This week in queer cinema
In this column, we highlight films that have directly or indirectly inspired the most cherished and popular movies of contemporary cinema.
We will discuss the antecedents of a popular movie in a reversed chronological order – working backwards through film history. In honor of Pride Week, we will do Lisa Chodolenko’s The Kids are All Right.
The Kids are Alright is an affecting, funny and amazingly acted movie about a married lesbian couple in SoCal whose teenage children seek out and try to connect with their biological father, Paul (played by one of the best character actors, Mark Ruffalo).
0As Paul becomes an increasingly larger presence in his children’s lives, he disrupts the stability of the family and challenges the couple’s perceptions of gender roles, sexuality, and family.
The Kids Are All Right comes from a tradition of films that calls into question – either explicitly or implicitly – the strict definitions of sexual attraction and gender that dominate conventional thinking.
Transamerica is a movie that instructs viewers to look beneath surface appearances. The ostensible genre that Transamerica belongs to is the road-trip movie.
The main character–a transsexual woman (transitioning from male to female)–drives with her long-lost son across the country from New York to L.A. Looking closer, Transamerica works as a coming-of age story, a father-son story, a mother-son story and a comedy of errors.
With intelligence, humor, and honesty, this movie explores how trans-sexuality affects not only individuals but the families and communities they belong to.
Chasing Amy (1997)
Directed by Kevin Smith (the director of the Clerks series, Mallrats, etc), Chasing Amy is a hilarious movie with an utterly candid approach to sexuality that challenges the bro-comedy of most mainstream comedy films (not to mention pretty much every other movie Smith has made).
Two successful comic book writers (played by Ben Affleck and Jason Lee, who is incredible in this movie) have their friendship tested when Affleck falls for a funny, beautiful graphic novelist.
The hitch? She’s a lesbian. Smith throws in his usual hilarious pop-culture riffing with a heartfelt love story that defies conventional notions of sexuality. After Chasing Amy, you will never look at a “bromance” in the same way.
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)
In this Australian film, three drag queens travel across the Australian Outback in a crappy tour bus that they dub “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.” Along the way, their bus breaks down, they face homophobia and violence, and deal with loss.
But make no mistake – this is a frequently hilarious, deliberately campy movie that is a lot of fun to watch. The movie manages to explore heavy thematic material like tolerance and compromise without an ounce of pretension.
Some Like it Hot (1959)
Directed by the prolific Billy Wilder, and starring comedic superstars Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon alongside the larger-than-life Marilyn Monroe, this groundbreaking comedy plays with gender notions in a hilarious, upbeat way, playfully transcending the stodgy gender structures of the 1950s.
The film’s two main characters, two speak-easy jazz band players portrayed by Curtis and Lemmon, witness a brutal mafia crime and must cross-dress in order to flee south with an all-girl band. When one of the guys, posing as a girl, falls for Marilyn Monroe, hilarity ensues.
The movie takes all the classic, wretched gender norms and flips them inside out in a witty and enlightening way.
A Florida Enchantment (1914)
This silent film has been canonized as the first lesbian movie.
An upper-class Yankee woman takes a magical seed and becomes a male, transforming from Lillian Travers into Lawrence Talbot.
Critical consensus calls this transformation the rise of the butch lesbian.
While the themes and the sexual alignments are sometimes muted and muddled, it’s an extremely interesting film to explore, one which will surely inspire debate.