Worth a ‘Damn’

By on July 18, 2018

A preview of several features from the 2018 Damn These Heels LGBT Film Festival

This weekend marks the Utah Film Center’s annual Damn These Heels LGBTQ Film Festival. We think it’s decidedly worth the drive from Jackson. But if the open road hasn’t come a-calling, here are capsule reviews of several of the feature films that you can view on your own time.


1985: The words “gay” and “AIDS” are never spoken, but their significance hangs heavy over this restrained drama from writer/director Yen Tan. Adrian Lester (Cory Michael Smith), a 20-something man, travels from his new home in New York to his family home in Fort Worth, Texas, to spend Christmas 1985 with his conservative Christian parents (Michael Chiklis and Virginia Madsen) and younger brother, who don’t know he’s gay. As easy as it might have been to turn this into a melodrama full of shouting and recriminations, Tan opts for a kind of mournful silence through black-and-white cinematography and authentically awkward conversations. The tone and performances might have benefited from slightly more energy, but there’s still so much that’s communicated through one long two-shot of a father and son who barely know how to talk to one another.


Close-Knit: The narrative arc feels familiar, but writer/director Naoko Ogigami builds enough grace notes into it that the emotional connections come together. Rin Kakihara plays Tomo, an 11-year-old girl whose single mother takes off with a boyfriend, leaving Tomo to stay with her uncle Makio (Kenta Kiritani) and Makio’s live-in girlfriend, a trans woman named Rinko (Tôma Ikuta). Ogigami makes Rinko a bit too much of a saintly character—she works as a hospice nurse on top of her surrogate mothering of Tomo—and there’s not much doubt about where the specific turns of the story will lead. But individual character moments are gentle and heartfelt, as Ogigami explores a variety of different mother-child relationships and how those mothers live out their responsibilities. Tomo and Rinko communicating via cups and a string might be old-fashioned, but at least it’s communicating.


Ideal Home: There’s a minimum threshold of comedic enjoyment you’re going to get out of anything starring Steve Coogan and Paul Rudd, but it’s a shame they’re propping up a plot that already seems quaint and dated. Coogan plays Erasmus Brumble, a cooking-and-lifestyle TV show host whose contentious relationship with his producer/boyfriend Paul (Rudd) is complicated by the arrival of the grandson (Jack Gore) Erasmus didn’t know he had, in need of a home after his dad is jailed. Coogan’s in his wheelhouse playing a self-absorbed minor celebrity, stealing a bit of the jokey thunder while Rudd plays non-straight straight man amiably. But their relationship with their unexpected child too rarely feels like more than a set-up for the well-intentioned notion that “see, gay parents can be good parents, too.” The closing-credits shots of same-sex-parented families only emphasizes that this is a nice idea served in an easily digestible wrapper.

Mr. Gay Syria: Director Ayşe Toprak’s documentary explores the unique dynamics of being gay in a repressive culture in a way that also underlines hard truths about the way we think of immigrants and refugees. The focus is on Husein Sabat, a Syrian refugee living in Istanbul, who becomes the expatriate representative in the Mr. Gay World pageant, partly to draw attention to the unique plight of gay Syrians. Toprak finds compelling material in Husein’s double-life—remaining closeted to his parents, even being married with a young daughter—and the fear of violence that drove him from his home. We also see, through Husein and other secondary stories, the challenges of being unwanted anywhere, whether it’s because of nationality or because of sexual orientation, as anxious nations refuse people entry or asylum. It’s a narrative that puts a face on the way that going to a new country can be a matter of life or death.

About Scott Renshaw

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