Saturday, October 4, 2008

Reverend's Reviews: Coming Out Stories - Part 2

This is the second of Chris' three-part series of influential films that helped him in his coming out.

1982 was a watershed year for me in terms of coming-out scenes in movies. In addition to being the year my class watched Suddenly, Last Summer (covered in part 1), it was also the year Blake Edwards’ musical-comedy Victor/Victoriawas released. Although it was adapted from a much earlier German film, Viktor und Viktoria (1933), my 15-year old self was unaware of the subject matter when I attended a sneak preview of Edwards’ remake with my then-girlfriend (go figure).

Victor/Victoria was eye-opening for me, since it can be regarded as a series of coming-out vignettes. While the central character, a down-on-her-luck singer played by Oscar-nominated Julie Andrews, is heterosexual, she is surrounded by a number of unapologetically gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning supporting characters. When Parisian club owner Toddy (delightfully played by the late, great Robert Preston) takes the na├»ve Victoria under his wing early in the film, she at first thinks he’s trying to take sexual advantage of her. When he reassures her by nonchalantly telling her, “I’m gay,” she responds, “That’s the nicest thing anyone’s said to me all day!”

The film’s romantic storyline has gangster King Marchand (James Garner) wrestling with his growing attraction to Andrews’ character. Victoria is passing herself off as a man, Victor, who becomes the toast of Paris by performing as a female impersonator (got it?). While Marchand is confused about his potentially homosexual feelings and is intent on proving that Victor actually is a woman, he also becomes increasingly less concerned about his attraction to Victor. It doesn’t hurt that Victor/Victoria is considerably more intelligent, talented and appealing than Marchand’s moll, the dim-witted Norma (a hilarious Lesley Ann Warren).

Victor and Marchand have several “coming out” conversations during the course of Victor/Victoria. Initially, Victor defends “his” male-ness and homosexuality fiercely, which naturally unsettles Marchand all the more. Once Victoria “comes out” to Marchand and admits her charade, he then has to play along as gay in order to protect both of them from jealous Norma and his fellow mobsters. This leads Marchand’s devoted bodyguard, the seemingly-straight Squash (Alex Karras), to come out to his boss, who is surprised to say the least.

While they are often comically-exaggerated, the emotional and social conundrums the characters in Victor/Victoria face aren’t unrealistic to anyone who is GLBT. Even Norma is challenged to reflect on her sexual attractions, however briefly, when she says to Toddy “I think the right woman could reform you” and he responds, “I think the right woman could reform you, too!”

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.

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