LGBTQIA

REVIEW: The Family Stone (2005)

Strait-laced Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker) accompanies her boyfriend Everett (Dermot Mulroney) home for Christmas and to meet his outgoing family for the first time. Soon secrets are revealed and Meredith feels like the whole family hates her.

Everett’s family is big and loud and a bit chaotic. Diane Keaton is great at Sybil, the matriarch of the family, and Rachel McAdams as his snarky and brutally honest sister is often very mean but in a wry way that almost makes it OK.

Meredith and Everett do seem like an OK match to begin with and that’s because Everett doesn’t have that much of a personality. It’s how his family reacts to him when he’s with Meredith that comes across as either they’re seeing he’s pretending to be something he’s not, or that they just don’t know him at all. It’s not exactly clear who he is outside of Meredith.

The Family Stone is a bit of an odd film really. It’s a Christmas film I hadn’t even heard of until recently and while it has the typical big family Christmas and all the hijinks that typically ensue it’s also got a bit of a dark streak to it too.

Yeah, Meredith doesn’t really fit in with this family but she doesn’t come across too terrible and unlikeable until a truly cringeworthy scene at the dinner table. Thad (Tyrone Giordano), one of Everett’s brothers, is gay and Meredith sticks her foot in it by saying she doesn’t know how any parent can hope their child’s gay as it makes life so much harder for the child. She doesn’t know when to stop and as much as she tries to explain herself it makes it worse and sound even more homophobic and everyone around that dinner table is perfectly in their right to get mad at her but the way things play out it’s like it’s supposed to be an easy thing to forgive.

There’s also an almost love square thing going on in The Family Stone which I wasn’t expecting and you’ve got to wonder what’s going through some of these characters heads – Everett’s especially. But it does lead to a couple of grown men chasing each other around the house and acting like kids which is something I always find amusing.

I think it’s fitting that The Family Stone is a messy film as the family at the heart of it is messy too. They’ve each got something going on in their lives including bad medical news and not great love lives. All the actors who make up the Stone family do a great job of feeling like a dysfunctional family who do love each other even though they take the mick out of one another.

The Family Stone is like an alternative Christmas film, one of those ones where family meals sometimes end in a fight and not everything can be wrapped up neatly and be a happily ever after. 3/5.

REVIEW: Single All The Way (2021)

Desperate to avoid his family’s judgment about his perpetual single status, Peter (Michael Urie) convinces his best friend Nick (Philemon Chambers) to join him for the holidays and pretend that they’re now in a relationship. But when Peter’s mum Carole (Kathy Najimy) plans to set him up with her spin instructor James (Luke Macfarlane), the plan goes awry.

Single All The Way is a wonderful Christmas romcom that has all the best tropes; friends to lovers, meddling family, sharing a bed, and more! Obviously, it’s clear that Peter and Nick are meant to be together but their trepidation is understandable (because who wants to ruin a great friendship?!) and the two of them need an extra push from some loving family members.

Like Peter’s family, you’re rooting for the two of them but then there’s blind date James. He’s attractive and nice and just generally a really good, fun guy that seems to genuinely like Peter. He’s not painted as wrong for Peter or a terrible choice in comparison to Nick. In fact James and Peter go on some fun dates and they like each other, making you almost as torn as Peter is as he struggles to figure out what his heart truly wants. It helps that James is played by Luke Macfarlane who is often a leading man in Hallmark movies so it’s hard not to find him charming and likeable.

The whole cast is fab but a special mention has to go to Jennifer Coolidge who plays Peter’s Aunt Sandy. She’s just full of drama as her main focus is the winter show she organises every year and she has some of the best lines. She’s funny and just the epitome of that slightly eccentric relative that is at these family gatherings.

It’s kind of easy to compare Single All The Way to last years gay Christmas film, Happiest Season. But whereas Happiest Season had a closeted lesbian take her girlfriend pretending to be just her roommate home for Christmas and comes with all the fear of homophobia and rejection from the family, Single All The Way is out and proud. Peter’s whole family loves him (and they really like Nick too) and even though Peter and Nick are from LA where it’s clear they have many friends who are gay, coming to a small town in New Hampshire for Christmas neither of them ever express any discomfort or fear of any random person’s reaction. There’s even jokes about how Peter’s mum set him up with James as they’re they only gay guys in town. Homophobia is just not a thing in Single All The Way and that allows it to be a wonderful cliché Christmas romcom like all the heterosexual Christmas romcoms that have come before it.

Single All The Way is just so much fun, is sweet and full of love like a big Christmassy hug. Is it strictly “good” enough for a 5-star rating? Probably not. But I thoroughly enjoyed myself, it made me laugh and it makes all the tropes work in a way that I just couldn’t be mad at them. 5/5.

X is for XXY (2007)

Trigger warnings for sexual assault.

Fifteen-year-old Alex (Inés Efron) is intersex and is living as a girl, but she and her family begin to wonder if she’s emotionally a boy when another teenager’s sexually advances bring things to a head.

XXY is set in a small coastal town in Uruguay and unfortunately, a lot of people there are closed minded about people who are different. Alex and her family have kept the fact she’s intersex a secret but as everything comes to a head, the cruelty of others is revealed and it is uncomfortable to watch.

XXY is a slow, thoughtful film. Many times the camera lingers on Alex, her body or just her face, as she wanders alone. The coastal setting with the beach and the stormy sea fits the tone of the film as Alex often feels alone as no one can know how she feels, even her parents who want to look out for her. Her father (Ricardo Darín) is especially kind and protective and he puts in a lot of time and research into figuring out how best to support Alex as she tries to decide who she wants to be.

Inés Efron gives a brilliant performance as Alex. Showing the hope and fear she feels, as well as her rebellious nature. The chemistry between her and Martín Piroyansky who plays Alvaro, the son of her mother’s friends who comes to stay, is there but it’s interesting. The dynamics between their two characters are constantly shifting as they get to know one another and make a connection that neither of them was expecting.

XXY is a sincere take on the struggles a young person can face when figuring out who they are, and if they’re OK with that. The haunting score and stark setting makes XXY feel bleak but there are moments of happiness and hope their for Alex and her family too. 3/5.

I is for Imagine Me & You (2005)

When Rachel (Piper Perabo) catches florist Luce’s (Lena Headey) eye at her wedding to Heck (Matthew Goode) she instantly feels things she’s never felt before, questioning her sexuality and prompting a stir among Rachel’s family and friends.

Imagine Me & You is a very funny and entertaining rom com. It follows a lot of the usual tropes of the genre, but the fact it’s about two women falling in love make it feel fresher and more exciting.

Nobody is really made the villain in Imagine Me & You because love is complicated. Rachel loves Heck, and though what she’s suddenly feeling for Luce is unlike anything she’s felt before, it doesn’t make the love she felt for Heck meaningless. Imagine Me & You really handles the discussions of love, whether it’s something that builds or it can be instantaneous, very well and doesn’t make one relationship lesser to build up another.

The chemistry between Perabo and Headey is palpable and Perabo is especially brilliant showing Rachel’s confusion and heartache as she tries to figure out what she’s feeling for Luce while feeling guilty for feeling anything at all.

The extended cast are wonderful too. Celia Imrie and Anthony Head who Rachel’s parents and Sue Johnston who plays Luce’s mum, really highlighting the wonderful British cast this film has. They all have very funny lines and their relationships with their on-screen daughters is brilliant and feels real.

Imagine Me & You is a funny and sweet romantic comedy and it has one of the best declarations of love I’ve seen in a romcom – or any genre of film to be honest. 5/5.

B is for Boys Don’t Cry (1999)

A young man named Brandon Teena (Hilary Swank) navigates love, life, and being transgender in rural Nebraska in the early 90s.

I feel I should mention a lot of content warnings for Boys Don’t Cry. It contains transphobia, homophobia, rape, violence, deadnaming, transphobic violence, misgendering, murder, references to transition/surgery/hormones – and I’m probably forgetting some things. In short, Boys Don’t Cry is very tough to watch and it’s probably, unfortunately, a testament to the time it was made in terms of how it treats its trans main character, even when it tries to frame things to show the film is on Brandon’s side.

Hilary Swank gives an incredible performance. It’s perfectly measured as someone who is confident in who they are but don’t always have the safety and security to do so. Brandon is flirty and charming, if a little awkward at times and it’s easy to see why Lana (Chloë Sevigny) could become enamoured with him. All the other men in her life are fighters, and macho men stereotypes, Brandon is kinder and listens to her more than people like her mother (Jeannetta Arnette) and her friend John (Peter Sarsgaard) do. Brandon and Lana’s relationship is sweet and loving and Lana cares deeply about Brandon, no matter what other people think of him.

There’s almost a dreamlike quality to Boys Don’t Cry at times. Like when Brandon is racing down the highway or looking across the open plains of Nebraska. It’s down to the score and the way these things are shot to feel at once distant and immediate, like Brandon can escape and be free at any moment.

Boys Don’t Cry is an unflinching look of what life can be like for a trans man in a place where bigotry and ignorance run rife. It’s an upsetting and harrowing film and while things like the terminology and (hopefully) attitudes have changed, it’s a film that can make those who are unaware of the struggles trans people can face, see things from a new perspective. 4/5.

READ THE WORLD – Taiwan: Notes of a Crocodile by Qiu Miaojin

Translated by Bonnie Huie and narrated by Jo Mei.

Afflicted by her fatalistic attraction to Shui Ling, an older woman who is alternately hot and cold toward her, Lazi turns for support to a circle of friends that includes the devil-may-care, rich-kid-turned-criminal Meng Sheng and his troubled, self-destructive gay lover Chu Kuang, as well as the bored, mischievous overachiever Tun Tun and her alluring slacker artist girlfriend Zhi Rou.

Set in the late 1980s, Lazi is at university in Taipei but the focus of Notes of a Crocodile are her romantic endeavours and how she tries to open herself up to love. Lazi is quite reserved when it comes to love, and it’s like she gets to a certain point in a relationship and then becomes shut off and terrified about whether she has the capacity to continue to love someone.

Lazi is an interesting character because it’s like she’s searching for love and security but is also fiercely independent. It’s how those two sides of her conflict feels very relatable. She also ponders gender and sexuality, the feminine and the masculine, and where she fits within those binaries and if she even wants to fit in them.

A lot of the conversations she has with her friends are about love and how people feel about themselves and others. Notes of a Crocodile probably has the most communicative characters I’ve seen in a book in a while. There’s still instances where Lazi or her friends don’t find the right words to say at the right time, or she talks to a friend rather than to the person who is breaking her heart, but at least they’re talking and trying to figure out their feelings.

Interspersed in the main narrative, there’s the story of the crocodile – a semi-human creature that the general human population of Taiwan are simultaneously intrigued by and scared of. The crocodile is a metaphor for queer people in Taiwan and how they were treated, and how they can feel isolated and unlovable. It took a while for me to understand these crocodile-segments and how they fit with the story and how they related to what Lazi was going through.

I listened to Notes of a Crocodile on audio and I think the narrator did a good job even though the story was a bit disjointed. A lot of the chapters end abruptly, and sometimes the narrative jumps back and forth in time so sometimes Lazi is with Shui Ling, other times she’s over her, and then sometimes she’s still coming to terms with their relationship ending. Then there’s her friend’s various relationships that you see at different points too. It’s a bit confusing but the main theme throughout is finding somewhere to belong and a lot of heartbreak.

Notes of a Crocodile was an interesting read about a time, place and culture that I knew little about. Lazi is an interesting, flawed and sometimes infuriating character but that makes her feel more real. 3/5.

READ THE WORLD – Sri Lanka: Marriage of a Thousand Lies by SJ Sindu

Narrated by Emily Woo Zeller.

Lucky is an unemployed millennial programmer. Her husband, Krishna, is an editor for a greeting card company. Both are secretly gay, presenting their conservative Sri Lankan-American families with a heterosexual front while dating on the side. When Lucky’s grandmother falls, Lucky returns to her mother’s home in Boston and unexpectedly reconnects with her childhood friend and first lover, Nisha. When the two rekindle old romantic feelings, Lucky tries to save Nisha from entering a marriage based on a lie and finds herself pushed to breaking point.

Marriage of a Thousand Lies is an unflinching look at how someone who does not fit into their culture’s ideals can try and reconcile two sides of themselves. Lucky is in almost constant conflict with herself. She knows and accepts she’s a lesbian, she likes being a lesbian, but she doesn’t like how she has to hide that part of herself from her family. This struggle of being who she is but not wanting to lose or disappoint those who are closest to her is something that is almost constantly on Lucky’s mind as she tries to find the strength to be who she is.

Lucky’s mother wants her and Kris to have a baby and be just like all the other Sri Lankan families in their community. Lucky’s mother wants Lucky to fit in as she knows what it’s like to be shunned by the community. Lucky’s parents are divorced but naturally her father and his new wife (a close family friend) are treated just the same by everyone, it’s her mother that is seen as an outsider for being a divorcee.

Marriage of a Thousand Lies is written in the first person from Lucky’s point of view but you never really get a handle of how she’s feeling about what is happening in her life. Lucky is so emotionally closed off from a lot of what is happening around her that she barely reacts to what those closest to her are saying or doing. It makes the emotional impact of some big, potentially life-changing moments, not feel that important at all.

While they are obviously pretending to be happily married for their families, often it seemed like Lucky didn’t even like Kris and resented him for being married to her even though it was something that she agreed to and it worked for the both of them. Their relationship was never satisfactorily explored.

Nisha was equal parts frustrating and understandable. She would often have these big ideas, saying to Lucky they should run away together, but when Lucky tries to take her up on that, she reverts back to being the doting daughter. She is just as scared as Lucky about potentially losing her family and community over who she loves but she is so torn that she keeps hurting Lucky with her indecisiveness and mixed signals.

Marriage of a Thousand Lies is a well-written and poignant story. It handles the complexities of sexuality, religion and culture well but having a distant protagonist made it difficult to connect with her and the story at times. Also, in its honesty Marriage of a Thousand Lies becomes a very sad story as you, and Lucky, realise there might not be a way that everyone finishes this story happy. 3/5.

READ THE WORLD – Greenland: Crimson by Nivaq Korneliussen

Five young people’s lives collide in Nuuk Greenland as secrets are revealed and relationships crumble. Inuk has something to hide and runs from his problems. His sister Fia breaks up with her long-term boyfriend and falls for Sara. Sara is in love with Ivik who holds a big secret. Ivik struggles with gender dysphoria, and transgender identity, while Arnaq, the party queen pulls the strings of manipulation, bringing these five lives to a shocking crescendo.

Translated by Anna Halager.

Crimson is the UK title of Last Night in Nuuk, a book I’d been aware of as it was written by a young Greenlandic author and is set in the country’s capital city. Besides from that, all I knew about the books before diving into it was that it was about the interconnected lives of five young people who are in their early twenties.

Crimson has five chapters and each chapter is from a different character’s point of view. It’s not a truly linear story which makes delving into these characters lives for such a short space of time interesting. As the story progresses some events from previous chapters are retold from a different perspective, through this you can see different sides of an argument or what happened next after the first character had left the party for instance.

Each character, and therefore each chapter, has its own distinct voice. This helps as besides a couple of sentences at the start of the book about each character giving you the most important facts about their lives, you are thrown into this book blind, learning about what makes each character tick in around 30 pages. Some chapters are more like diary entries while others are written like a stream of conscious, this can be a little jarring, but it does make each character feel different.

While these five characters are all connected in some way, they all feel very alone and drifting through the days. Sara is the one who is more obviously depressed while Arnaq uses partying, drinking and sex to ignore her problems even though those three activities often cause her new ones. I feel Crimson is an unflinching look at what it is to be someone in your early twenties, when you’ve got no real career prospects and you don’t truly understand yourself or anything that’s happening around you.

Crimson is a story about people struggling, their connections, love and sexuality. It’s a quick read at less than 180 pages and the way it’s set out, in each chapter you don’t just learn about the current character you’re following, but you see other sides to characters you’ve previously met. Even though this story is set in a country that appears to be so remote it’s almost alien to me, it’s a story that’s universal as young people will have fun and be irresponsible and make mistakes no matter where in the world they’re from. 4/5.

REVIEW: Disobedience (2017)

When Ronit (Rachel Weisz) learns her father, an Orthodox Jewish rabbi, has died she returns home to a hostile environment from the tightknit community. While she’s home her feelings for her childhood best friend Esti (Rachel McAdams) are rekindled, but Esti is now married to Ronit’s cousin Dovid (Alessandro Nivola).

Disobedience is a love story about two women and how their community and and sense of duty has kept them a part for years. From the moment Ronit arrives back in her old neighbourhood, it’s clear that she is seen as an outsider. With her tendency to speak her mind and refusal to conform to the typical path for an Orthodox Jewish woman, she doesn’t fit in with her family or their friends and neighbours.

Esti has followed that more traditional path and while she might be content in her marriage and wifely duties, it doesn’t give her the same feelings she had when she was younger and with Ronit. Weisz and McAdams’s scenes are electric. Ronit and Esti’s silent, lingering glances are just as affecting as when they do kiss or have sex. They are two characters that are lost in different ways; Ronit has been cut adrift from her community for so long, while Esti has almost been smothered by it.

Dovid could quite easily have been the big bad guy, standing in the way of Esti and Ronit’s feelings for one another. He’s Esti’s husband and they do have a seemingly good relationship, but it’s clear that it’s nothing like what her relationship with Ronit could be. Thanks to a thoughtful script and Nivola’s performance, Dovid is a layered character that is kind and caring, and he himself struggles with the outside pressures that are put on him and his relationship by the community he is a part of.

Disobedience is a beautiful film that allows the characters room to breathe, making their relationships and conflicts so much more richer than one might expect going into this film. It’s a film that’s about love and choices and being brave enough to do what’s right for yourself. Disobedience is a film that lingers in your mind long after you’ve seen it. 4/5.

READ THE WORLD – Equatorial Guinea: La Bastarda by Trifonia Melibea Obono

Translated by Lawrence Schimel. Trigger warnings for sexual assault.

Orphaned teenager Okomo lives under the watchful eyes of her grandparents and dreams about finding her father. All she knows is that he’s a “scoundrel” and she’s forbidden to seek him out. She enlists the help of other outcasts; her gay uncle Marcelo and a gang of “indecent” girls. With them she finds comfort, falls in love and rebels against the rigid norms of Fang culture.

La Bastarda is a very short book, it’s only 88 pages so it’s very easy to read it in one sitting, and it’s the first book from Equatorial Guinea to be translated into English which is pretty cool.

La Bastarda is a coming of age story about a girl who is trying to understand the various traditions her people have and what that means for her and her desire to know her father. Okomo is quite a naïve seventeen-year-old which is probably due to the sheltered life she’s led, she’s unsure about so many relationships in her life and is often clueless about the different rules her culture has.

I liked the relationship that forms between Okomo and Dina. It’s interesting as Okomo’s uncle Marcelo is known as a man-woman because he sleeps with men and refuses to “do his duty” and get his infertile brothers’ wife pregnant to make sure the family has a son; however their community doesn’t have a word for lesbian so it’s as if Okomo, Dina and the rest of the girls don’t exist.

I enjoyed La Bastarda. It’s a quick, easy read about a culture that’s complete different to my own. It’s an episodic story and while Okomo is quite a young seventeen-year-old, I did want her to find her own place, whether that was in her society or not, with people who care about her.