LGBT films have been a subgenre of film for far too long. For years, they’ve existed underground, almost like foreign films, as relics of an outside culture. With San Francisco’s Frameline film festival, these voices can finally find an audience. An Internet celebrity, an Iranian transgender and a drug-addicted lawyer are just some of the diverse and multifaceted subjects that lend a personal and intimate face to so crucial a community.
— Jessica Pena
Me @ the Zoo — Castro Theatre: June 23 1:00 p.m.
There are some people who vanish from the public eye and — no matter what level of vulgar Perez-stalking is your fancy — you are glad never to see again. Chris Crocker is one of those people. Unfortunately, Valerie Veatch and Chris Moukarbel’s, “Me @ The Zoo” has brought Crocker back into the limelight by making him the subject of a documentary.
The film takes its name from the first video uploaded to YouTube, “Me @ the Zoo.” It is as much about the rise and rise of YouTube as it is about Crocker. However, YouTube, fascinating though it may be is hardly as impressive or unique as it was half a decade ago. Do Moukarbel and Veatch think we are still impressed by YouTube’s 2006 sale to Google for $1.65 billion when last month Facebook’s IPO valued it at over $100 Billion? Crocker and YouTube were phenomena of the previous decade. The difficulty with “Me @ The Zoo” is that so much of it is told directly from Crocker’s point of view. This in turn makes it impossible to separate one’s perspective on the film from ones’ opinion of Crocker. The film is composed of large swathes of video from Crocker’s lengthy YouTube oeuvre that unfortunately do nothing to redeem him in our eyes. You can try to come to the film with an open mind but after watching Crocker’s attempt at being the first person to take a poop on camera, it is difficult to feel pity for this shameless exhibitionist. Though “Me @ The Zoo” might be less relevant today, unfortunately, Crocker is no less annoying.
— Thomas Coughlan
The Wise Kids — Castro Theatre: June 16 4:00 p.m.
Ah, the South. It’s at once a puzzling and mystifying place. And, in Stephen Cone’s subtle, coming-of-age drama, “The Wise Kids,” the South is not only these things, but its own character as well. There’s not much plot to speak of. Three, teenage friends — Tim, Laura and Brea — are on the verge of graduating high school. But, like all teenagers, they are also on the verge of discovering themselves, what they like, dislike and, more pertinent to this film, what they believe in. As residents of a small, Southern town with an omnipresent and slightly overbearing Evangelical church, these three kids must negotiate their conflicting and developing personal lives (for Tim, his homosexuality; for Brea, her disbelief in God).
It’s a necessary story — one that isn’t told or presented nearly enough to the general public. However, in its attempt at representing the delicate intersection of homosexuality and Evangelicalism, the film becomes a tad preachy. In one scene, a boy falls from a cross during the rehearsals for the local passion play. The message is clear: the weight of this issue is too heavy a burden. Similar instances of ham-fisted symbolism play out, marking Tim as a type of a Christ who brings a sense of subtle enlightenment with his casual acceptance of his own homosexuality. “The Wise Kids” takes its name, and rightfully so, from the Wise Men. However, though the film overreaches with its biblical imagery at times, it remains an engaging personal story of triumph and struggle.
— Jessica Pena
Gayby — Castro Theatre: June 16 7:00 p.m.
Gayby” tries to answers that pestering question: What do you do when you want a baby, but you have no one to have it with? If you pay any attention to the characters here, the only logical answer is to get your best gay friend to agree to have sex with you until you’re pregnant. This may not be the most practical answer for those attempting to enter the world of parenthood on their own, but it definitely creates the potential for some amusing situations mixed with a lot of uncomfortable sex scenes. Similar to the recent string of Judd Apatow films that attempt to mix heartfelt sentimentality with irresponsible-yet-loveable characters, “Gayby” features a cast of individuals dealing with their rudderless lives. Relationship problems, paternity issues and workplace difficulties ensue as the lead characters (Jenn Harris and Matthew Wilkas) eventually come together to celebrate their hard fought battle to parenthood.
However, the film lacks the heart that is hallmark of other such lewd comedies as “Knocked Up” or “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.” It feels empty, largely due to the fact that everything becomes the source for some kind of joke — creating a cast of caricatures. Its difficult to care for any single person in the film or care for that matter. “Gayby” does redeem itself for its sheer comedic value. The insight into the lives of middle aged city dwellers holds enough credibility to earn an honest chuckle. After all, who needs a melodramatic look at pregnancy and childbirth when you can have a few laughs?
— Jawad Qadir
Keep the Lights On — Castro Theatre: June 16 6:30 p.m.
There’s a lot of flesh in director Ira Sachs’ intimate new film, “Keep the Lights On.” Then again, given that title, you wouldn’t expect much to be hidden from viewers. It opens with raw, sexual desire. The scene is the late ’90s, New York City. We see Eric, a charismatic German and ambitious documentary filmmaker, soliciting sexual encounters over the phone. It’s a fascinating sequence that showcases the range of homosexual men — from the more reserved to those who are out and proud — and sesxual practices of late ’90s urban life. And then, Eric meets his match. Or rather, he meets his mismatch in Paul — an initially-closeted lawyer with a debilitating crack habit.
Sparks fly, the passion is present and genuine feelings emerges. Over the course of 100 minutes, Sachs explores the dramatic ups and downs of this pairing. Their fights and sexual escapades, both aggressive and playful, bookend a nearly 10-year-long relationship fraught with addiction, depression and joy. It’s an engrossing story rife with fascinating, authentic performances (especially from Thure Lindhart as Eric) and scenes of genuine vulnerability. But, along with that intimacy, there are also the quiet moments — the uncomfortable silences that emerge when two people have run out of things to say — that make this film sometimes challenging to watch. Much like the relationship in the film, the momentum slowly disintegrates to a glacial pace, leaving the audience as frustrated as the two protagonists.
— Jessica Pena
Sassy Pants — Castro Theatre: June 22 7 :00 p.m.
With a title like “Sassy Pants,” one wouldn’t expect a depressingly somber film about a young woman and her problems with her overbearing divorced mother (Anna Gunn of “Breaking Bad”). After graduating from home school, Bethany defies her mother’s wishes of gaining an online degree in accounting and takes the first Greyhound bus to her gay father’s mobile home. While there, Bethany encounters her father’s younger boyfriend, Chip (played by a flamboyant and overweight Haley Joel Osment).
The film seems to progress from one awkward moment to another. This wouldn’t be such a problem if every situation and character didn’t feel so dishonest and exaggerated. It’s difficult to blame the cast in this case, as many of the recognizable actors can be seen in various other roles outside of “Sassy Pants.”
The fault here rests with first-time writer/director Coley Sohn, who fails to create a sincere moment throughout the film. Instead, Sohn relies on stereotypes and caricatures to act as filler for a film with very little substance. Characters are written to be either boring or insanely eccentric with almost nothing inbetween. Personalities change from one scene to the next, making it impossible for the viewer to connect or relate to any of the characters.
To make matters worse, the film feels misadvertised. Billed as a comedy, “Sassy Pants” delves deeper and deeper into the kind of melodrama typically reserved for the Lifetime network. Never really realizing what little potential the film started out with, “Sassy Pants” falls deeply into the unending abyss of numbing monotony.
— Jawad Qadir
Facing Mirrors — Castro Theatre: June 18 6:30 p.m.
The first Iranian film with a transgender protagonist, “Facing Mirrors” is the story of a young girl, Adineh who desires to undergo a gender reassignment surgery. Throughout the film, she struggles with the dual identities of Adineh and, Eddie — the man she identifies as. Gender reassignment is not illegal in Iran and as such, Eddie’s real battle is not so much with the authorities as with his family and, in particular, his father. Eddie decides he must flee to Germany to escape an arranged marriage. The film follows his struggle to leave the country.
“Facing Mirrors” borrows much (including star, Shayesteh Irani) from Jafar Panahi’s, “Offside.” Panahi showed us the complicated web of liberties and responsibilities that men and women must navigate under the totalitarian regime. Negar Azarbayjani, the director of “Facing Mirrors” picks up on Panahi’s ideas and runs with them. Though lacking Panahi’s cool, easy Linklater style dialogue, Azarbayjani mimics his languid sense of pace and character to great effect. Azarbayjani is clearly versed in the “contrasting characters” screenwriting manual; the conflict between Rena and Eddie is sometimes a little polemical. However, watching Eddie and Rena deal with extraordinary problems in an extraordinary environment is intriguing and compelling. Azarbayjani crafts an uplifting film about the humanity about those who overcome their differences to understand one another.
— Thomas Coughlan