Sunday, October 26, 2008

SLGFF 2008 #7 - A Steamy wrap-up

Several of the movies I saw at the fest this year had a theme of Gays and Religion, including Testimony, Save Me, and now Equality U. However, unlike films of the past that seemed testy, hostile, and defensive towards organized religion and the (in)tolerance of gays, these new films all seem to be taking a breather and reaching across the divide in favor of discussion rather than arguing. (Send that message to politicians!)

Equality U (6/8) is a documentary that follows a group of young, mostly 20-something Christians as they take a bus tour across and all around the United States, visiting religious-based colleges and universities that all have explicit policies on the books banning homosexual students. For instance, televangelist Jerry Falwell once said he'd rather have the college he founded, Liberty University, burn to the ground than allow homosexuals. The Equality Ride visited about 20 of the 200 schools with anti-gay rules in order to start a discussion and dialogue. Most students wanted to at least talk, but it was the schools' administrations that were most afraid of dialogue, some literally locking their students inside... and the Equality Riders out. The film never stoops to judge harshly the religions involved, but instead condemns the schools and their leaders for destroying the lives of some of the students that they rejected.

My next film was a domestic drama from France, The New World (Le Nouveau Monde) (4/8), a well-meaning but honestly a bit dull lesbian drama. Lucie and Marion are a lesbian couple that decide they want a baby. Or at least Lucie does, and she wants to get pregnant the "old-fashioned way"—no strangers, no sperm banks, just a friendly donation from someone they both agree upon. Well, they find that generous fellow in an old friend of Marion's. He says he'll be scarce, but once the child is born, his fathering instinct kicks in and he feels part of the family... and Marion, increasingly, does not. I liked the emphasis of Marion's isolation from the biological family unit, but overall the film was slow (even at 70 minutes!) and kind of rambling.

The final weekend featured the 3-story dramedy Steam (5/8) as the fest's second Centerpiece. I'll bet most people who saw the film were excited to see Ally Sheedy again (looking completely adorable and healthy again, as a start contrast to her emaciated High Art self). Alas, ladies, she does not play a lesbian. She is a 40-something single mom who has an affair with her young son's hottie, corn-fed, 20-something football coach, much to the shock and disgust of her ex-husband (who has a young trophy wife himself)... and to the shock and delight of her best friend (played by the bluntly hilarious Chelsea Handler).

The lesbian third of the story involves a young hottie college student (Kate Siegel) who hesitates only half a second before embarking on an affair with a sexy bisexual classmate (Reshma Shetty). Girlfriend is a feminist revolutionary, and forgets to mention that she is bisexual (guess how that is discovered). Our main girl decides to fight the power anyways, much to the disgust of her stereotypically uptight rich white parents. This whole plot felt very cliched, and was (unfortunately for this audience) the least interesting of the bunch.

Leave it to the incomparable Ruby Dee to save the third segment. She plays a widow that struggles with moving on with her life until she meets and befriends a charming widower (the lovely Dick Anthony Williams) who relentlessly courts her until she invites him for dinner. Alas, when she finally meets his adult son and his family, things don't quite go so well.

Despite the fine acting in 2/3rds of the film, Steam doesn't have enough oomph to be really memorable or unique. The three leads are supposedly linked by the fact that they all go to a community steam room to unwind, but it is never really explored. And, by the end, you are just left at the end with a "huh" rather than a "wow!" Still, not a bad way to end the fest (for me at least). [Sorry, Elvira, I just couldn't maintain momentum to see you on Closing Night!]

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