Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Reverend’s Preview: Love at LAFF

What is shaping up as this year’s most critically acclaimed gay-themed film will have its gala Southern California premiere during the 20th Los Angeles Film Festival, presented by Film Independent. The fest runs June 11th-19th at LA Live and various adjoining screening sites.

Love Is Strange will screen this Thursday, June 12th at 7:30 pm. It is writer-director Ira Sachs’ follow up to Keep the Lights On (2012), one of the best gay movies of recent years. Award-winning actors John Lithgow and Alfred Molina headline the cast of Love Is Strange as a New York City gay couple who decide to get married after 39 years together. Soon after the wedding, Molina’s George is fired from the Catholic school where he has taught music for over a decade. Ben (Lithgow) is already retired and living on a fixed income, so the two find themselves no longer able to afford their longtime apartment. No one is able to take them in together, so George moves in with a gay neighbor (played by out actor-singer Cheyenne Jackson) while Ben goes to live with his nephew’s family.

With stories all over the news of recently-married gay men and lesbian women terminated by their Catholic former employers, the central premise of Love Is Strange is nothing if not timely. The heterosexual Molina and Lithgow are both excellent and seem very relaxed in their roles as loving gay partners. Sachs’ no nonsense, naturalistic style of directing also serves the film well. In short, this movie should not be missed (it is scheduled for national theatrical release in August).

LAFF seemed light on LGBT-interest offerings last year, but the 2014 fest is definitely making up for it. Other gotta-see films to be shown include:

  • Eat With Me, in which a mother separated from her husband moves in with their gay son. While she initially disapproves of her son’s lifestyle, they gradually bond over their experiences of men and food. This world premiere is David Au’s accomplished, feature-length expansion of his 2003 short Fresh Like Strawberries. MADtv’s Nicole Sullivan is a lot of fun as the kooky next-door neighbor and George Takei makes a cameo appearance as himself.

  • Jersey Boys. I haven’t yet seen this adaptation of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical and don’t know if it has any gay content, but it is a musical after all. Clint Eastwood directs the biographical saga of 1960’s singing sensations Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, with John Lloyd Young reprising his acclaimed performance as Valli.

  • Limited Partnership. This eye-opening, world premiere documentary will be a free screening at the festival on Saturday, June 14th. It relates the little-known story of Tony Sullivan and Richard Adams, whose 1975 wedding in Boulder, Colorado became one of the first highly-publicized gay marriages in the US. They also subsequently became one of the first gay couples to confront immigration and residency issues (Tony was an Australian citizen). Shockingly, the couple received a denial letter from the US Immigration and Naturalization Service stating: “You have failed to establish that a bona fide marital relationship can exist between two faggots.” A subsequent, somewhat more sympathetic letter from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals denied their request to stay together on the basis that “neither partner can fulfill the female functions in marriage.” Thomas G. Miller’s film powerfully illustrates both how far we have come as citizens in the last 40 years and how far we have left to go.

  • Out in the Night, another world premiere documentary about four African-American lesbian women in New York City who suffered a tragic miscarriage of justice in the wake of an attempted sexual assault against them in 2006. The movie poses the troubling question: How would this have unfolded if it had been four straight, white women instead?

  • Violette. From Martin Provost, director of the great 2008 film Seraphine, comes this French biography of volatile, bisexual writer Violette Leduc. It recounts the early feminist’s encounters with such literary luminaries as Albert Camus, the gay Jean Genet, and philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre.

  • Dear White People, which along with Love Is Strange was a breakout hit at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, is a provocative satire by Justin Simien about racial, gender and sexual politics at a prestigious university boasting an ensemble cast of young, rising talents.

  • I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story. While light on gay content (although its subject admits on camera to being accused of being gay by cruel fellow grade-school students), this Los Angeles premiere relates the endearing life story of the man behind one of our greatest pop-culture icons. Spinney has not only played Big Bird but Oscar the Grouch on Sesame Street and in feature films since 1969. Now 80 years old, Spinney has had more than his share of ups and downs. The new documentary by Dave LaMattina and Chad Walker is wonderfully nostalgic but also heart-wrenching at times for anyone who grew up with the support of PBS’s Children’s Television Workshop. We will always love you, Jim Henson.

And for those of us with shorter attention spans, be sure to check out the gay-themed short films Adjust-A-Dream, in which a gay couple evaluates a new mattress in a department store, as well as Drew Lint’s kinky Rough Trade.

To purchase passes or tickets and for full festival details, visit the LA Film Fest website.

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

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