If it’s nearing the end of July in Montreal, there are two things you can be sure of. The first is that it’s likely heavy and muggy outside. The second is that the city is about to gather in support of its boisterous gay community with the pride parade and festivities just around the corner. Sweltering heat and thousands of gay men – that can only go in one direction.
In honour of the yearly celebration and the fact that it is supposed to rain all weekend, I thought I might share a few words about some of my favorite gay films. (Ladies, I apologize as these suggestions are entirely male centric.) You would think that after the success of BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, there would be a plethora of recent material to choose from. Sadly, this is not the case. Still, a trip to your local video shop can provide oodles of choices.
In 1996, movies that were gay themed didn’t play at the multiplex. In fact, if this movie were to come out today, it would probably still only find playtime at the repertory house. I saw Hettie McDonald’s BEAUTIFUL THING at a tiny theatre that was packed full and it still holds a special place in my heart. Based on Jonathan Harvey’s play, BEAUTIFUL THING is about exactly that. Two boys, Jamie & Ste (Glen Barry and Scott Neal), live next door to each other in the London projects. They find themselves one night sleeping head to toe and everything changes between them. The beauty they share goes much deeper than their young, innocent looks. The deeper beauty is found in the naïve discovery of what love is and that it can actually be found between two men. The picture itself never leaps past its stage roots and hasn’t aged gracefully but it has not lost its heart. When the two boys run through a forest with abandon before falling into a passionate kiss, innocence and discovery meet and are married.
Flash-forward to four years later and you will find that sexuality is still somewhat taboo but with a cast this vast, it is clearly making inroads. These particular inroads are in West Hollywood and this particular cast includes Timothy Olyphant, Zach Braff, Dean Cain, Justin Theroux and John Mahoney. The movie is THE BROKEN HEARTS CLUB – A ROMANTIC COMEDY, a modern version of the seminal film, THE BOYS IN THE BAND, with slightly less self-loathing. This ensemble piece focuses on the ties that bond gay men together and turn them into an indispensable support network for each other. Common experiences like coming out and kissing a man for the first time are universal but while these friendships build confidence and self love, they also break it down with jealousy and smothering. From Greg Berlanti of “Dawson’s Creek” fame, the film does play out like a serialized drama but the performances and predicaments are so sincere that tears will flow for any one into a little sap.
While we’re heading down the road of cute, why don’t we travel across the country to a New York subway where aspiring musical writer, Gabriel (Christian Campbell) meets eyes with go-go boy, Mark (J.P. Pitoc). They stare and look away until it’s time for Gabriel to get off. Chancing it, Mark follows so that he might do the same. True to its title, TRICK is about two strangers who scour the city in search of a place where they can get down and naked. Here’s the kicker; they find something else entirely. What they find is that by spending all that time together without getting naked means you can actually get to know someone and if you try really hard not to try at all, you might actually spark. This modern romance is innocently told by director, Jim Fall and will inspire even the most dire of cynics, including this one (my therapist would be pleased). AND … AND … TRICK features Tori Spelling singing and tap dancing!
From one night to one full summer of love, the next film on the list is France’s PRESQUE RIEN (COME UNDONE). This is the most poetic and artistic of the bunch. It is calm and it takes its time to tell the story of Mathieu and Cédric (Jérémie Elkaim and Stéphane Rideau). These two beach beauties meet and fall in love in the way only a summer romance allows. It is what follows the summer that forces each of them to grow up much faster than they imagined they would have to. While the film is at times quite sensitive, it is at others quite steamy. The first time I saw the film was in a theatre and the projection went out of sync and into a half frame during a particularly intense beach scene. Let me assure you, I’d never heard so many men holler at the projectionist so quickly and so loudly. Still, director, Sebastien Lifshitz tells this story of first love with candor and insight, allowing for a beautifully paced and engrossing experience.
Staying with the language but leaving the country for a city I call home, the last film on a list that could include oh so many more wonderful gems is Montreal director, Jean-Marc Vallée’s C.R.A.Z.Y. This film hits particularly close to home in more than just its setting. It may be just another coming of age story to some but Vallée’s script is sweetened with so many beautiful flourishes of memory, the tiniest details described with a magnitude that exposes its creator as a man of grace and understanding. Zac Beaulieu (played as an adult by Marc-André Grondin) is the fourth of five brothers. His mother believes he has been blessed by God as a healer; his father simply believes he is special. Neither of his parents wants to accept what they see developing in him but Zac wants it even less. Even as a young child, he knows there’s something different, cannot identify what that is but knows he has to pray to God every night until it goes away. C.R.A.Z.Y is subtle, sincere and heartbreaking. It is certainly a standout Canadian film.
Like I said, the list could go on and on and with the rain that seems to be doing the same these days, there could be plenty of time to rent these fabulous films as well as, I don’t know, HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH … or LILLIES … or THE VELVET GOLDMINE … or TARNATION … or MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO … or THE CRYING GAME … or BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, even. I think you get my point though, as colorful as it may be.