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    Coming-of-Age Films at Frameline41

    By Gary M. Kramer

    This year’s Frameline Film Festival opens June 15, with a screening of The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin, a documentary on the local author, and concludes June 25 with a screening of After Louie, a drama starring Alan Cumming as a man who experiences romance years after his lover passed. In between there are more than one hundred shorts, features, and documentaries that celebrate and explore issues of LGBTQ life.

    There are several examples of that festival staple—the coming-of-age film—playing at this year’s Frameline. Times have changed, thankfully, and these changes are reflected in the festival’s offerings. Queer youth are more accepted these days. There is less attention paid to the struggle to come out, and more to generating self-worth once out. Here are several highlights (and lowlights) playing the festival that address issues of love, sex, and heartbreak for characters old and young, as well as fictional and real.

    Handsome Devil

    Frameline gives audiences another chance to see the fabulous Irish import Handsome Devil (June 17, 1:30 pm, Victoria; June 20, 9:15 pm, Victoria) by openly gay writer/director John Butler. This crowd-pleaser has two boarding school roommates, the wiry, red-headed Ned (Fionn O’Shea) and the athletic Conor (Nicholas Galitzine) learning more about each other—and about themselves—as their friendship is tested by outside forces. If the film puts a not-exactly unexpected twist on the familiar coming out/coming-of-age story, it nevertheless presents, with humor and grace, gratifying messages about pride, shame, and tolerance.

    Just Charlie (June 17, 1:15 pm, Roxie) is a well-meaning and even-handed British film about Charlie (Harry Gilby), a teenage boy with a promising football (soccer) career. Charlie, however, would much rather wear heels than cleats; he wants to express himself as a girl. When his father Paul (Scot Williams) discovers Charlie in make-up, he blows up, worried that his son is thwarting his chances at a football career and a better life. Charlie’s mom, Susan (Patricia Potter), is far more understanding and supportive. She encourages Charlie in her difficult decisions to play football on a girls’ team, and even to attend school in female clothing, despite the drama that entails. Just Charlie addresses how family, friends, and strangers react poorly to Charlie’s gender expression as well as how some folks come to accept her as she is. The film can’t help but be preachy as it takes a pretty skin-deep treatment to the issues it raises, including family estrangement and violence towards people in the trans community. That said, Just Charlie could be useful to young viewers, were it not for the considerable profanity.

    Dating My Mother

    Dating My Mother (June 16, 4:00 pm, Castro; June 24, 4:00 pm, Victoria) is writer/director Mike Roma’s slight coming-of-age comedy about Danny (Patrick Reilly), a gay, jobless, and uninspired college graduate living at home with his mother, Joan (Kathryn Erbe). They have a close, almost co-dependent relationship; they often share the same bed at night. But, when Mom meets Chester (James Le Gros) online, Danny gets jealous. Sure, no one can replace Danny’s father, but his behavior is too self-centered and immature. It may explain why Danny is not having much success in his own romantic pursuits. He is crushed on his hot, pot-smoking buddy, Khris (Michael Rosen), but unsure what signals Khris is giving him. He has various (and chaste) sexual fantasies that suggest Danny’s inability to have a serious relationship is based on his own limitations, not others. Dating My Mother doesn’t make Danny all that likable despite Reilly’s tireless performance, yet Kathryn Erbe is winsome as Joan. Roma’s film proves the old adage: mother knows best.

    Another disappointing coming-of-age film is the excruciating Prom King, 2010 (June 19, 1:30 pm, Castro). Charlie (writer/director Christopher Schaap) is a college-age virgin who harbors romantic ideas from old movies, but suffers a series of heartbreaks. He loses his virginity to Ford (Frans Dam) a waiter he flirts with, and has a series of romantic encounters with various guys including Ben (Matthew Brown) who might just be “the one.” Charlie, however, is mostly irritating, insecure, and is rarely sympathetic. He is also rather self-loathing. He asks his friends if he “seems gay” to them, and tosses around the word “faggot” after an abrupt break-up. Schaap never makes his character, or the film, ingratiating. Prom King, 2010 is poorly written and directed, in part, because there is too little dramatic tension amid all the contrived situations. The sole redeeming factor in the film is Charlie’s best friend Thomas (the scene stealing Adam Lee Brown), who plays the voice of reason, and suffers Charlie far better than viewers might.

    From Germany, Center of My World (June 21, 9:15 pm, Castro) is an overstuffed romantic drama about Phil (Louis Hofmann), who returns home from summer camp and encounters a series of mysteries. First, he falls for Nicholas (Jannik Shümann), a dreamboat who is new to his school. Phil swears he and Nicholas met before when they were much younger, but Nicholas denies it. While the teens have copious amounts of sex, Nicholas is emotionally closed off. This ultimately prompts Phil to determine if Nicholas loves him. Meanwhile, back at home, Phil’s twin sister, Dianne (Ada Philine Stappenbeck), is being enigmatic, heading out at night and getting into trouble, which causes a rift between her and the twins’ free-spirited mother Glass (Sabine Timoteo). Glass has her own secrets: she has kept the identity of Phil and Dianne’s father from them. It is a mystery that continues to intrigue Phil. Adapting Andreas Steinhöfel’s novel, writer/director Jacob M. Erwa makes each storyline interesting, despite his penchant for incorporating fantasy elements, stylized flashbacks, and other distracting visual flourishes. Even the casting is uneven. The strapping Shümann hardly looks like a teenager, which can be distracting, but he looks good sans clothes. Hofmann and Timoteo give the strongest performances, but that may be because their characters are the most developed. Center of My World is compelling, but the parts are greater than the whole.

    From Austria comes writer/director Monja Art’s Seventeen, (June 17, 3:45 pm, Roxie) in which Paula (Elisabeth Wabitsch) and her classmates feel all of the confusions of being a teenager. Everyone seems to have raging hormones and misplaced crushes. Tim (Alexander Wychoil) fancies Paula, but Paula is infatuated with Charlotte (Anaelle Dézsy). Charlotte is having second thoughts about her relationship with Michael (Leo Plankensteiner) because she is crushed on Paula. Meanwhile, Lilli (Alexandra Schmidt) fights with, and then kisses, Paula. As their relationship deepens, both Tim and Charlotte become jealous, but who is really in love with whom? Seventeen keeps viewers engaged to see how these romantic relationships play out. A scene in which Paula and Charlotte dance together is sweet and seductive, but mostly Art captures the heartbreak experienced by all of the characters at one time or another. Refreshingly, the sexuality of the characters never comes into question, nor is there any shame in the teens’ behavior. Full Disclosure: The “San Francisco Bay Times” is sponsoring this screening.

    Screwed (June 19, 6:30 pm, Victoria) is a poor title for a decent Finnish film about Miku (Mikko Kauppila), a teenager whose older brother Sebu (Juho Keskitalo) throws a party while their parents are away. When mom Minna (Sanna Majuri) and dad Jaakko (Sami Huhtala) return home early and find the place wrecked, they take Miku off to the countryside, where he soon meets Elias (Valtteri Lehtinen), their neighbor. The boys quickly become fast friends, drinking beers and going skinny-dipping. Eventually, they act on what may be mutual attraction, but Miku, who is just coming to terms with his same-sex desires, is wary about the mercurial Elias, who seems to have left his ex abruptly. Are the teens seriously falling in love, or is Elias just on the rebound? Screwed is best when it focuses on the boys’ relationship, and the two handsome leads have an easygoing chemistry. Watching them kiss and cuddle is charming. Co-writer/director Nils Erik-Ekblom falters a bit with subplots about each boys’ slightly dysfunctional family, though there is a tender scene with Miku and Elias’s flighty mother, Veera (Mirja Oksanan). Screwed features some disjointed editing, which makes some of the narrative confusing, but viewers who see past the film’s flaws will appreciate this poignant coming out, coming-of-age romance.

    The Wound

    Not to be missed is gay director/co-writer John Trengove’s remarkable feature debut, The Wound (June 19, 7:00 pm, Castro), which is a coming-of-age film of sorts. Xolani (openly gay musician Nakhane Touré) heads out to the mountains in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, where he will be a caregiver for Kwanda (Niza Jay Ncoyini), a “soft” (read queer) initiate in a manhood ritual involving circumcision. Xolani is in love with Vija (Bongile Mantsai), another caregiver, and they have discreet sex, however, the observant Kwanda soon figures out their secret and creates a bit of a love triangle. The Wound builds to a powerful (though not entirely unexpected) climax as Xolani must make some difficult decisions and grapple with what it means to be a (gay) man in his Xhosa culture. Touré gives a magnificent performance, conveying Xolani’s fear and desire through his expressions and body language.  

    Jonathan Olshefski’s poignant documentary Quest (June 18, 9:15 pm, Roxie) chronicles an African-American family living in North Philadelphia during the years of the Obama administration. The film is largely observational as Christopher, aka Quest Rainey, his wife Christine’a, their daughter PJ, and the son of Christine’a (William, from a previous relationship), eke out their lives. Quest shows their daily trials and tribulations, from William battling cancer and a tragedy that befalls PJ, to a leaky roof that needs fixing, or a friend dealing with addiction issues. The resilience of the characters is strong and affecting. While the film’s queer content is limited to a discussion of PJ’s sexual identity, Quest is compelling throughout; these people possess a quiet dignity that is truly inspiring. Olshefski captures the intimate moments with affection—Christine’a caring for her husband’s hair, or William taking care of his son. While he could have provided a better sense of time, given how many years his film covers, this is a minor flaw in what is otherwise a very impressive documentary.

    The American indie drama Becks (June 21, 6:30 pm, Castro) has the title character (Lena Hall), a lesbian folk singer, returning home to St. Louis after her girlfriend Lucy (Hayley Kiyoko) cheats on her. Becks’s mother, Ann (Christine Lahti), is an ex-nun, who is trying to accept her daughter’s reckless behavior. She is tolerant of her daughter being a lesbian, but is less pleased with Becks’ drinking, swearing, and general bad behavior. Becks’s worst decision is embarking on an ill-advised affair with Elyse (Mena Suvari), a married woman who takes guitar lessons from her. Apparently, no matter how bad Becks felt when Lucy was cheating on her, she doesn’t have any compunction about Elyse betraying her husband. Despite treading well-known dramatic territory, and offering few surprises—viewers will be waiting for the lovers to be caught in flagrante delicto. The undemanding Becks does feature some nice music and fine performances by Hall, Suvari, and Lahti.

    I Dream in Another Language

    I Dream in Another Language (June 20, 6:30 pm, Castro) is a lush, romantic melodrama from Mexico in which Martín (Fernando Álvarez Rebeil), a linguist, travels to a remote village where two men, Isauro (José Manuel Poncelis) and Evaristo (Eligion Meléndez), are the last speakers of Zikril. The men, however, have not talked to one another in decades following an argument. The film flashes back to reveal what, in fact, transpired between young Isauro (Hoze Meléndez) and Evaristo (Juan Pablo de Santiago) that caused their friendship to end. It involves same-sex attraction, of course, and the difficulties of being queer in rural, Catholic Mexico. Exquisitely photographed, I Dream in Another Language is a beautiful and sensitive late-in-life coming-of-age film.

    © 2017 Gary M. Kramer

    Gary M. Kramer is the author of “Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews,” and the co-editor of “Directory of World Cinema: Argentina.” Follow him on Twitter @garymkramer