There has never been a better time for LGBTQ-oriented film. The critical success of Call me By Your Name, and mass distribution of films aimed at a younger crowd, like Love, Simon, are evidence of their viability. However, to this day, a considerable amount of the narratives of these films center around traditional gay struggles: coming out, being in the closet, and HIV/AIDS. To be sure, some of the best queer cinema does indeed tackle those topics: Philadelphia, Brokeback Mountain, Carol, Far From Heaven, and most recently, Disobedience.
Still, there are some gems out that there that break from these traditionally represented gay narratives. Such movies feature LGBTQ characters and themes that do not serve as the primary driver of the plot.
For this list I have intentionally left out some of the campier fare (Another Gay Movie comes to mind) and decided to focus on dramatic films that have received critical acclaim.
Here are five of the great ones.
Weekend is the most melancholy film on this list. In its aesthetic, acting, and plot it reminds me of one of my favorite films, Lost in Translation. This film doesn’t revolve around coming out or other LGBT issues, though. Similar to Call Me By Your Name, the narrative places a time clock in the antagonistic role. We know there is an endpoint from early on, and the drama is developed against the ticking clock.
Director Andrew Haigh also created Looking, another melancholy-natured project and provides a smart take on modern relationships.
Probably the film here with the biggest star power, The Kids are All Right doesn’t draw its focus to any trials or tribulations due to the sexuality of its protagonists, but rather a more mainstream theme that serves as the backbone of countless drama films: family dynamics.
The film centers around an ostensibly stable lesbian couple whose daughter, upon turning 18, decides to seek out their sperm donor (Mark Ruffalo). Director Lisa Cholodenko highlights the complex relationships that are involved in all families. Raising teenagers, compromise, and dealing with the capricious nature that external influences can have on a marriage. This makes both a great character study and an enjoyable watch that doesn’t treat the overarching LGBT themes as plot-drivers, but rather, a characteristic that enhances the plot.
Center of My World, Jakob M. Erwa
Pictured: Svenja Jung, Louis Hofmann & Jannik Schümann
This German film, based on the book of the same name, centers on the relationships between its protagonist, his best girl friend, and the new guy at his high school (along with his somewhat unorthodox mother and twin sister).
Similar to The Dreamers, it explores complex relationships amongst young friends, siblings and parents while presenting the more fluid nature of relationships that exist in contemporary times. It is, at times, very sweet; at others, heartbreaking. Issues of coming out take a backseat to what drive this quality coming of age narrative: High School, familial issues, and finding out who you are.
Mysterious Skin is a a very tough watch. It was rated NC-17 by the MPAA; however, the rating was ultimately surrendered. This one has some interesting juxtaposition of themes. One involves an underaged teenage hustler (Gordon-Levitt), the other is about a teenager who believes he’s been abducted by aliens (Brady Corbet). The sexuality of its protagonists is far from the major thrust of the film. Instead, Mysterious Skin’s focus lies more on small town living, single parenthood, drugs, and prostitution, among other things.
The performances are all great, but Gordon-Levitt established himself as one to watch early in his career. He’s been spiffed up more recently in his projects, but in Mysterious Skin he delivers an incredibly raw and turmoiled performance that you can’t take your eyes off.
Milk is the only biopic on this list. It’s a good one, though. Obviously, there is the excellent documentary The Times of Harvey Milk, but here we have an excellent (and mainstream) depiction of a gay icon that tragically died too soon. Harvey Milk was already out and AIDS was not yet something that had arrived in America. The cast is exceptional (the Academy awarded Sean Penn its obligatory re-enactment Oscar), but it’s also well written and provides insight into a specific period that shaped American politics. The best narrative stuff involves the people that surrounded him (two of which are pictured above–Anne Kronenberg and Cleve Jones), who fundamentally changed the way progressive campaigns have been run in the U.S. I’m a political junkie, so of course this had to be here.
I most likely left some films off this list that could easily be considered, but that comes with the territory of making a list. Here are some honorable mentions.
Mulholland Drive, A Single Man, Heavenly Creatures, Battle of the Sexes, Europa Europa, Keep The Lights On, Gods and Monsters.