Ever since the transvestite in Fellini's La Dolce Vita predicted everyone would be homosexual by the year 2000, gay and lesbian moviegoers have been waiting for a mass screen outing. Coming-out films have indeed cast a wide net, featuring late blooming or curious adults (Desert Hearts, Taxi Zum Klo, Salmonberries, Late Bloomers, When Night Is Falling, and In and Out) or young folk struggling to find their queer selves (Claire of the Moon, The Lost Language of Cranes, My Own Private Idaho, Wild Reeds, and Beautiful Thing). Two mature new films, Simon Shore's just-released Get Real and David Moreton's Edge of Seventeen (opening next week), add to the latter batch with gangly teens dodging social prejudice, isolation, and personal pain. The coming-out movie is coming of age.
Get Real follows the reserved, lonely Steven as he struggles to keep his relationship with the school jock secret. A native of South London, screenwriter Patrick Wilde based the story on an affair he once had in the rural town of Basingstoke, where the film is set. "I was fascinated that this guy lived just 40 miles from London but I was the first gay person he'd ever met," Wilde laughs. "There is truly nothing for gay kids to do and everyone wants to get out of there fast." Shore, who is heterosexual and was raised in Somerset, also appreciates that isolation. "Why come out?" he says. "You get bullied at school, your parents punish you. But in the end, it's freeing."
"Besides," Wilde says, "if you don't come out girls fall in love with you and bother you. And you have to meet in the woods instead of bringing your boyfriend home for tea."
In Edge of Seventeen, Eric's pains taking self-realization complicates all of his relationships. "We were trying to show not only how a gay teenager comes out but also how that affects the people in his life," explains screenwriter Todd Stephens, who set the film in his hometown of Sandusky, Ohio. "When you live in a small town and you don't fit in, it's not just about saying, 'I'm gay, so fuck you.' People who love you have big adjustments to make. That can be really difficult."
"I wasn't like Eric. Or Todd, for that matter," says director Moreton, who saw his film premiere at Sundance, just outside his native Salt Lake City. "I passed as straight. I put a lot of energy into being that way, so I didn't get ridiculed. The thing that so attracted me to Eric's story is that this 17-year-old is dealing with an issue that took me 10 more years to handle. He wrestles with it, moves on and is better for it." Moreton adds it took him "even longer" to put the Mormon Church behind him.
"I don't like coming-out stories where everything is rosy," says Moreton. "The world doesn't become better, you just have different problems and different issues. Eric hurts other people, other people hurt him. Everybody does not have a good time."
"We wanted the film to be about somebody being different in a small town, from the way you think and act to the way you dress and who you love, to the point where they don't fit in," Stephens continues. "A good coming-out movie has to deal with self-acceptance. You have to figure out who you are, find like people, and, eventually, be comfortable with being different."
Get the Film Club Newsletter
Stay up to date on the best new movies with our critics' latest reviews, interviews and trailers for the films coming to a theater near you each week.