“20 Straws” ****
One of the first films screened at OUTrageous! was “20 Straws: Growing Up Gay,” directed by Liv Gjestvang and the Youth Video OUTreach Collective. The short film documents the experiences of nine gay and lesbian teenagers and the challenges they faced for coming out and being gay in high school.
One of the young girls in the documentary witnessed her fear of being a lesbian and her experience going to prom with another girl. Other interviews include the kids talking about how their parents react to them coming out and what it’s like to be in high school and be gay.
The documentary is short and only lasts 28 minutes, however, this film will impact you for the rest of your life. It documents an important life changing string of events. “20 Straws” not only captivates the audience with these young kids and their stories, but it also educates people about taking life for granted.
The film was shot in Columbus, Ohio, where the film’s director, a young gay man himself, says he was among two gay teens at his high school. Living in California, being gay is not as much of a shock as it may be for people living in Ohio; the film is a great representation and documentation of what something like a culture shock really is like in other parts of the country.
The film proves to be engaging for its entire 28 minutes, and it really made me think about the subject at hand. This film is one of many that stands for what the OUTrageous! Film Festival intends to stand for, honesty, integrity and, most of all, standing up for what you believe, and that means believing in yourself and who you are as a person, gay or straight.
“Butch Jamie” *
After the screening of “Butch Jamie,” an audience member thanked writer/director/star Michelle Ehlen for “realistically portraying a bisexual woman with an unnatural obsession with her cat.” As a straight woman who knows no bisexual cat owners, I can safely say, without any bias, that animal reaction shots are always stupid, no matter what the context. The lazier the screenwriter, the more cuts to Fluffy.
Or, in this case, Howard, the cat that serves as comic relief, character developer and plot mover all in one. Ehlen plays the very butch Jamie, a struggling actress who attends auditions in girly clothes and makeup, only to resemble a silly drag queen. It’s admirable that Ehlen can make fun of her masculine appearance, but if not for its honest portrayal of lesbianism and bisexuality, “Butch Jamie” would be one big, low-budget cliché. Jamie cannot find work until she is cast as a man, leading to a performance as dreadfully unconvincing as Amanda Bynes’ male turn in “She’s the Man.”
In nearly every other scene, Jamie’s bisexual roommate, Lola, trains Howard the cat so that he too can score acting gigs in Hollywood. These scenes play out like this: Lola talks to Howard as if he is a person; cut to Howard’s confused face. Jamie then gets annoyed and rolls her eyes and/or yells at Howard; cut back to the confused cat face.
“Butch Jamie” is so poorly conceived and amateurish that criticizing it almost feels unnecessarily cruel. It is not a feature film so much as a home video of good friends goofing around with their cat, divided up by brief monologues about the pitfalls of stereotyping.
“Tru Loved” ****
Considering that “Tru Loved” was a part of the OUTrageous lineup, the film oddly fit right in with the batch of the more mainstream romantic comedies premiering that same weekend. The subject matter – which touched on interracial relationships, sexual identity, social acceptance, teenage romance, fitting in, etc. – felt strangely familiar and accessible, almost to the point of being formulaic. The difference, however, is that this film was so charming, warm and sincere that it’s hard not to appreciate its heartfelt affectations and its admirable, honest way of handling sensitive issues.
This is not to say the film is perfect though or without weak points. The most noticeable problem is the awkward, amateur acting delivered by the film’s teenage cast. The characters are likable, like the lovable, enlightened title character, who is the daughter of both a lesbian couple and a gay couple — she has two moms and two dads — and has to deal with moving to a small suburb of Southern California and being alienated and ridiculed at school.
Perhaps it’s the screenwriting that doesn’t translate so smoothly, but it’s pretty flagrant and cringe inducing when the strained, forced acting fails to deliver the clumsy, trite dialogue. It’s not necessarily an exercise in naturalism, but it straddles the line between awkward and endearing pretty well, and succeeds in being an enjoyable, entertaining, comical and touching experience nonetheless. The supporting cast is a hugely redeeming factor, and those characters are,essentially, major roles in their own right.
Though “Tru Loved” is technically about a gay teenager coming out and coming to terms with his homosexuality, as a spectator, I never felt like I was coming from a different, outside perspective or that I had to translate the cinematic material. Each character and relationship becomes a part of your immediate experience, and there are so many narrative elements that cater to a diverse palate of far-ranging, all-encompassing experiences and perspectives. The complex characters, relationships, dynamics and subplots are individually absorbing points of interest, and the film is filled with so many memorable, noteworthy moments that each adds up to one well-played composition.
“Were the World Mine” ****
Zac Efron and his pack of fellow fresh-faced singing zombies had better watch out: Director Tom Gustafson and his talented cast have created a film that more than lives up to its billing as “the REAL gay high school musical.” To be fair, though, the film’s beautiful cinematography, sets, costumes and musical numbers are probably closer to the work of Baz Luhrmann, a la “Romeo + Juliet,” than the Disney Channel.
OUTrageous! 2008 concluded with “Were the World Mine,” a whimsical, charming film loosely based around Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which follows the mischievous adventures of Timothy (Tanner Cohen), a gay teen who is cast as the play’s lead, Puck, as he discovers a magical spell that literally turns most of his small town temporarily gay.
There’s also the part about Timothy’s unrequited crush on the school’s star rugby player, who is not out of the closet, and Timothy’s conflict with his mother, who loves him but is not ready to come to terms with his sexuality.
The film doesn’t preach: It uses sweet, gentle humor to change minds and open hearts. In the end, as the film becomes more and more surreal, and the magic of the play begins to seep out into the film’s “real” world, even the most intolerant of characters, like the school’s homophobic rugby coach, learn to accept and celebrate diversity.
Though the film was shot on a modest budget with actors you probably have never seen before, there’s nothing amateurish about it. The musical numbers are impeccably choreographed, the cast members boast beautiful singing voices and the film’s clever script flirts with Shakespeare’s play without taking it too literally… or reducing it down to the level of a real high school musical.