Outfest 2007

By Kyle Buchanan

Originally published on Advocate.com July 23 2007 11:00 PM ET

Love and Other Disasters

(Written and
directed by Alek Keshishian; starring Brittany Murphy,
Mathew Rhys, and Santiago Cabrera; 95 min.
)

Romantic comedies
may tend to feature straight characters, but their
scripts often go out to the best and brightest gay
screenwriters for a final polish. Judging from
examples at this year's Outfest, that gay talent has
finally delivered the ultimate rewrite on the romantic
comedy: a beat-for-beat romcom formula that just
happens to showcase gay characters. It's fitting that
the best example of this is Love and Other Disasters,
a film so clear about its origins that it begins with
a "Fade In" written in Courier New. It's as though
director Alek Keshishian (who also helmed the Madonna
documentary Truth or Dare) is saying, "Yes,
this is going to be your typical romantic comedy with the
meet-cutes and the misunderstandings. Now enjoy it."
Fortunately, you will.

Jacks (Brittany
Murphy) is an intern at British Vogue who's
committed to helping her gay roommate Peter (Matthew Rhys
of Brothers & Sisters) find love. She thinks
she's got Peter's match made when she meets
too-cute-to-be-straight Paolo (Santiago Cabrera), but
Paolo actually has a crush on Jacks herself, though he
can't seem to find the time to let her know that he's
hetero. The film stretches this simple
misunderstanding out like taffy, but the situations
are fun and the fizzy meta appeal hearkens back to Murphy's
Clueless days. Of particular note is the blowsy
Catherine Tate, who's riotous as Jacks's friend Tallulah
Wentworth—with that name and her soused asides,
she's sure to become a gay favorite (as will the film
itself).

 

Butch Jamie

(Written,
directed by, and starring Michelle Ehlen; 86 min.
)

Jamie
(writer-director Michelle Ehlen) might be an actress, but
she's way too butch to win the feminine roles she
keeps auditioning for. Her friend David advises her to
chuck the pantyhose and be true to her inner butch,
and this new approach wins her a role—as a man in an
independent film. Still, work is work, and once Jamie
dons some fake facial hair and tapes her breasts down,
she's convincing enough to fool the cast and crew. But
can Jamie keep up her man charade when a smitten
female crew member (Tiffany Anne Carrin) wants to take
things off set?

Ehlen's first
feature is a ragged, high-spirited farce that gives
gender-twister Tootsie a 180-degree spin. The budding
romance is a little absurd, thanks largely to Jamie's
utterly unconvincing facial hair (plus, coming so soon
after Love and Other Disasters, it wasn't easy
to take four more thwarted
I've-got-something-to-tell-yous), but just when that story
seems to be going in a predictable direction, Ehlen
throws in a clever curve ball. Also funny is Olivia
Nix as roommate Lola, a spacy sweetheart whose cat
manages to win more roles than Jamie does. I'd knock any
other film for cutting to so many feline reaction
shots, but I've got to agree with Lola: This kitty's
got chops.

 

Starrbooty

(Directed by
Mike Ruiz; written by Bianca Dinkins; starring RuPaul;
83 min.
)

If the creators
of 24 are serious about shaking up the troubled
show next season, Starrbooty presents an
inspired idea: Hire RuPaul as Jack Bauer's new partner. As
the titular undercover agent in director Mike Ruiz's
exploitation homage, Ru proves she can do anything
Kiefer can do, but better. Starrbooty can not
only handle a weapon but strike 10 different poses
doing so. And torture? No problem…but it'll
cost you extra.

There's the
thinnest gossamer thread of a plot here (Starrbooty must go
undercover as a hooker—of course—to rescue her
kidnapped niece), but that's beside the point. The
real story here is that RuPaul has made a comeback in
the best way possible: in the outrageously subversive spirit
of John Waters. This is the sort of movie that enlists porn
titan Michael Lucas for a dick-swinging cameo and
offers a beat-up prostitute who spits out blood then
pops her gum right back in. The first half is an
unqualified hoot, and though momentum flags near the end, at
least there's still plenty of goodwill generated to
get you through it. Drag might be positively PG these
days (witness John Travolta in Hairspray), but
RuPaul and her posse are as daring as ever.

 

The Curiosity of Chance

(Written and
directed by Russell P. Marleau; 98 min.
)

At a glance, you
might mistake Russell P. Marleau's first feature for a
lost John Hughes film: The clothes are totally '80s, the
soundtrack is right out of The Breakfast Club,
and all the high school stereotypes are present and
accounted for. Of course, Hughes never had a lead
character who was as unapologetically gay as eccentric
Chance (Tad Hilgenbrinck). He also didn't set any movies in
a thinly veiled Belgium.

That's right:
Despite the fact that the two leads are American, every
other actor in the movie is struggling to deliver their
lines through a thick Belgian accent, and the results
are disconcerting. I'm presuming that Marleau had to
shoot abroad for financial reasons, but it causes the
movie to play as strange parody, like a Golden
Girls
episode performed in Spanish. I would have figured
1980s Belgium to be a bit behind the times for an
American transplant like Chance, and that could have
been a funny premise to explore, but it goes untouched
by Marleau. There are scattered laughs, but this film is a
curiosity, indeed.

 

East Side Story

(Directed by
Carlos Portugal; written by Carlos Portugal and Charo
Toledo; 88 min.
)

One of my
favorite films last year was Quinceañera, a
touching examination of race, class, and sexuality in
Los Angeles that was nevertheless knocked by some
critics as a cookie-cutter indie dramedy. One wonders what
those critics will make of Carlos Portugal's East
Side Story
, which handles the same issues and
plays like Quinceañera as a sitcom. Despite its
surface-level treatment, though, I still laughed.

Diego (René
Alvarado) is pushing 30 and anxious to come out of the
closet—though his boyfriend, smirking Realtor Pablo
(David Berón), has other ideas. When Diego's aunt
Blanca accidentally outs him, Diego is mortified, but
the arrival of two hunky gay guys across the street may
give him bigger fish to fry. Both men have moved east from
West Hollywood, and one (Steve Callahan) develops a
crush on Diego that becomes increasingly mutual.

Much is made of
East L.A.'s gentrified culture clash, but the casting
practically negates it; no matter what race the performer,
these actors have haircuts, physiques, and square jaws
so similar that on the poster they look like triplets
embracing. Still, though this film can't match
Quinceañera for depth, it's every bit as funny.
The leads are all appealing, but the standout performer is
Gladys Jimenez as social-climbing Blanca. Blanca has
no time for old-world tradition and moves after her
men like a shark; when one turns her sexual advances
down, she's stunned. “Why not?” she asks,
surveying the location. “This is a luxury
car!”

 

The Picture of Dorian Gray

(Writen and
directed by Duncan Roy; starring David
Gallagher; 97 min.
)

As he
introduced his homoerotic adaptation of Oscar Wilde's
classic novel, writer-director Duncan Roy had some
words of warning: “If you haven't read the
book, it'll be a struggle. If you have read the book,
I'm sorry.” That about sums it up, as Dorian
Gray
is a messy regurgitation of the novel's themes
without a steady hand to pull them all together.

This Dorian
(David Gallgaher of TV's 7th Heaven) is a
modern-day twink with a fat bank account and a coterie
of bohemian friends that includes besotted Basil (Noah
Segan). As a gift, Basil presents Dorian with a truly
postmodern portrait: a video installation that takes
up an entire wing of Dorian's neon-lit apartment
(the Dan Flavin–inspired art direction is the
film's only consistent pleasure). As Dorian
transgresses, his portrait self seems to suffer while
the real Dorian remains forever 20 and unlined.

Roy's take on the
story is much more overtly gay than previous versions,
and would seem to be a natural fit for the novel's
meditations on youth and hedonism. Unfortunately,
things spin out of control early on and none of Roy's
split-screen tricks or subliminal frames can save this film.
(Its nadir must be the point when a character who's
reintroduced years later, his face now covered with
lesions, has an “AIDS” title card flash
over his dialogue. Trust us, Duncan, we got it.) Gallagher
is game, but ultimately, we learn a whole lot more
about his naked torso than we ever glean from his
Dorian Gray.

 

Big Bang Love, Juvenile A

(Directed by
Takashi Miike; written by Masa Nakamura; 85
min.
)

If The Picture
of Dorian Gray
is an unintentional mess, this
mystery, from acclaimed director Takashi Miike,
confounds on purpose, and the result is a challenge that
will spur both walkouts and heavy debate. It's the
story of two young criminals who form an intense
relationship; both land in prison for murder, and as
the story opens, one appears to have killed the other.
The viewer is put in the position of investigator
(sometimes quite literally, as the boys' fellow
inmates speak directly to the camera) and must sift over and
over through both boys' histories to figure out what
really happened.

At first, Miike's
style may seem a mishmash: Sometimes the prison cells
are mere chalk outlines on the ground, and the director uses
anime, puppetry, and CG effects to liberally blur the
line between reality and fantasy. It's an approach
that can frustrate if you're simply trying to put
together the fractured narrative, but the more you stick
with it, the more you'll notice how this approach
reveals even more clues. Each frame is packed with
answers, and Miike makes ingenious use of color and
framing to tease out the film's lonely themes. Few of the
characters here can adequately explain what happened,
and many audience members will have the same problem
as the closing credits roll, but those who aren't afraid
to dig in will be rewarded.

 

Alexis Arquette: She's My Brother

(Directed by
Matthew Barbato and Nikki Parrott; starring Alexis
Arquette; 70 min.
)

This documentary
from director Matthew Barbato purports to be about
celebrity-at-large Alexis Arquette's full-scale transition
from man to woman. Really, though, it's best when
illuminating its star's relationship with the camera.
Born into the Arquette acting clan, Alexis has always
had a yen for fame, and the film tracks her journey from
serious actor to tabloid personality. Many of Alexis's
friends express doubts that she will ever go through
with “bottom surgery” and speculate that
she's just trying to get attention, but Alexis insists
that she is dedicated, meeting with aptly named
plastic surgeon Dr. Cary Alter and dutifully clocking
therapy hours until she can get professionals to sign
off on the procedure.

Throughout the
film, though, Alexis seems to waver. What gives her pause
is not the question of surgery but whether she is doing
the right thing in chronicling it. Alexis is smart
enough to work her personality for maximum column
inches, but there's still a part of her that feels
like she is being complicit in her own exploitation, and
that latter impulse leads her to cut off contact with
the filmmakers more than once. Ultimately, she
reappears only to draw a curtain, indicating that whether
or not she decides to get the operation will now be a
private matter. Is it a plea for privacy or a canny
attempt to extend her mystique? For a performer who
has trouble separating the synthetic from the authentic,
can't it be both?

Save Me*

(Directed
by Robert Cary; written by Craig Chester,
Robert Desiderio, and Alan Hines; starring Chad Allen,
Judith Light, and Robert Gant; 93 min.
)

Actress Judith Light is an Outfest mainstay and a longtime
supporter of queer causes, so it may be a bit of shock
to see her play the head of an "ex-gay" ministry in
the new film Save Me. Still, the most
surprising thing is
howshe plays it: while most
gay movies would make this woman a villain, Light and
director Robert Cary take great pains to flesh her
out, and the result is a rich, three-dimensional
portrayal of a person who genuinely believes she is
doing the right thing. That approach is important
because to judge from all the films at this
festival that explore the reconciliation of
religious faith with homosexuality, this is fast
becoming one of the thorniest issues in modern-day
gay culture.

In Save Me, Gayle finds herself
drawn to Chad Allen's Mark, a self-destructive
addict who has come to the ministry in a last-ditch
attempt to turn his life around. He reminds Gayle of her
son, a gay man who died of an overdose at age 17
and left his mother devastated. Much like
real-life activist Mary Lou Wallner, who lost her
lesbian daughter at a young age, Gayle has
channeled her grief into helping other gay men.
Wallner, though, became an advocate for gay acceptance,
whereas Gayle believes that the way to help gay
men is to try to change their sexuality.

The film’s good intentions sometimes exceed its reach
– in particular, Mark’s romantic
relationship with fellow housemate Scott (Robert Gant)
feels by-the-numbers -- but what is novel and even useful
about Save Meis its realistic take on
both sides of the "ex-gay" movement. Many of the
men at the ministry are there because
they’ve never known a gay life that didn’t
involve risky sex and drugs. Instead of merely
demonizing those who would convert them, the film
challenges other gay men to lead by example. For all its
faults, religion can provide community and role
models. As gay culture begins to do the same,
perhaps the idea of an ex-gay ministry will become moot.

*(Save Me
was originally reviewed for The Advocate out of
the 2007 Sundance Film Festival)