Film Reviews: Wednesday, November 30, 2005
Make the Yuletide Gay

A look at upcoming holiday movies, from an alternative point of view.


Look through the slate of scheduled movie releases for the end of the year, and you’ll find the usual complement of literary adaptations and star-encrusted vehicles — as expected. What is strikingly new, though, is the inordinate number of gay subjects and themes. There are already quite a few gay characters on the screen these days, from Philip Seymour Hoffman’s celebrity writer in Capote to Val Kilmer’s understated private eye in Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang to the gay and lesbian couples singing love songs to each other in Rent. If these aren’t enough for moviegoers, there’s more on the way.

For starters, there’s Ang Lee’s Western/romantic tragedy Brokeback Mountain, which is being talked up for Oscars. (Having seen it, I can tell you that the movie is very good indeed.) Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger play cowboys whose 20-year love affair can be consummated only during their infrequent trips to a mountain in Wyoming. Even before its release the film has marked a turning point, as its trailer and press materials discreetly but unmistakably let audiences know that it’s a movie about gay men. This is supposedly a turn-off for the marketplace, but we’ll see if this is yet another time that the conventional wisdom is proved to be merely conventional.

Gender-bending roles are always good for generating award buzz. Cillian Murphy of Batman Begins and Red Eye is attracting some as a 1960s Dublin drag queen in Breakfast on Pluto. Scheduled for a Dallas opening at Christmas, the film is directed by Neil Jordan, whose 1992 romance The Crying Game blazed trails in this area. (What is Jaye Davidson doing these days, anyway?) Turnabout is only fair, so Desperate Housewives’ Felicity Huffman stars in TransAmerica as a man who’s awaiting sexual reassignment surgery when he’s forced to reconcile with his estranged son.

All the actors mentioned above are heterosexual in real life, which raises the question of whether playing gay characters has become as much of a stunt as playing physically handicapped or mentally ill ones. (This stunt sure is effective. Just check the statuettes on the mantelpieces of Tom Hanks, Hilary Swank, and Charlize Theron.) Unfortunately, audiences and critics frequently take it for granted when gay actors such as Ian McKellen and Rupert Everett play gay roles, and even when these actors play heterosexual characters they aren’t showered with praise as their straight colleagues are for playing gay.

It’s also too bad that gay-themed movies that lack Hollywood star power don’t have nearly the same traction, as demonstrated by two excellent films from earlier this year that didn’t find the audience they deserved. The bruising My Summer of Love probably scared away crowds with its misleading hearts-and-flowers title, while the lyrical Mysterious Skin probably creeped out moviegoers with its frank and graphic discussion of child molestation. Regardless, these are among the best films of 2005, and they’re available now on DVD. Hollywood is trying to redress decades of politely ignoring or crudely stereotyping gay people, but audiences can do a bit of redressing on their own, at the multiplex or at home.

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