Call Me by Your Name, or, Let’s Get Real about the Gay


Every year one LGBTQ film ends up in award season…in other words, crossing out of the festival circuit (mostly queer festivals) into the actual theater. We’ve had these films:

  1. The Kids Are Alright (blech)
  2. The Danish Girl (blech)
  3. Blue is the Warmest Color (blech because of the sexual exploitation)
  4. Carol (blech)
  5. Moonlight (flawed structurally, but by far THE BEST. I mean BY FAR)
  6. and this year’s offering, Call Me by Your Name (blech)

For those of you not in the LGBTQ community, I’ll give you a queer perspective on these moves:

  1. The Kids Are Alright offended every lesbian I know who saw it and it make me homicidal. Of the films mentioned, it was the only one that is actually overtly homophobic–an alcoholic workaholic mom, her codependent wife who SLEEPS WITH A MAN (seriously?), and the two kids who are unhappy enough to secretly look for their sperm donor father. Yay, lesbian life. Yay the conflicted unhappy lesbian marriage and the great sex with the guy. The insider jokes about lesbianism played as homophobic in this crossover movie, and the construct of the lesbian sleeping with a man is so flat out offensive I can only say this: most of us don’t go back after discovering who we are because we don’t hate ourselves that much. And the truly bisexual and pansexual women….live pansexual and bisexual lives. BLECH to The Kids are Alright. Triple fucking BLECH! (And I’m not even going to start on the lack of chemistry between the lesbian leads.)
  2. The Danish Girl featured Eddie Redmayne playing a trans woman and I hated his performance so much, and found it so dishonest, that I didn’t make it through the whole movie. The trans community has been very vocal about having trans people plays trans characters. For a reason. BLECH.
  3. Blue is the Warmest Color told a fairly lesbian story of love, insecurity, infidelity. It was well-acted. The problem was how highly eroticized the film was, that the actresses had actual sex with each other, and that the straight male director got off on all of it (read on line articles). We basically watched a “me, too,” experience, though it took the actresses a while to admit it. SERIOUS BLECH.
  4. Carol took us back in time to lesbianism being forbidden love, and the casting was RIDICULOUS. I didn’t believe in their relationship for one hot second. I didn’t believe they knew each other well enough to love, or that they were queer enough to be hot for each other in any way. This film was written by a lesbian and I still hated it. (As for other lesbians, some of them were so grateful to have a film in which they could see their history, they forgave the above. I didn’t.) BLECH.
  5. Moonlight, a huge sigh of relief, had something to say about being queer, being African-American, being different, finding unlikely allies. The casting was very uneven, and the rewards showed that, but the film was deeply moving, and like Sean Baker, Barry Jenkins took us inside a life, rather than glossing over the experience of queer people with some friggin’ fictional erotic fantasy. I thought the transitions between the 3 sections were clunky as hell, but that is something I’ll forgive in the service of meaning and originality.
  6. Which brings us to this review: Call Me by Your Name. Guess my rating? BLECH.

My partner, who is either way less critical of movies or way more, depending on what pushes her particular buttons, says that for many gay men, Call Me by Your Name, is probably a very sensitive portrayal of coming out.

No. First of all, it has a 17 year old protagonist who has sex with a grad school student who looks like he’s 35. THIS IS ALMOST ACTIONABLE PEOPLE! Okay, maybe not in Italy–I don’t know what constitutes statutory rape in that country. So before even talking about plot or character development, let’s talk about what the movie sells–and what it sell is man/boy love. If the character of Oliver (the grad student) had been cast with an actor who looked a young 24, I wouldn’t have found it so disturbing. But casting is a large part of a film’s vision, and this vision sells me a very mature grad student, who acts, speaks and looks like a fully grown adult, having sex with a very young looking 17 year old, who looks and acts like a slightly spoiled, highly gifted but immature kid. That the character of Oliver is worried about whether what he’s doing is right only further disturbed me, because he seemed to be looking to the 17 year old Elio for validation.

We eroticize youth. The vision of film often eroticizes youth. In this film, Elio is eroticized–he’s a beautiful boy. Oliver is eroticized–he’s a beautiful man. And when they come together sexually, Elio acts like a kid in the way he touches, hugs, acts.

Seriously, boys?

Now, my partner doesn’t think the film wasn’t disturbing. She just thinks a lot of gay men will think it’s beautiful. She thinks a lesbian/gender non-conforming couple has a way different view of sexuality and love than these beautiful eroticized men.

Well, since I happen to agree with Lin Manuel Miranda that love is love is love is love, whether it’s set, as this film is, in a gorgeous part of Northern Italy, or whether it’s set in a garish strip of central Florida, I’m not feeling terribly forgiving toward this one, either.

The story is a coming out story, set in a very privileged family. And Oliver, the grad student intruder in the plot (for it is an intruder plot), is athletic, sexy, apparently into women, smart, even erudite. He looks a bit like, well, a blonde California actor or a preppie guy from Wall Street, rather than an academic, but since eroticism seems to be the highest value, and the whole film is about beauty and the body…what can I say. We never get to know Oliver. We never understand him. He doesn’t really treat Elio all that well, blowing hot and cold in his guilt. He doesn’t seem particularly moral, and though we’re told by Elio’s father that Oliver is “good,” his acts of actual kindness or goodness might number exactly one. Otherwise, he’s crude, rude and American.

Elio is more understandable…attracted to the older guy, but having sex to prove to himself…something…and using a girl his own age who is vulnerable to do it.

Basically, Elio falls for the older guy, has sex, comes out, his parents are completely cool about all of it. There’s some very loving and wise lines, but I’m not sure I believe a father in the 80’s would actually say them. They seemed more like the writer telling me what to think. They weren’t, as they too often say in writing classes, earned.

Yes, the film is beautiful. But it’s a double BLECH for me, and sorry, you can’t sell me man/boy love, in a cosmopolitan or any other context. Cast someone who doesn’t seem like a handsome, using jerk, and way too old, and maybe. I say maybe, because it’s hard sell. And one thing I’d need in the sell is some real intimacy. Some basis for connection besides physical beauty or lust.

And let me be clear: it’s not that I don’t think good queer movies are being made. Tangerine was an excellent queer movie. In TV, we have One Mississippi and Transparent (thankfully so far past Queer as Folk and the L Word). I like to believe that the mainstream world is ready for our lives, for films of meaning, like Moonlight. I hope we leave this old vision of queer lives behind us. Like, now.

 

PS–I love the poetry of the title of this movie. But, once again, it didn’t earn it. Call me by your name should be about blending, intimacy, identity. This barely scratched the surface. (Unless you think that both men using women to hide their desire for each other is enough to twin them.)

 

 

 

Advertisements

The Florida Project: Or, the best movie you didn’t see


Tangerine was the first film I saw by Sean Baker. I thought it by far the best film about the trans community, not about the transition, but about the lives of trans women on the fringe who can’t afford insurance, let alone surgery. Super low production values, super high insight and heart.

The Florida Project shows a rise in the production values, and it has a star, William Dafoe, who does a good job, though I think casting him was a mistake. Why? Because he seems like an actor and all the other actors seem to actually be the characters they are playing. Without Dafoe, the film would read as more documentary than fiction. This, in fact, is Baker’s genius: he takes us so deeply inside the lives the character are living, he removes us enough from the screenplay formula, that we deepen into the most complicated of human understanding. Of desperation, of love, of ugliness, of imprinting, of danger.

Specifically, The Florida project tells the story of Moonee, a five year old girl being raised by her very young, foul-mouthed, tattoed mother, who scraped a living together by stripping, selling bulk perfume as designer, and eventually by hooking. Moonee swears, spits, lights a fire, and is smart, inventive and adventurous. Much of the movie seems like slice of life, because the accrual of events is slow and subtle until the underlying dangers of this life become difficult to watch.

Moonee’s mom, Hallee, isn’t likeable per say, but she is made utterly understandable. In Tangerine, you can’t write off the trans women as tranny hookers; in The Florida Project you can’t write off the young mom as a white trash stripper. And yet they live the fringe lives they live, barely subsisting, imperfect in their connections, and yet…connected.

Honestly, Sean Baker makes every other filmmaker this year look utterly superficial. His vision is at once brutally honest and utterly compassionate. He has something to say, and he says it with subtlety and care. Some of the shots are a little stylized, but they so effectively underscored and communicated the meaning of what he was revealing (often about the nature of childhood…any childhood), I ended up liking them…and I hate stylization for its own sake, in which the filmmaker is showing us how clever he is.

I believe what Richard Linklater said is true–if you want innovation, if you want an original vision, don’t look to Hollywood. Look to independent films.

I can’t recommend this one highly enough. I’m going to watch everything else Baker has ever done.

Molly’s Game: Sorkin’s Feminism or what?


Let’s start with what we know. Aaron Sorkin writes to the liberal sweet spot. Morality tales of the good versus the ego-driven, the corrupt, the addicted. There’s always the “one good man,” who is somehow tortured, often by his father’s early treatment. (Think Jed Bartlett.) There is always a challenge to the integrity of this man. There are always supporting characters, many of whom are actually more moral than the protagonist. We on the left love these tales of trying to do right, the fight between our own best angels and worst demons. And when right triumphs…as it does, so often in Sorkin, as evil is paid back, sometimes in Sorkin, we rejoice and wish to live in this world.

What else do we know? Well, female protagonists are the rage. And Hollywood operates on trends, so this current trend may ride high and die rather than change anything, especially if men ride on and shape the trend.

We also know that Sorkin has never written a decent female protagonist, or a portrait of marriage or intimacy that resembles anything like, well, marriage or intimacy.

Enter Molly’s Game. Any intelligent writer is going to play to his strengths, so Sorkin chose a bio-pic in which this time it’s a good woman tortured by her relationship with a dominating father. He leaves the mother/daughter relationship almost completely alone, leaves the sisterhood and complexity of female relationships almost completely alone, and places his one good woman in the company of corrupt and addicted, even violent, men. His ability to probe her psyche is so limited that he resorts to two lazy writer crutches: constant use of voiceover and a psychiatrist father that gives his daughter a 3 minute session that changes her understanding of her life and her relationship with him.

Seriously?

Don’t get me wrong. Sorkin is writing to the same liberal sweet spot he always does, and we on the left are certainly tempted to take comfort in that, even if the FBI’s disregard of constitutional rights and the piggy-backing of the IRS on that disregard is nothing short of terrifying, considering the world in which we live. It’s a fast-paced (in spite of voiceover) movie. It’s not terrible. And it has Idris Elba, for whom I would seriously change teams, so there is that.

But let’s go beyond the usual liberal sweet spot into what’s truly disturbing about this movie and about Hollywood.

Men are writing female protagonists, and they are placing them in a male world, with little to no understanding of women’s lives. Molly Bloom–oh the irony of that name, given James Joyce’s fascination with a female character that never resulted in a true understanding of anything female–doesn’t reveal anything about women. She uses her wits, cunning and beauty to make a lot of money, but Sorkin doesn’t understand the cost of this, or the cost of the constant sexual offers, or the struggle to hold one’s own in this world. And then, when Molly gets beaten up, it’s not at all sexual. NOT. AT. ALL. The guy doesn’t even seem to get off on it. And you know, I just don’t believe that. Not in the world of “me, too.”

Molly’s Game is not a feminist movie. It foregrounds only one female character, and explores nothing about women’s lives, relationships (she doesn’t have a single boyfriend the 12 years the movie covers, let alone serious friendships with other women). How, then, can Sorkin still be the voice for the liberal sweet spot? His morality is getting a little boring for this viewer, and the use of voiceover to cover missing character development (including an addictive progression) is RIDICULOUS. Maybe we’re growing past what he has to offer.

Of course, Hollywood is not a place in which ideas like cultural appropriation really get air time. But this movie is gender appropriation, and the writer–and make no mistake, the writing is always the star in Sorkin, because it’s words, words, words, flying at you all the time, when the image could speak for itself if he’d let it–has been ridiculously lazy in his research about women, their lives, their psyches, how they feel and what they want. (Incidentally, there are courses on line on how to write a good female protagonist, and none of them challenge the idea that a one size fits all will never do what we need, which is to tell women’s stories in women’s voices and in artistic structures men haven’t invented.)

So my problem is this–while Molly’s Game isn’t a terrible movie in and of itself, it is, above all things, a hypocritical movie by a man with so much ego he glorifies his own writing in the use of voiceover and doesn’t do the intellectual work his own politics should require that he do. Because the liberal sweet spot should include feminism 101, shouldn’t it?

I know, I should be more tolerant, and the making of Wonder Woman (a woman surrounded by men after the first maybe 20 minutes…and, yes, written by a woman, but who cares), of the new Star Wars (best of the bunch, but still no real understanding), of the upcoming Ocean’s 8, must be steps toward something, right?

No. They are a danger. Men have written about women throughout history without understanding women…let alone queer women and women of color. Movies that offer women characters that are distorted by the male eye, or are men in women’s clothing (think Hemingway), are a false offering. For years I’ve read almost exclusively female, queer and authors of color in order to educate my own eye, and in order to not go feral crazy. I may take it upon myself to do the same with film. Because a film or tv series produced, written and directed by a woman about a woman tells a different story, comes from a different eye, and holds a much deeper understanding. Of the fact that women aren’t like men. (Oh, for the feminism of Fay Weldon and the UK, which is self-critical as well as critical of the patriarchy. Even Caryl Churchill writes about the wrong turn feminism makes when women think equality consists of being like men in a men’s world.)

Molly’s Game? Wait until it’s on Netflix if you’re hungry for the old Sorkin liberal sweet spot. And watch The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel now instead. It’s truly subversive in so many ways. And the writing’s better, the characters way deeper and more idiosynchratic. The morality is way more subtle and challenging. And it’s WRITTEN BY A WOMAN.

Sorry, Aaron. Grow more deeply into your obsessions and tell more of the truth. Like, write a main character who doesn’t understand women or intimacy, becomes aware of this, and learns to, and I’ll buy a ticket.

 

Moving Insanity


We’re having one of those times. You know, when we look at 20+ places to find a temporary living situation, and the paperwork to Canada keeps getting lost in the mail, and our jobs are the most stressful they’ve been, well, ever, and the people that say they want our furniture continually renege, and we’re throwing away so much stuff it’s like having our life histories stripped away.

Until there we are, looking at each other.

Each morning, we get up, she takes a shower while I either groan, sleep or play with social media. And then we meet in the living room, where we do 10 minutes of yoga stretching, followed by 10 minutes of meditation, followed by a brief share on where we are, and then we just stare into each other’s eyes for 3 solid minutes. I’m not kidding. We call it present time. We make each other the object of our waking meditation. If we zone out, we close our eyes until we can zone back in.

I am hanging onto these times in the morning, when I see my partner, when I feel her beside me, moving her body, groaning about the strains from shoveling, when I listen to her, when I focus only on me. when I say metta.

We keep catching our own insanity. This is what meditation does. And every time one of us catches ourselves taking shit out on the other person, or leaving the sense of teamwork, and comes back in, trust builds back from all the terrible moves culminating in this, the worst move of all, except for the us of us.

I told my partner the other day that I married her so I could watch that bowlegged walk she does for the rest of my life.

We are dropping out of the known into some other thing. We know not what.

I have thrown away so much stuff! So that I feel unburdened and untethered. I have thrown away copies of manuscripts, I have donated books I love, I have given away clothes…sometimes it physically hurt.

Then I look at this person. See her. 30 years, we’ll have on June 8. We watched our wedding video yesterday. We are truly not those people any more. She has a different gender identity. I have a different name. Those 30 year olds were gorgeous. And we are wise, and love with a knowledge of everything it take to love and break, and rebuild, over and over.

I am beginning to admit that I might not change anything, even though I’ve screwed up so badly at times that I myself find it hard to believe.

I let go. Of everything else. But me. And her.

With no idea what’s coming.

I wrote a short novel about love and grace in our times. You can read it for free on Amazon until March 11.


Saint John the Divine in Iowa, my screenplay that won the Meryl Streep-funded Writers Lab, told the story of an Episcopal Priest fighting to balance the needs of her congregation and her gay daughter. Priest Kid tells the daughter’s story…of having a mother who’s a saint, but who loves humanity as much as she loves her. It’s about good people, about hope and politics in families, about redemption. If you want a break from hate, as I do, this is the story.

Priest Kid

Screen shot 2017-03-08 at 1.45.34 PM

The Gender Thing


As I watched the Oscars…and how could I not watch, wondering how many people would include the new administration in their speeches?…and as I listened to the creators of Moonlight talk about representation, about the need for queer youth of color to see themselves, to know they have a place, I started thinking about straight women, and this gathering in which straight women, all white, all at least middle class, spoke to their common pool of understanding about Hillary Clinton.

Of course, it’s not my common pool, even though I understand the basic liberal thinking.

And I thought, watching the Oscars, as I thought at that gathering, that the truth is that gender non-conforming is at the heart of being queer. That’s why trans people are so radical to the binary straight. That’s what a gathering of straight people often won’t get…I’m standing here, not just different in who I love, but different, essentially, in my stance in the world and my experience of my own gender.

And think, what the straight world needs most to learn IS this non-conformity. The binary leaves men stranded on the island of “I-can-never-be-weak.” It leaves women focused on the male gaze…in ways so deep we can’t even see it ourselves.

I love being queer so much. I love how it saved me, how it set me free, in my very young loneliness, to think my own different thoughts, to struggle through to my own identity, even though it was hard, and troubled….and, of course, hurtful to face prejudice time and again. I have three sisters, and I cannot explain how much deeper the track of our mother’s and father’s lives burrowed into them.

And maybe someone would say that’s not because they’re straight. But that someone would not be me.

To be in this world unencumbered by our own conditioning…or, as the Buddhists say, to witness it, and therefore to release ourselves from its power…

Queer is a way to get there. Gratefully. We don’t just need to represent. We need to teach.

 

 

The No Language Vlog


This vlog could be a response to so many things:

1. The election.
2. The election.
3. My determination to move to Canada because of the election.
4. Realtors coming through our home yesterday and today.
5. Looking at an apartment that is more expensive and half the size of our condo.
6. My stupid coach making me do at least one vlog every week.
7. Me being a type A who has to meet every friggin deadline.
8. The hormones that finally arrived in the mail haven’t kicked in yet.