Aug 21

“Match” On DVD: Based On Stephen Belber’s Play

Is Stephen Belber‘s Match, newly available on DVD, a match for your movie-viewing interests? Per IMDB: “As a Juilliard professor is interviewed by a woman and her husband for her dissertation on the history of dance in 1960’s New York, it becomes increasingly clear that there are ulterior motives to the couple’s visit.”

Robert Abele, Los Angeles Times: “At the heart of writer-director Stephen Belber’s ‘Match,’ a three-character drama based on his 2004 play, is a magisterial portrait of flamboyant loneliness by Patrick Stewart.”

Carla Gugino and Matthew Lillard play the couple, Lisa and Mike. The trailer:

As writer/director Belber adapted this film from his own play, the critics tend to weigh in on whether it translates well from one medium to the other. Opinions vary. For instance:

Glenn Kenny, rogerebert.com: “’Match,’ though occasionally affecting, feels firmly stagebound — and probably worked better there.”

David Ehrlich, Time Out: “Ideally, you shouldn’t be able to tell that a movie you’re watching had been first written as a play. While it’s a safe enough assumption to make of any super chatty film that spends the brunt of its running time in a single room with a small handful of characters, the origins of Stephen Belber’s Match…are only so obvious because he directs it like someone who doesn’t realize why that’s a problem.”

Peter Debruge, Variety: “In the film, Belber resolves a mystery left ambiguous at the end of the play, which makes for a more satisfying conclusion while still leaving many provocative questions for audiences to work out…”

Whereas There’s Some Criticism of the Plot…

For example, Ben Kenigsberg, New York Times: “Every reversal arrives programmatically, as if driven by a mere need for twists, while Stephen Trask’s mushy score soothes the blows. The movie pulls the rug out from under the audience several times, but in the end there is not much underneath.”

…There’s Also Been Significant Praise For Match

Glenn Kenny, rogerebert.com: “Gugino’s role has the least combustible elements although in a sense it’s the most difficult: she has to convince as both a sharp grad student and a somewhat squelched, frustrated wife. And she does. This is hardly a world-shaker of a movie but it is a well-constructed and thoughtful character study brought to vivid life by its players.”

Peter Debruge, Variety: “Without sacrificing the piece‘s warm comic undertones, this minimally adapted theatrical piece remains richer and far more thought-provoking than a typical night at the movies…”

Feb 27

“Appropriate Behavior”: Lead Character a Bisexual Woman

The recent film Appropriate Behavior, currently available on VOD, has been compared to Annie Hall, and Out tells us that the film actually makes “a lot of references” to it.

And then there’s also the frequent comparisons to a certain popular TV show in which, incidentally, its star/writer/director is a new cast member. Stephen Holden, New York Times:

Because ‘Appropriate Behavior is set in Brooklyn and focuses on the romantic confusion and misadventures of Shirin, a headstrong young Iranian-American woman adrift in hipsterland, this lively romantic comedy starring Desiree Akhavan, who wrote and directed, has inevitably been compared to ‘Girls.’ Shirin’s brash, off-kilter attitude is not unlike that of Lena Dunham’s Hannah Horvath. Both are self-centered, impulsive and brusque. But there are few signs that Shirin possesses Hannah’s driving career ambition.

But all that aside, Appropriate Behavior apparently does make its own mark. Sheila O’Malley, rogerebert.com:

…’Appropriate Behavior,’ even with its reliance on familiar types and tropes, feels like a unique vision of life seen through unique eyes. And so although we have all seen movies about deadpan Brooklyn hipsters, we haven’t quite seen this yet. Akhavan uses the clichéd environment and characters (aimless hopeful artists, cool parties, flat-affect wit) in order to highlight some of the voices and energies that have (typically) been left out of such stories up until now. There’s something fresh going on here, and it marks Akhavan as a filmmaker (and actress) to watch.

Also unlike Annie Hall/Girls, there’s a main emphasis in Appropriate Behavior on romantic involvement with women. From the start we know that there’s been a breakup between the main character and another female, in fact. “Shirin rides the subway looking morose, and the movie intercuts the character’s painful road to acceptance with flashbacks to the highs and lows of the relationship, always giving us a little more information about why Shirin and Maxine (Rebecca Henderson) were never really meant to be” (Stephanie Merry, Washington Post).

Gary Goldstein, Los Angeles Times:

Shirin navigates her post-Maxine freedom in a series of offbeat romantic encounters with men, women and even a latex-loving swinger couple. She gets a weird job, via her best pal Crystal’s (Halley Feiffer) stoner-dad friend (Scott Adsit), teaching filmmaking to rambunctious 5-year-olds. The semi-closeted Shirin must also deal with her traditionalist family members, including vigilant parents (Anh Duong, Hooman Majd) and about-to-be-engaged doctor brother (Arian Moayed), all of whom may — or may not — be in the dark about her bisexuality.

The trailer’s below:

THE UPSHOT

Eric Kohn, Indiewire:

While hardly groundbreaking, Akhavan’s blend of cultural insights and sweetly relatable, self-deprecating humor provide a charming showcase for a new filmmaker worthy of discovery…

‘You can’t keep playing the Persian card,’ Maxine says, which gets to the heart of the issue: ‘Appropriate Behavior’ isn’t a narrative about ethnicity or even LGBT struggles in the traditional sense, but rather a means of exploring the problems that result from reinforcing those very barriers. In the process, it introduces a thoroughly modern voice.

Gary Goldstein, Los Angeles Times: “…Akhavan’s confidently off-kilter approach to basic human interaction makes for an authentically ironic, adorably wistful, smartly observed ride. As her recent Independent Spirit Award nomination for first screenplay reconfirmed, she’s one to watch.”

Inkoo Kang, The Wrap: “Unabashedly truthful and restlessly intelligent, Akhavan’s remarkable, near-perfect debut has wit and charisma to spare. Miss it at your own risk.”

Mar 26

“Kissing Jessica Stein”: A Film That Depicts Sexual Fluidity

One film I can recommend that depicts themes regarding sexual fluidity (see yesterday’s post on this topic) is romantic comedy Kissing Jessica Stein (2001). As aptly described by IMDB: “A woman searching for the perfect man instead discovers the perfect woman.”

Although neither has been sexually involved with a woman previously, Helen (Heather Juergensen) identifies as bisexual and is the more adventurous one, while the previously “straight” Jessica (Jennifer Westfeldt) faces more challenges as their relationship progresses.

You might think therapy would help Jessica—but here’s a salient and telling snippet related to her use of it:

Helen: What does your therapist say about all of this?

Jessica: Oh, I could never tell my therapist.

Helen: Why not?

Jessica: Because it’s private.

Watch the Kissing Jessica Stein trailer below:

A significant snag along the way for Jessica is her fear of telling her mom (Tovah Feldshuh) whom it is that she’s dating. One of the highlights of the movie, actually, is the kind of surprising way her mom does deal with it.

One of the lowlights (in terms of emotional response) for many is the realization by Helen that the relationship comes to mean different things to each of the two women. After Ellen reviewer Sarah Warn posits that viewers who accept sexual fluidity as a valid phenomenon will perceive this turning point differently than others.

Carrie NelsonBitch Flicks, also appreciates how sexual fluidity is portrayed. She states, “Kissing Jessica Stein is flawed, but its sincerity and its willingness to address relationships between non-monosexual women keeps me coming back to it, over and over.”

Mar 25

“Sexual Fluidity” By Lisa Diamond: New Thoughts About Identity

It would be an amazing thing if a thirteen year old went into health class was told, “you are at the beginning of an incredible journey. I’m going to give you some tools and strategies for figuring out what you want and how to get it. But you are in the beginning of an adventure and it’s going to be great!” That would be a really profound transformation. Lisa Diamond, author of Sexual Fluidity

Is sexual fluidity pertinent to your life?  Might be, particularly if you’re female.

Psychology professor Lisa M. Diamond, PhD, has researched and written the book on this topic. It’s called Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women’s Love and Desire (2008). “Probably the most surprising finding of the study was how often women changed the way that they thought about their sexual identity over time,” she told Big Think. Rather than stability of identity, the norm was changeability of identity, often back and forth.

Sexuality counselor Ian Kerner lists on CNN Health the three main characteristics Diamond says are part of sexual fluidity:

– Non-exclusivity in attractions: can find either gender sexually attractive
– Changes in attractions: can suddenly find a man or woman sexually attractive after having been in a long-term relationship with the other
– Attraction to the person, not the gender

Although women aren’t alone in this, men are thought to have less of this capacity. More research is needed on this, though.

A basic breakdown of her argument, as described by the book publisher:

…(F)or some women, love and desire are not rigidly heterosexual or homosexual but fluid, changing as women move through the stages of life, various social groups, and, most important, different love relationships. This perspective clashes with traditional views of sexual orientation as a stable and fixed trait. But that view is based on research conducted almost entirely on men. Diamond is the first to study a large group of women over time. She has tracked one hundred women for more than ten years as they have emerged from adolescence into adulthood. She summarizes their experiences and reviews research ranging from the psychology of love to the biology of sex differences. 

Publishers Weekly notes that Diamond admits her sample wasn’t fully representative. This doesn’t mean, though, that her findings lack substance.

Sexual fluidity does not equal bisexuality, though there can be overlap. Diamond doesn’t even use the word “bisexual” because of the difficulty defining it in a way that is widely accepted and understood. She uses instead the term “non-exclusive attractions.”

It’s important to note here that sexual identity is a self-defined construct. Just as there are those who would identify as heterosexual or homosexual non-fluidly, there are those who would identify as bisexual non-fluidly. Alternatively, as was found by Diamond, many people with any of these three orientations might find themselves on the fluid spectrum.

There are so many possibilities. So, why label at all? Why not just be open to the journey? This is a question younger people in general are more likely to ask than older ones. At least figuratively speaking, give them boxes to check and they’ll often ignore them, make up their own, or show disdain.

Ritch C. Savin-Williams, author of The New Gay Teenager: “Diamond challenges both traditionalists and radicals—if you want to understand female sexuality, listen to what women say.”

Oct 14

LGBT Myths: New Book “You Can Tell Just By Looking”

Years ago I regularly taught workshops on LGBT-related issues to other mental health professionals. My usual intro involved tackling a list of 20 common LGBT myths, and the first was, Gay males are readily identifiable by their effeminate mannerisms, high-pitched voices, and talents in the arts.

Which now seems like a grandparent to the title of the new LGBT myths book by Michael Bronski, Ann Pellegrini, and Michael Amico: You Can Tell Just By Looking.”

My own rebuttal to that myth included citing the Kinsey Institute for Sex Research, which had found that only 15% of males and 5% of females are stereotypically gay or lesbian. Although I haven’t read the aforementioned book (subtitled And 20 Other Myths about LGBT Life and People) the non-myth truth is clear: you in fact cannot often tell just by looking (or hearing).

Another myth is the “born that way” controversy, previously covered in my post “Born Gay—Or Not.”

The cousin to this on my LGBT myths list was, Everyone is born heterosexual, but each of the following factors can cause homosexuality: having a domineering mother and passive father, seduction by older homosexuals during childhood, having homosexual parents, hormonal imbalance, or incest. The two main points I’d make: there’s no conclusive proof about the causation of any sexual orientation; and if you want to show acceptance, there’s no need to know anyway. Still true today.

In The Huffington Post, Christopher Rudolph has provided other LGBT myths from You Can Tell Just By Looking. The following one mirrors another from my old list: There’s no such thing as a gay or trans child. The fact: It is possible, even likely, that even young children can be aware of their sexual desires, as well as their gender identity. This possibility would be better understood if we encouraged children to speak openly about their desires and bodily experiences — and actually listened to what they have to say.

Several others from the book:

  • Myth: Most Homophobes Are Repressed HomosexualsFact: Do all white racists secretly want to be black? Of course not. Many factors larger than the individual can make a person feel uncomfortable around those who are or seem different. It’s more accurate to address how a combination of prejudice and power perpetuates antigay violence rather than to isolate any one factor.
  • Myth: LGBT Parents Are Bad For Children. Fact: Overwhelmingly, national psychological and social-work professional groups have declared that LGBT parents do no harm to children. Good parenting does not rise and fall on the sexual or gender identity of a parent. What matters for children is that their parent or parents offer love, support, and understanding.
  • Myth: All Religions Condemn Homosexuality. Fact: This is absurd on the face of it; religions are so varied and nuanced in their belief systems and practices that it is impossible to claim they all hold any single belief. This myth is primarily promoted by conservative Christian opponents of homosexuality as a political attack on same-sex marriage.

Although most therapists today would know, I hope, that the statements on my workshop list are all false and why—for example, that homosexuality is not deemed a mental disorder, that conversion therapy is a crock, and that there other ways for couples to have kids than to marry heterosexually—believe it or not, many didn’t know these things in the 80’s and 90’s.

And many readers won’t know all the info You Can Tell… now has to offer. It’s unfortunate but true that a book such as thisup to date in its reflection of current assumptions and misunderstandings the general public may have, is still necessary and valuable today.