(*homocinematically inclined)

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Reverend's Preview: Glitz, Glamor, Glenn Close & Gay Movies in Palm Springs


Glenn Close continues to enjoy an impressive career on stage and screen. She is rightly considered a cinema icon after her diverse turns in such films as Fatal Attraction, Dangerous Liaisons, The Big Chill, Guardians of the Galaxy, Albert Nobbs, and this year’s acclaimed The Wife. It is therefore most appropriate that she will be honored with the Icon Award at the 2019 Palm Springs International Film Festival (PSIFF), during its 30th anniversary year.

This glamorous annual gala has grown from a fairly small-scale event in the middle of the Southern California desert to one of the three largest film festivals in North America. It was founded by the late Sonny Bono, who served as mayor of Palm Springs for several years. The fest has also become a must-appearance event for each year’s likely Academy Award contenders, including Close.

Other honorees will include actor Rami Malek who will receive the Breakthrough Performance Award for his performance as bisexual Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody, and Melissa McCarthy, who will receive the Spotlight Award for her role as a lesbian literary forger in Can You Ever Forgive Me? (one of my favorite movies of 2018) and director Alfonso CuarĂ³n for his autobiographical Roma.

Finally, the Vanguard Award, a group honor distinguishing a film’s cast and director in recognition of their collective work on an exceptional film project, will be awarded to the film Green Book. It’s the story of Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), the world-class African-American pianist about to embark on a concert tour in the Deep South in 1962 and Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen), the tough-talking bouncer hired to drive him.

PSIFF attracts over 135,000 attendees each year with its mix of world and US premieres, celebrated international features and acclaimed documentaries. These include a number of films of LGBTQ interest and/or directed by LGBTQ filmmakers. The 2019 event will continue this tradition, with 15 LGBTQ features set to screen.

Making its US debut will be Giant Little Ones, from Canada. I was able to screen this film in advance and found it a refreshing update of standard coming-of-age movie tropes. Written and directed by Keith Behrman, it relates the story of longtime best friends Franky (played by charismatic Josh Wiggins) and Ballas (the very hot Darren Mann). The boys are teammates on their high school’s swim team, and the movie is replete with locker room and body-shaving-in-the-shower scenes. Suffice it to say the actors are older than the characters they are playing, lest one think me a perv.

Franky is intent on losing his virginity to his girlfriend following his 17th birthday party but unexpectedly loses it to Ballas instead. This leads to confusion for Franky and denial on Ballas’ part, which drives a wedge between the boys. This eventually takes a sadly violent turn, but the movie ends on a hopeful note for all concerned.

The film’s principal characters also include Ballas’s knowing sister, Natasha (an excellent Taylor Hickson), who becomes Franky’s ally and eventual girlfriend and Franky’s female-to-male transgender friend, Mouse (humorously yet sensitively played by Niamh Wilson). Giant Little One’s excellent cast also includes name actors Maria Bello (of TV’s NCIS, Prime Suspect and ER fame) as Franky’s mother and Kyle McLachlan (Blue Velvet, Dune and Twin Peaks) as his gay father. The movie also features a cool, club-thumping music score by Michael Brook.

Behrman’s screenplay takes a more fluid “love without labels” approach to Franky’s budding sexuality, which I appreciated. I wish there had been encouraging films like this and 2018’s earlier Love, Simon way back when I was 17-years-old.

Additional Films of LGBTQ Interest:

  • Anchor and Hope (Spain), about the efforts of a bohemian lesbian couple to have a baby with the help of their male best friend. Charlie Chaplin’s progeny Geraldine and Oona Chaplin co-star in this North American premiere.
  • The Angel (Argentina/Spain), in which a 17-year-old youth with movie star swagger becomes a notorious thief. Kind of a same-sex Bonnie and Clyde.
  • Carmen y Lola (Spain), a love story between two gypsy girls.
  • Diamantino (Portugal/France/Brazil). After the world’s premier soccer star loses his special touch, he sets out on an odyssey where he confronts neo-fascism, the refugee crisis, genetic modification and more.
  • Eva and Candela (Colombia), a portrait of two strong, independent women: a female director and a movie star who team up to take on the film industry.
  • Knife+Heart (France/Mexico/Switzerland). French pop star Vanessa Paradis, a.k.a. Johnny Depp’s ex, headlines as a gay porn producer who seeks to win back the affection of her female lover with the help of one of her gay collaborators.
  • Light in the Water (USA) is a documentary set in 1982, soon after the first Gay Games, and focusing on the West Hollywood Swim and Water Polo Club. With Speedos galore!
  • Riot (Australia), a vivid re-telling of what became known as “Australia’s Stonewall” in 1978.
  • Socrates (Brazil), about a 15-year-old boy who must survive on his own in Sao Paulo’s margins, after his mother’s sudden death.

There are far worse places to spend the dead of winter than sunny Palm Springs, even while in a darkened movie theater.

The 30th Anniversary Palm Springs International Film Festival will be held Thursday, January 3 through Monday, January 14 at various locations throughout the Coachella Valley. The Festival Awards Gala, The Palm Springs International Film Festival’s signature showpiece event and fundraiser will be held on Thursday, January 3 at the Palm Springs Convention Center.

For more information about PSIFF 2019 and to purchase passes or tickets, call 800.898.7256 or visit their website.

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

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