(*homocinematically inclined)

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Reverend's Reviews: Love is On the Screen

Valentine’s Day is here, and Cupid has his bow and arrows ready.  Some of us hope to be struck, while some of us may do everything we can to dodge his arsenal, but there is no doubt that love will be in the air.

Lots of people turn to romantic movies this time of year for both encouragement and solace, which got me thinking about those LGBT-themed films that can be considered the most romantic.  I have my personal preferences but I also enlisted the help of nearly thirty gay and lesbian Facebook friends to identify their favorites.

The notion of romantic movies geared toward our community is actually fairly recent, with few such films made before the 1990’s.  Pioneering productions in this regard include Midnight Cowboy (1969), Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Making Love (1982) and My Beautiful Laundrette (1985).  Things really started to change with 1987’s Maurice.  This gorgeous Merchant-Ivory adaptation of E.M. Forster’s autobiographical novel (which Forster refused to allow to be published while he was living) focuses on the repressed feelings shared between two young, upper-class British men.  While their relationship doesn’t endure, the title character is more successful with a dark and handsome groundskeeper (memorably played by Rupert Graves).  Maurice was mentioned by several of my FB friends.

Pre-90’s romantic favorites among the ladies include Silkwood (1983), in which Cher cares for a radiation-exposed Meryl Streep; Desert Hearts (1986), a passionate, 1950’s-set love story between a divorcee and the Nevada ranch hand she meets; and Personal Best (1982), Robert Towne’s graphic-at-the-time exploration of love between two female athletes and the male coach who threatens to come between them.

For many LGBT people, the most cherished romantic movies are coming-of-age stories.  Frequently cited in my survey are 1996’s Beautiful Thing, the British tale of tentative first love between two put-upon high school boys (based on Jonathan Harvey’s hit play); the similar but lesbian-themed The Incredibly True Adventure of 2 Girls in Love (1995); and Get Real (1998), in which a brainy gay boy crushes on his school’s star athlete and finds his attentions reciprocated, at least for a time.  Two of my personal favorites in this subgenre are 1996’s Lilies, about a tortured love triangle in a Catholic school for boys, and Come Undone (2000), a no-holds-barred French drama about two toned and tanned young men who fall in love on the beach during summer vacation.

Love and loss often seem to go hand-in-hand in real life, so it isn’t surprising that a few gay-themed films considered the most romantic also involve death and dying.  The Oscar-winning gay cowboy saga Brokeback Mountain (2005) is the undisputed champ in this regard, and the film resonates even more strongly in the wake of co-star Heath Ledger’s tragic death just a few years after its release.  Other tragic love stories mentioned by my Facebook pals are the revolutionary AIDS dramas Parting Glances (1986) and Longtime Companion (1989), Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song Trilogy (1988), the fact-based Soldier’s Girl (2003), A Home at the End of the World (2004) and, the most recent of the bunch, Peru’s Undertow (Contracorriente).  I would add here David Lewis’ 2009 film Redwoods, starring gay fave Matthew Montgomery and the beautiful Brendan Bradley as two men who embark on a life-changing relationship that endures beyond death, as well as Tom Ford’s exquisite A Single Man (also 2009).  Colin Firth scored a deserved Academy Award nomination for his moving yet frequently funny turn as a gay university professor grieving the sudden death of his partner.

As if being homosexual, bisexual or trans wasn’t considered unorthodox enough, a few recent movie gems feature unexpected romances between unusual pairings.  From Beginning to End is a 2009 Brazilian film about an Olympics-bound swimmer in love with another man.  The catch?  The two are half-brothers who were raised together from a young age.  So controversial it was never released theatrically in the US, it is worth seeking out on DVD.  And then there’s Plan B from Argentina, in which two heterosexual men bond as friends over one’s messy breakup with his girlfriend (whom the other man is now dating) but ultimately become lovers.  I found this film refreshing in its disdain for sexual labels and very touching in the end.  Finally, 2010’s Paulista, also from Brazil, boasts a male-to-female trans title character who knowingly has an affair with her initially in-the-dark but increasingly vulnerable father.  It isn’t for everyone but some trans viewers may find their dilemma intriguing, to say the least.

Trick, Jeffrey, Fried Green Tomatoes, Yossi & Jagger, The Wedding Banquet, Carrington and Big Eden wrap up the remainder of my Facebook friends’ nominees for most romantic LGBT films of all time, and I agree with most of them.  Wherever you find inspiration, we wish you all a happy Valentine’s Day!

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest, Rage Monthly Magazine and Echo Magazine.

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