Mar 23

“Love, Simon”: Closeted Teen Story Finds Hollywood

“Love, Simon” is a universal story, even if you’re not a gay teenager. The challenge of figuring out who we are and standing comfortably in that identity might begin in high school, but often lasts a lifetime. As Simon so aptly says: “No matter what, announcing who you are to the world is pretty terrifying.” Sandy Cohen, The Advocate

Adapted from a YA novel by Becky Albertalli called Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, Greg Berlanti‘s Love, Simon is the first Hollywood-type film to present the struggles of a closeted gay male adolescent while aiming at mainly a teen audience. Not only that, its reviews are generally positive, often citing its humor, warmth, and kinship to John Hughes (1970-2009) flicks.

David Wiegand, San Francisco Chronicle, sets up the plot below:

… the story of a sweet-natured 17-year-old named Simon Spier (Nick Robinson), the elder child in a picture-perfect family that includes a dad (Josh Duhamel) who’s a loving and lovable doofus, a therapist mom (Jennifer Garner) who’s as nurturing as Bambi’s mother, and a younger sister (Talitha Bateman) who dotes on her older brother and enjoys cooking. They live in an ‘Ozzie and Harriet’ house in a charming suburb where Simon goes to high school and hangs around with three other kids, including Leah (Katherine Langford), his best friend since he was four.

Simon is gay but hasn’t come out yet. He begins a growing but anonymous online friendship with another closeted guy at school. The closer he gets to Blue, the closer he gets to coming out, especially to his friend.

Watch the trailer:

According to Jude Dry, IndieWire, “Most LGBTQ youth will see more of themselves in Ethan (Clark Moore)…the school’s resident flamboyant.” Simon’s process, on the other hand, reveals a type of  internalized homophobia common to those insecure about their orientation:

Observing Ethan being bullied, Simon says: ‘I wish he wouldn’t make it so hard on himself.’ The movie is full of these kinds of rigid gender stereotypes…In one sprightly fantasy dance sequence, Simon imagines his future life as an out gay man. When the fantasy ends, he says: ‘Okay, maybe not that gay.’ When Martin cleverly dresses as a Freudian slip for Halloween, Simon tells him ‘Maybe you shouldn’t have worn a dress. You look like a drag queen.’ Clearly, Simon could use a gender studies class…

Gay critic Alonso Duralde, The Wrap, takes the analysis further:

Queer pundits will no doubt take ‘Love, Simon’ to task for being too white, too cisgender, too heteronormative. And they won’t be wrong. But even if this is ‘Call Me By Your Name’ through the lens of the Disney Channel, there’s a place in the culture for adolescent gay kids to enjoy the shiny, shallow, pop-song-infused coming-of-age stories that their straight peers consume on a daily basis. The first one out of the gate always plays it safe; the trick now is to keep the gate open.

Duralde compares Simon’s “dream parents” to those in Call Me by Your Name. Other Simon reviewers, however, have favored the earthier attitudes of the latter.

If you haven’t seen Call Me by Your Name, the following constitutes a spoiler reveal (from Kevin Fallon, The Daily Beast): Teen Elio’s father tells him “that he noticed the intense connection he had with Oliver. He doesn’t judge. In fact, he wants to make it clear that he accepts it. That he encourages it. That he may even be jealous that Elio has been able to find someone to feel so intensely about, regardless of gender.”

Provided in the article above, Mr. Perlman’s entire monologue might be viewed, states Fallon, as “wish-fulfillment for many gay people, who could only dream of being greeted with such unbridled love and understanding of who they are by their parents.”

Oct 30

“Men, Women & Children”: What the Reviews Say

It is the year’s scariest film simply because it’s the year’s most realistic: Welcome to your nightmare. Tom Long, Detroit News, about Men, Women & Children

Jason Reitman‘s Men, Women & Children, adapted from Chad Kultgen‘s novel, is about human disconnection in the internet age. One common critique is that too much ground is covered and not well enough.

Andrew O’Hehir, Salon: “It’s partly teenage social realism, midway between a John Hughes movie and Larry Clark’s ‘Kids,’ partly a lecture from somebody’s mom about how no one talks to anyone anymore, dammit, and partly an ‘ironic’ reminder that love can go wrong in so many, many ways.”

Claudia Puig, USA Today: “Though the story initially appears to be headed in a thought-provoking direction, it becomes superficial in its exploration of our online lives. Almost a soap opera, it’s a predictable tale of angst-filled teens and their clueless parents. Think a computer-driven, de-fanged Crash, without the ethnic diversity.”

Ty Burr, Boston Globe: “It’s one of those multi-character morality plays — think ‘American Beauty’ meets ‘Crash’ — and it will play especially well to freaked-out parents, even as it distances itself from them by acknowledging that the kids (most of them, anyway) are all right.”

CHARACTERS AND PLOT

Christopher Orr, The Atlantic, offers a (snarky) synopsis that’s worth reading if you’re interested in knowing all the players:

Try to follow along as best you can. Don (Adam Sandler) and Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) are a married couple deep in the sexual doldrums: He cruises porn on their son’s computer, his own having become irretrievably infected with malware; she and he will both pursue extramarital dalliances online—her, through the cheating site Ashley Madison, him via an escort service. Their son, Chris (Travis Tope), is also addicted to Internet porn, to such a degree that he is unable to respond sexually to the aggressive advances of vixen-y sophomore cheerleader Hannah (Olivia Crocicchia). Hannah is herself an aspiring actress whose single mother, Joan (Judy Greer), is promoting the girl’s career—and pocketing some cash on the side—by publishing racy ‘private photo sessions’ of Hannah for pervy subscribers to her website. Joan becomes involved with Kent (Dean Norris), a father whose wife abandoned him to run off to California with another man.

Still with me? Deep breath:

Kent’s son, Tim (Ansel Elgort), reeling from his parents’ breakup, has quit his starring role on the football team, withdrawn into his room, and devoted his waking hours to the online fantasy game Guild Wars. Tim’s only real-life connection is a tentative quasi-romance with classmate Brandy (Kaitlyn Dever), whose paranoid helicopter mom, Patricia (Jennifer Garner) monitors her every virtual interaction—phone, email, Facebook, browser history—with a line-crossing avidity befitting the director of the NSA. Rounding out the digital horror show is the virginal Allison (Elena Kampouris), an anorexic who gets nutrition tips from a site called www.prettybitchesnevereat.com and who desperately wants to hook up with a jock so telegraphically sleazy that he might as well have ‘sex offender’ sewn across his varsity jacket. Finally, we have J. K. Simmons, who makes a token appearance as Allison’s dad, his only meaningful function being to reprise his Juno role as the Dad Who Finds Out His Underage Daughter Got Pregnant…

MIXED APPRECIATION FOR HOW THE THEMES ARE PRESENTED

Ann Hornaday, Washington Post: “To its credit, ‘Men, Women & Children’ seems to allow for a rational middle ground between technophobic Luddites and the lamentably over-wired. It never turns down the moral panic entirely, but neither does it let it completely boil over.”

A.O. Scott, New York Times:

Mr. Reitman, who wrote the script with Erin Cressida Wilson…has the wisdom to realize that the Internet cannot entirely be blamed for the unhappiness he surveys…At the film’s beginning and its end, an omniscient narrator with the sensible voice of Emma Thompson explains that the root of the problem is that we’re all human.

True enough, but this conclusion undermines the film’s premise, dissolving the thematic glue that holds its stories together and emptying out the lessons it wants to teach. Veering between alarmism and cautious reassurance — between technohysteria and shrugging, nothing-new-under-the-sun resignation — ‘Men, Women & Children’ succumbs to the confusion it tries to illuminate.

THE TRAILER:

Jan 17

“Dallas Buyers Club”: Is It Worth Seeing? Scanning the Reviews

Dallas Buyers Club stars Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto, among others. Is it worth seeing for the acting? The story? The “straight savior” angle? Or is the latter a turnoff?

The basic plot, from IMDB: “In 1985 Dallas, electrician and hustler Ron Woodroof works around the system to help AIDS patients get the medication they need after he is himself diagnosed with the disease.”

Based on a true story, Dallas Buyers Club was written by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallick and directed by Jean-Marc Vallée. According to Richard Corliss, Time, “Borten and Wallack based their script on hundreds of hours of interviews with Woodroof, then waited 20 years for the film to get made.”

After the “vocally homophobic antihero” (Peter Debruge, Variety) gets diagnosed, Woodruff proceeds to be helped by such folks as his physician (Jennifer Garner) and another AIDS patient (Jared Leto) who’s transgender.

The Main Performances

Alonso Duralde, The Wrap: “McConaughey is the only reason to see Dallas Buyers Club, but he’s enough of a reason to see Dallas Buyers Club.”

David EdelsteinNew York Magazine: “It’s difficult to talk about the beauty of Leto’s performance, because he just, well, is. The transformation is so complete—­physically and vocally—that it’s hard to believe he could ever be anything else. Rayon (née Raymond) is high on being Rayon, to the point where you sometimes forget that he’s dying, too.”

Woodruff as the “Straight Savior”

Peter DebrugeVarietybelieves that making Woodruff the main character in this movie “ensure[s] that no matter how uncomfortable audiences are with HIV or so-called ‘alternative lifestyles,’ they will recognize Woodroof’s knee-jerk bigotry as uncool. And thus, the film manages to educate without ever feeling didactic, and to entertain in the face of what would, to any other character, seem like a grim life sentence.”

This sentiment is echoed by Rex Reed, New York Observer: “It’s the story of a lout who finds redemption through unexpected motivation, becoming an accidental activist in the process and learning a valuable lesson in humanity about how to help others after it’s too late to help himself.”

The AIDS Crisis

I think it’s well worth noting that Mark S. King of HIV Plus Magazine gives the film high praise for its gritty depiction of the truth of AIDS.

A river of infected blood runs through it. So too does practically every other bodily fluid, along with bruises that won’t heal and purple skin lesions and flakes of dry, reddened skin. And that’s kind of beautiful. Because that’s what AIDS looked like in 1985, and it’s been ages since we have fully remembered it…

I have never seen AIDS shown this way in a film. And of all the movie portrayals of the disease, from Parting Glances to I Love You Phillip Morris, nothing else has captured the ugly physicality of AIDS like Dallas Buyers Club. Even the tearful hospital-bed goodbyes in Longtime Companion seem overly romanticized by comparison…