Monday, August 27, 2018

Dearest Reviews: That Was Then, This Is Now


Gay cinema, then and now.

Long before Philadelphia (not to mention Longtime Companion, Parting Glances and even An Early Frost) there was Buddies, the 1985 independent drama that was the first narrative film about AIDS. If you've never heard of it, let alone seen it, that's probably because it has never been released on home video in any format... until now. Thanks to a company called "Vinegar Syndrome", this forgotten classic has been restored and is now available as a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack no less (perhaps you'll want to give the extra disc to your own "buddy").

Written and directed by Arthur J. Bressen Jr. (an early gay porn auteur of the "arty" variety), Buddies follows a by-now familiar formula (most recently seen in last year's BPM: Beats Per Minute) of pairing a sympathetic yet naïve young gay with a slightly older, slightly wiser/jaded gay man living with AIDS. David (David Schachter), a volunteer from the local gay center, has been assigned as a "buddy" to Robert (Geoff Edholm), who has been basically abandoned by everyone in his life and is now wasting away, alone, in a hospital bed. Initially antipathetic, their relationship evolves into a deep, even intimate, friendship, although David (and we, the audience) know how this will all end.

A buddy picture

Even restored, there is no hiding the fact that Buddies is a product of its time. The 80s were a watershed period for American indie film in general and early queer cinema in particular, and truly independent examples from this era all have that scrappy "do it yourself" feel to them, as Buddies certainly does. The dialogue can be a tad too theatrical and the acting a bit unpolished at times, and certain technical aspects leave a lot to be desired (let's just say that the set decorator latched on to the fact that David is a typesetter and ran with it... into the ground).

Yet despite its short-comings, Buddies does deliver dramatically, and the film's emotional coda packs a particularly powerful punch. A lot of Buddies feels familiar, but one must remember that it did it first, and now, finally, we are all able to see it. (8/10)

Love, Simon
At the time of Buddies, one would never have imagined a gay teen romcom, let alone a gay teen romcom distributed by a major Hollywood studio and advertised as a gay teen romcom on prime time network television. Oh, and also be a box office hit. But this is 2018, and there's a lot of things we never could have imagined thirtysomething years ago.

The gay teen romcom in question is Love, Simon (directed by Greg Berlanti, of Broken Hearts Club and 3/4ths of all superhero shows on TV right now fame), now available on DVD and Blu-ray. Simon Spier (a winning Nick Robinson) seems to have the perfect life. Loving parents (played by Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel)? Check. A close knit group of supportive friends? Check. A girlfriend? Yeah, about that... See, Simon also has a secret: he's gay. So when another closeted gay student at his high school anonymously posts an online confessional, a curious Simon begins an email correspondence with this mystery boy he only knows as "Blue".

The kids in the hall

Things get complicated though when, as he is developing feelings for his digital pen pal/potential boyfriend, yet another student (Martin) sees Simon's messages to Blue and blackmails Simon into setting him up with one of his besties (Abby). (Theater Nerd Rant: Simon does this by setting up Martin and Abby on a "date" to practice their lines for the school musical, which is Cabaret, wherein Martin plays the Emcee and Abby plays Sally Bowles. This is, of course, bullshit because the Emcee doesn't have any dialogue outside of introducing the musical numbers. End of Theater Nerd Rant.)

Simon spends the bulk of the film (which is based on Becky Albertalli's YA novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda; thank god they changed the title) in crisis mode, trying to suss out the true identity of his little boy Blue while simultaneously scrambling to keep his secret a secret, screwing up most of his other relationships in the process. Does it all work itself out, culminating with a swoony romantic clinch at the top of a Ferris wheel at the school carnival? Well yeah, of course it does, but considering all the times we've seen straight characters in the same scenario, it's nice to finally see not just a "happy ending" for this charming crowd pleaser, but a "Hollywood happy ending". (7/10)

Reviews by Kirby Holt, Movie Dearest creator, editor and head writer.

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