watching him for the last few years walking around as though he was scared to take a breath. In a tear-evoking moment on screen in the weeks following Simon’s outing, his mother tells him, “You get to exhale now, Simon. You get to be more you than you have been in a very long time.” The simplicity of the scene is what creates its beauty. For those of us who were lucky enough to have parents that accepted us after coming out, it may flood the emotions back that we felt in that moment. And for those of who weren’t so fortunate, it’s a reminder that there is still good in the world, and that there are people who still love and care.

Everything from Simon’s father struggling to find the right things to say down to the moment when Simon is publicly ridiculed by his peers in front of the entire school following his coming out is a reminder of some part of what binds us together as queer people. In different ways and at different times, we’ve all been there: loved, ridiculed, scared, afraid to breathe, and maybe once or twice, if we’re lucky, in love. Sure, most of us didn’t have the good fortune of finding our one-true-love at eighteen just weeks before graduation after a stellar performance in an amateur production of Cabaret, but that’s cinematic hyperbole for you. It tends to pander to the pathos.

While true, Love, Simon is a film that isn’t a stark mirror of all of our experiences, there are little nuggets of hurt and heart in it that we can all relate to in some way. From the fear of what will come upon returning to school after being outed, to the emptiness in your gut that comes from having your friends tell you they don’t want anything to do with you. Our stories are all so unique, as is Simon’s, but none of them are perfect.

The cast (particularly Robinson, Garner, and Shipp) is stellar in bringing this movie to life. Their performances are honest and uncanny. They lack pretense while also still mustering up some of the nostalgia these YA books-turned-teen flicks tend to bring about. But the film is also well-written with a reserve of snide one-liners that fans are sure to be quoting for weeks to come, (“You look like you were gangbanged by a TJ Maxx”) and is extraordinarily directed. The ability that Berlanti possesses to make this film feel like a Breakfast Club for a new generation is nothing short of remarkable. And true, Simon may be a little bit more masculine than many of us watching the film or even reading this review, but that’s just Simon. He’s a representation of one kind of a gay person. And in the film, as a handful of other gay people are introduced, we learn that there are more effeminate gay men, as well as those who fall somewhere in between.

Where the film does lack, however, is in its inability to cast more LGBTQ actors and actresses. Certainly, Robinson makes an amazing Simon and plays the part in a way others probably could not, but it does beg the question: were there no gay kids in Hollywood that we could have asked to do this? Might they have been able to evoke emotion more strongly than Robinson based on their experiences? It seems a tad bit antiinflammatory of the film’s point to preach on about coming out and gayness when most of the cast is made up a cis-gender, heterosexual actors and actresses. That, however, does not change the fact that the film does hit the high note it ambitiously aims for, then drones off with a soft and relaxing decrescendo that will bring fans of the movie back to watch it again-and-again for years to come.

As a whole, I think it’s safe to say that when it comes to Love, Simon, About Magazine is All About It.

Love, Simon is now playing at a theater near you.