Film/Arts/Satire*
(*homocinematically inclined)

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Reverend's Reviews: The Best LGBTQ Love Stories on Film


Maurice


With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, plenty of people are turning to romantic movies for entertainment, encouragement and/or solace. There have long been lots of straight love stories on film but, thankfully, there is now a growing number of memorable LGBTQ romances for us to indulge in.


Such movies geared toward our community are actually fairly recent, with few such films made before the 1990’s. Most previous films featuring LGBTQ characters typically saw them being killed, committing suicide, or otherwise being punished for their non-conformist yearnings. Pioneering early productions incorporating more positive depictions of LGBTQ protagonists include Midnight Cowboy (1969), Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Making Love (1982) and My Beautiful Laundrette (1985). Big name stars including Dustin Hoffman, Glenda Jackson, Al Pacino, and Daniel Day-Lewis courageously headlined these movies, which helped boost their appeal to straight as well as LGBTQ audiences.

Desert Hearts

Gay cinematic love stories really started to take off with 1987’s sympathetic 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 (one of them played by a pre-stardom Hugh Grant). While their relationship doesn’t endure, the title character is more successful with a dark and handsome groundskeeper.

Pre-90’s romantic favorites among the ladies include the true story Silkwood (1983), in which Cher plays a lesbian power plant worker caring for her radiation-exposed friend (Meryl Streep, in an early Oscar-nominated performance); 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.

Blue is the Warmest Color

More recent, admirably unapologetic additions to the lesbian love canon are Blue is the Warmest Color, the acclaimed and erotic 2013 film about a young French woman’s sexual awakening, and 2015’s award-winning Carol, starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara as women having a secret affair in the closeted 1950’s. Last year’s Disobedience is another achingly sexy romance between two women (played by Rachel McAdams and current Oscar nominee Rachel Weisz) set against a backdrop of repressive, Orthodox Judaism.

For many LGBTQ people, the most cherished romantic movies are coming-of-age stories. Notable love stories in this genre include 1996’s Beautiful Thing, the British tale of tentative first love between two lonely high school boys (based on Jonathan Harvey’s hit play); the similar but lesbian-themed The Incredibly True Adventure of Two 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.

Call Me By Your Name

Two more recent additions here are 2017’s universally acclaimed Call Me By Your Name, in which a teenager unexpectedly falls in love with the dreamy but decidedly older graduate student-assistant employed by the boy’s father, as well as last year’s Love, Simon, about a gay high schooler’s struggle to come out and find first love. Fortunately, Simon is ultimately successful.

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 has resonated even more strongly in the wake of co-star Heath Ledger’s tragic death just a few years after its release. Other lovably tragic love stories 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 2009 Peruvian gay ghost story Undertow.

Brokeback Mountain

I would add to these David Lewis’s 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 the latter thanks to 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 home video or streaming. 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.

The Danish Girl

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. Meanwhile, 2015’s The Danish Girl recounts the story of the first man to undergo gender-reassignment surgery. This Oscar-winning biopic is unique in that it begins as a heterosexual romance between its married subjects but becomes more queer as the wife grows to support her transgender husband/wife.

The Circle (2014) is an even more factual, inspiring love story. Director Stefan Haupt employs a combination of documentary footage and dramatic recreations to relate the decades-spanning romance between Ernst Ostertag and Robi Rapp. They met as young men in the 1950’s and fought right-wing oppression in their native Switzerland. Both were still alive and together at the time of this remarkable film’s production.

Moonlight

2016’s Moonlight famously upended the Academy Awards telecast when it was proclaimed the actual Best Picture winner after La La Land was mistakenly announced. Based on an autobiographical play, this moving film depicts a neglected black boy’s coming of age including his first sexual experience as a teenager with his male best friend. They re-connect as adults in the film’s final, hopeful segment.

My new fave gay love story is last year’s A Moment in the Reeds. Little seen to date but now available for streaming, I can’t recommend this movie highly enough despite its bittersweet ending. It depicts the poignant romance between a Finnish man and the Syrian asylum-seeker his father hires to work on their house. It also proves to be the most sensual, soulful gay movie I've seen in years, even more so than Call Me By Your Name.

A Moment in the Reeds

If none of the aforementioned movies strike your fancy, don’t worry: there are more! Trick, Jeffrey, Fried Green Tomatoes, Yossi & Jagger and its 2012 sequel simply titled Yossi, The Wedding Banquet, Carrington, Wilde, The Pillow Book, Big Eden, Aimee & Jaguar, Latter Days, Ciao, Shelter, Weekend and Gods Own Country could all be worthy nominees for the most romantic LGBTQ film of all time. However or wherever you find inspiration, we here at Movie Dearest wish you a happy Valentine’s Day!

Click on titles in bold to stream on Amazon.

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

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