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United we’re bland
Has the Boston Gay & Lesbian Film/Video Festival settled down?
The 20th Annual Gay & Lesbian Film/Video Festival
At the Museum of Fine Arts through May 23

Equal opportunity, freedom from oppression, and now marriage: gays and lesbians just want the same rights as everyone else. But does that mean that they have to make the same movies as everyone else? Wedding bells may be ringing in the near Massachusetts future, but gay filmmaking, if the MFA’s 20th Boston Gay & Lesbian Film/Video Festival is any indication, has already settled down.

It’s only fair to point out that some of the films purported to be the best or the edgiest weren’t available for pre-screening. Those promising and unseen entries include Wild Side (2003; May 16 at 7 p.m.), from Sébastien Lifshitz, whose Come Undone was a standout in the 2001 festival, and first-time Irish director David Gleeson’s Cowboys and Angels (2003; May 20 at 8 p.m.). What remains. however, hardly sets the screen on fire. With a few notable exceptions, this year’s selections have been pleasantly domesticated.

Of course, any assimilation of gays into the mainstream is in itself subversive. In Abigail Honor’s Saints and Sinners (2004; May 15 at 3:45 p.m.), two persons initiate a process that thousands of Catholic couples undergo every year. They want to get married in a church with a priest. The problem is that Eddie and Vinnie are men. Big surprise: the New York archdiocese won’t cooperate, so in the end Eddie and Vinnie settle for an Episcopal church and an ex-priest. The suspense builds as they take their vows, meanwhile wondering whether the family and friends gathered, many of them traditional Catholics with reservations about the union, will rise and take Communion. And will the New York Times print an announcement of their wedding, the first same-sex Catholic nuptials? Saints and Sinners touches gently on familiar issues of hypocrisy, prejudice, and the power of love, but it seems less a documentary than a wedding video.

Richard Day’s Straight-Jacket (2004; May 23 at 7 p.m.), which he adapted from his own play, celebrates both a gay wedding and the candy-colored cinema of the ’50s. Guy Stone (Matt Letscher, more Bob Crane than Rock Hudson) melts the hearts of women and men with his hunky heroes on screen; off screen, he’s vapid, vain, and insatiably gay. When a tabloid photographs him being escorted by the police from a compromising establishment, his manager, Jerry (Veronica Cartwright, more Rose Marie than Thelma Ritter), concocts a scheme in which he reasserts his straight credentials by marrying ditzy superfan Sally (Carrie Preston, more Carol Burnett than Doris Day). The dialogue snaps occasionally, and a subplot involving the blacklist adds some depth, but the Frank Tashlin–like Technicolor cinematography and the winking anachronisms can’t overcome the film’s staginess.

Another screwball soufflé, with generous helpings of crude humor, falls flat in Q. Allan Brocka’s Eating Out (2004; May 22 at 8:15 p.m., with the director present). Straight Caleb (Scott Lunsford as Clint Eastwood under anæsthesia) is having trouble getting the babes. Gay roommate Kyle (Jim Verraros) claims that the chicks hit on him all the time and that if Caleb pretended to be gay, he’d score. So Caleb plays up to Marc (Ryan Carnes, who’s like Brad Pitt’s irritating kid brother), on whom Kyle has a crush, to get into the pants of Gwen (Emily Stiles, a cruder Cameron Diaz), Marc’s "fag-hag" roommate. Maybe if Oscar Wilde had written it, this hooey could have been fun, or if the characters had been less crass and superficial. There’s a phone-sex ménage-a-trois whose tenderness makes the sex genuinely erotic; still, you’d have more fun eating out than watching this movie.

It hardly needs saying that the mismatched couples in Brocka’s film get sorted out and headed to the happy ending of marriage (gay, straight, whatever). Less resolved are the lives of sons and daughters who realize from an early age that they are gay and wonder how they will break the news to the rest of the world, starting with their parents, or whether they even should. That might seem an appropriate subject for a documentary, but you wouldn’t know it from Swedish filmmaker Cecilia Neant-Falk’s Don’t You Worry, It Will Probably Pass (2003; May 22 at 5 p.m.), a pointless profile of three Swedish teenage girls who are blessed by unquestioning and supportive parents and more or less accepting peer groups. If they nonetheless dramatize their situation, that’s because they’re typical adolescents: moody, immature, self-pitying, hyper-romantic, and uncertain of their identity. Neant-Falk tarts up the self-important banalities with arty montages of archival footage, home videos taken by the kids themselves, and blurred images of lovemaking women reminiscent of softcore porn.

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Issue Date: May 14 - 20, 2004
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