Pride month in LA is all about the festival and parade, of course, but it’s also an exciting time for LGBT movie lovers as it’s also now a tradition that several new queer-centric film releases come our way in June, this year starting with a trio of titles coming out this week.
“Discreet” (opening June 1) – From writer/director Travis Mathews comes this brooding thriller about a drifter named Alex (Jonny Mars), who copes with the trauma of his childhood sexual abuse through online-guided meditation – and by finding furtive, anonymous hookups with closeted men in the adult stores and seedy motels of rural Texas. When he discovers that his abuser (Bob Swaffar) is still alive, he enlists an unsuspecting local teen (Jordan Elsass) to aid him in a sinister plan for revenge.
A meditation on the deadly consequences of internalized homophobia, Mathews’ film is a look into a closeted lifestyle in which the most meaningful encounters must always be “discreet.” Constructed in fragmented scenes, it eschews detailed depiction in favor of an impressionistic approach which only gives us glimpses of the ugly secrets at its core. It leaves much to the imagination – too much, perhaps, for viewers who prefer more concrete narratives – but this is by design; it’s more of a mood piece, meant to envelop the viewer in the disconnected darkness of its deeply damaged central character and evoke the jarring rhythms of his isolated existence.
Though it manages to disturb without relying on graphic horror, the film is more successful at generating chills through political allegory – much of its unsettling tone is derived almost subliminally from the right-wing radio show that plays whenever Alex is in his van. This undercurrent of extremist hatred seems to connect directly to the grim events of the story, turning “Discreet” into a disturbing portrait of “alt-right” America and the mentality that gave rise to the Age of Trump.
“The Fabulous Allan Carr” (VOD, June 5) – Jeffrey Schwarz – who has given us profiles of such gay icons as Vito Russo, Tab Hunter, and Divine – returns with a documentary about the self-made impresario and producer who rose from midwestern obscurity to glamorous Hollywood success before falling spectacularly from grace. Relying on the usual mixture of archival footage and on-camera interviews with friends and associates, it presents us with a portrait of a man whose love for the escapist fantasy of Hollywood combined with his life-of-the-party personality to propel him to the heights of professional success.
Particularly interesting are the talk show clips revealing the ‘70s scenester at his flamboyant best, and the lengthy segment detailing his failure as producer of the Academy Awards – highlighting that notorious opening number that paired Snow White with Rob Lowe for a song-and-dance tribute to Old Hollywood. However, though Schwarz manages to generate some empathy for Carr, he can never quite overcome the inescapable shallowness of his subject’s persona. A showman who built his career on glitz and glamour, and seemed incapable of understanding why “Can’t Stop The Music” wasn’t as big a hit as “Grease,” Carr was the epitome of style over substance – and as result, the movie leaves the same inconsequential impression as the man himself.
Still, it’s a fun trip down memory lane; full of the sights and sounds of the hedonistic ‘70s scene of which Carr made sure he was an integral part, and deep-diving into the campy delights of the work he produced, the documentary is certainly a crowd-pleaser. Schwarz is a master of blending information with entertainment, and his approach is a perfect complement to the story he is telling here. “The Fabulous Allan Carr” may not be the director’s most satisfying work, but it’s definitely worth an evening spent watching on your couch.
“Hearts Beat Loud” (opening June 8): In the Brooklyn neighborhood of Red Hook, Frank Fisher (Nick Offerman) – a middle-aged widower whose once-successful record store is failing – has music in his blood. It’s a love he shares with his soon-to-be-college-bound daughter, Sam (Kiersey Clemons), and, hoping to cement his connection to her before her eminent departure, he coaxes her to record a song during their weekly “jam” session and secretly uploads it to Spotify. When it unexpectedly develops a following, Frank sees it as a chance to finally realize his lifelong dreams of musical success; but Sam, despite a blossoming relationship with her new girlfriend Rose (Sasha Lane), is anxious to leave Brooklyn and pursue her own dreams – which do not involve being in a band with her father.
Directed by Brett Haley (who also co-wrote with Marc Basch), this charming indie dramedy concentrates on character more than plot, exploring the relationship between father and daughter as they navigate the changes in their respective lives. Their dreams both bring them together and pull them apart – and while there is never much doubt that the bond between them will survive the challenge, their journey together is engaging. The film also scores points for its portrayal of the romance between Sam and Rose; never sensationalized or used as a point of conflict, their sexuality is merely a condition of the story – a model of positive LGBTQ inclusion in an onscreen narrative.
The always-watchable Offerman gives a characteristically fine performance, and the talented Clemons impresses as much with her powerful singing voice as with her acting; their chemistry together is perfect, making for a convincing and satisfying father-and-daughter team. Also starring Ted Danson, Toni Colette, and Blythe Danner, “Hearts Beat Loud” is a worthy date-night addition to your Pride month schedule.
In addition to these, here are some upcoming titles to look for later in the month, with more information to come:
“Alex Strangelove”: a new gay teen rom-com Netflix is dropping for Pride month (June 8).
“Between the Shades”: a documentary about the power of labels in the LGBTQI community (Special screening at TCL Chinese Theater, June 11).
“A Kid Like Jake”: Jim Parsons and Clare Danes in a story about two parents and their gender non-conforming four-year-old (Opening June 15)
“Alone in the Game”: an inspiring documentary profiling out LGBTQ pro athletes (premiering on Direct TV, June 28).