Queer-Film Triple Bill Manuela y Manuel, Dream Boy, Just Say Love


In its second rollout of a queer-film triple bill, offers another mixed bag of fare. The weakest of the trio is Raúl Marchand Sánchez’s insipid Puerto Rican farce Manuela y Manuel, in which a grating drag queen reluctantly agrees to masquerade as the boyfriend of his fag-hag so her macho father won’t disown her—she’s pregnant from a one-night stand with a soldier and can’t bring a bastard baby home. Overstuffed with crudely drawn, broadly acted secondary characters (and tricked out with flat drag musical numbers), Manuela aspires to be about love, friendship, and good hearts triumphing. But it’s actually a grim reminder that formulaic queer cinema is a global plague. Far stronger is James Bolton’s Dream Boy, in which a couple of teen boys in a small, very religious Southern town navigate the pangs of first queer love. The film evokes tension right from the start as the viewer waits for violence to rear its head; it eventually does, in ways expected and not. The film’s biggest problem is that in trying to capture a laid-back Southern pace, it’s often stilted, and the supernatural elements in the third act don’t quite mesh. Still, it’s good to see Diana Scarwid working, even if she’s a tad too tremulous as an understandably anxious mom, and Max Roeg (as one of the boys) has something of the beauty and off-kilter screen presence of his real-life mom (Theresa Russell). Just Say Love, though marred by a groan-inducing wish-fulfillment ending and a thudding mid-film montage of artsy poses, is in some ways the most satisfying film on the lineup. That’s due to the performances of its sole actors, Matthew Jaeger and Robert Mammana, as a brainy gay man and the macho, hetero construction worker he falls for. Based on a play, the film is shot on bare-bones theater sets, throwing character and dialogue front-and-center. Said dialogue is decent, occasionally insightful, and not especially remarkable, but the actors bite into it with relish. The film’s real strength, though, is the palpable chemistry between Jaeger and Mammana, which smoothly and convincingly oscillates from lust to frustration to a love that throws both men off their game.

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