Reeling: The 41st Chicago LGBTQ+ International Film Festival kicks off Sept. 21. As is our annual tradition at Windy City Times, writer Steve Warren took a look at a few of the festival highlights this year. See reelingfilmfest.org for more information.
BEST OF FEST (***1/2):
LIE WITH ME
Sept. 23, 7 p.m.
I can't imagine any closeted gay watching Lie with Me and not coming out. It will leave the rest of us feeling better than ever about our decision.
Lie with Me is the sad tale of a man who lived and died in the closet, told through the eyes of his secret high school sweetheart, an openly gay author who returns after 35 years to their French hometown of Cognac for the bicentennial of the famous brandy named for its birthplace.
The story is told in the trendy then-and-now back-and-forth style I often find annoying, but director and co-writer Olivier Peyon employs it perfectly. Stéphane Belcourt (Guillaume de Tonquédec, a Nathan Lane type) has become famous writing stories about Cognac, often fictionalizing his own experiences. As a nerdy 17-year-old (Jérémy Gillet), he was chosen by popular hunk Thomas Andrieu (Julien De Saint Jean) for gay sex that had to be kept secret. They couldn't even be seen together, but at least one of them fell in love. In the present Stéphane meets Lucas (Victor Belmondo), Thomas' son, and they learn things from each other about the man they knew at different times. If Reeling doesn't sell cognac at the concession stand at this screening, they're missing a chance to finance next year's festival in advance.
STUDIO ONE FOREVER
Sept. 23, 2:45 p.m.
This documentary about what is hyperbolically called "the very first disco" has its flaws, and I'd have to take them into account if I were on an award committee; but as a viewer of a certain age I was caught up in happy memories of the disco era and sad ones of the AIDS years, and I could forgive a lot.
Scott Forbes opened Studio One in West Hollywood in 1974. This was after Stonewall and the movement was in motion, but gays were still being hassled by police, even in Los Angeles. Studio One quickly became a hot spot where we could be ourselves and dance with each other, even doing drugs openly. Soon the Backlot was opened upstairs; it was a cabaret that attracted name performers, who in turn attracted allies, including straight and closeted celebrities, to see them.
The film was inspired when a developer bought the property in 2018 with plans to demolish the legendary, long-shuttered nightspot. About half a dozen men who used to co-own or work at Studio One offer their memories. Photos show how they've changed in 40 years or so, unlike singers Julie Budd and Roslyn Kind, who look younger today than when they performed at the Backlot. (Obviously Botox is their drug of choice.) Chita Rivera and Thelma Houston have aged more naturally. The stories, clips and photos often seem too random, but I guess our thoughts weren't always well organized in the disco days. Studio One Forever will be a source of memories for some generations and a history lesson for others. I'm glad they made it and glad I saw it.
Sept. 24, 2:30 p.m.
The wrong expectations can ruin your enjoyment of a film. That Big Boys won director Corey Sherman the Best First Feature award at this year's Frameline festival in San Francisco and now is in Reeling could make you expect it to be wrapped in rainbows from beginning to end. Billing it as a comedy will make you expect more than a handful of mild chuckles.
Big Boys isn't funny. It could evoke more tears than laughter from gay men as it unfolds, stirring memories of their own coming out. Jamie (Isaac Krasner) is a 14-year-old virgin who's not sure what he wants. He goes on a weekend camping trip with his older brother Will (Taj Cross), their 20-something cousin Allie (Dora Madison) and her boyfriend Dan (David Johnson III). Jamie's attraction to Dan is subtly hinted at but Big Boys is nearly half over before the youth starts having outright gay fantasies. Things play out from there, mostly in believable fashionsometimes painfully believable for some of us. A few shorts prepared Sherman to avoid many novice mistakes in delivering a polished film with fine performances from his mostly unfamiliar actors. Because Krasner's not a traditional leading man type, I'm sure people are writing scripts tailored to him at this moment.
Sept. 26, 9 p.m.
Everybody wants to make a man of Jake Wong (Cardi Wong). His father, a former high school basketball star, trains Jake in the driveway to force him to follow in his footsteps. Valerie (Parmiss Sehat), Jake's girlfriend of two years, wants to have sex, but he's made her agree to wait a year until they graduate and can move in together. Ronald (Jesse Hyde), captain of the school basketball team, bullies Jake mercilessly.
Aleks (Chris Carson), a new neighbor and classmate, can help Jake with all three problems. He coaches him effectively, stands up to Ronald, andwell, he's openly gay so Jake may have options. The movie's almost half over before Jake begins exploring those options in what I found to be the most arousing scene in years.
The Wongs have other issues. Jake's older sister Janet is in cooking school, but their mother hates working in the family's Chinese restaurant of the title and warns the girl to stay out of the business. This leads to bigger problems between the parents. If all that sounds like melodrama, it is; but it doesn't begin to feel like it in a bad way until well into the second half, and by then we're really caring about at least some of the characters. The first feature by skilled director Jason Karman, Golden Delicious is a workout for the cast, especially Wong, who goes through every emotion a human can in one crisis after another, and makes us believe them all.
A BIG GAY HAIRY HIT! WHERE THE BEARS ARE: THE DOCUMENTARY
Sept. 27, 9 p.m.
If you're into bearsI'm not, but that doesn't mean they or I are bad peopleyou've probably seen the seven-season (2011-2017) YouTube sensation "Where the Bears Are." I haven't, but I'm looking forward to catching up after enjoying Eduardo Aquino's film about the series and its creators, Ben Zook, Joe Dietl and Rick Copp.
They were all in their late forties, getting what work they could in Hollywood, when a conversation in a Palm Springs hot tub led to them creating their own series, conceived as "Golden Girls meets Murder, She Wrote with big, hairy gay men." A comedy, of course, but designed "to serve an underserved community." They financed the first season themselves, and it was a surprise hit that made enough money (through DVD sales) to pay for a second. They raised nearly $800,000 through Kickstarter to pay for the other five seasons.
This documentary includes clips from the show and behind-the-scenes shots that show how much fun they had making it. They also look back on those good times, as do members of their crew, co-star Ian Parks and other actors who were in the show, including Tuc Watkins and Brooke Dillman. The millions of registered views indicate they're not the only ones who had fun, and this making-of film is sure to boost that number considerably.