In light of recent reports of teen bullying and suicides, three films stand out at this year’s NewFest, which is dedicated, as always, to LGBT films and filmmakers. There’s a documentary about a Bowie-like coulda-been, a winter-winter romance starring Olympia Dukakis, and a blockbuster Filipino drag-zombie comedy. Of special note are Four, I Want Your Love, and Mosquita y Mari, three flawed but powerful narratives that qualify “It gets better” by suggesting instead “It can get better.”
All three, while somewhat contrived, focus not on victimization but rather the empowerment of young gay protagonists who each seek artistic, romantic, and sexual fulfillment away from home. In Four, the festival’s opening-night film, Smash star Emory Cohen plays June, a young man who hooks up with the older Joe (The Wire star Wendell Pierce), an unhappily married father of a teen daughter who also happens to be gay. During their night-long tryst, Joe remarks to June how strange it is that June can confide in him, a stranger that June met via the Internet, but not talk to gay boys he is familiar with.
The same is true for Jesse (Jesse Metzger) in I Want Your Love, a film that uses scenes of un-simulated sex to more forcefully affect the alternating passion and tedium that characterizes its twentysomething protagonist’s life. Living in a tolerant and accepting San Francisco community of artistic peers is not enough for Jesse: He has to seek happiness outside of the immediately familiar and hence must reconnect with his roots in the Midwest. Most of the film replicates the slow-slow-fast-slow tempo of Jesse’s friends’ platonic relationships and love affairs, but when it returns to Jesse, it alights on a universal restlessness. Jesse protests, “There are all these stories, and I don’t understand myself in any of them,” but he could just as easily be saying that he doesn’t know what distinguishes himself from everyone else. And in being unsure of that, Jesse can’t yet feel comfortable making the decisions he needs to define himself.
Mosquita, née Yolanda (Fenessa Pineda), one of Mosquita y Mari’s 15-year-old Latina protagonists, comes to a similar realization in that film’s two most accomplished moments. While being able to make out with the relatively headstrong and outgoing Mari (Venecia Troncoso) is a revelatory episode unto itself, it’s also nicely complemented by a later scene where Yolanda begins to grow comfortable with her own body. Just as in I Want Your Love, physicality is the key. Yolanda lightly explores Mari’s midriff, a moment of innocent carnality that ends abruptly when Mari’s parents come home early. Later, Yolanda dances alone before her bedroom mirror and slowly comes to admire herself, a sequence that ends with her concerned mother listening in and, at last, even dancing along. That follows a powerful moment when the volume of Yolanda’s music roars onto the film’s soundtrack, immersing us in her headspace, before it cuts out to a muffled, tinny squeak through her earphones’ speakers. She’s on her own until her mother joins in. That quiet interlude is an essential acknowledgment that “it” can’t get better in a self-fashioned vacuum.