Once more with Reeling (Part one)

Fri. August 29, 2014 12:00 AM
by Gregg Shapiro

Congratulations to Reeling: The Chicago International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival on reaching the milestone of its 32nd year. You don't look a day over 31 and it's never too soon to start lying about your age.

The festival, which opens on Sept. 18 at the Music Box Theater on Southport, runs for a week through Sept. 25. The majority of the Reeling screenings take place at the Landmark Century Cinema in the Century Mall on Clark Street, with others being held at Chicago Filmmakers on Clark St. in Andersonville. Once again, the organizers deserve kudos for selecting a stellar array of shorts and full-length features, comedies, dramas and documentaries. This week's Reel Advice column is the first in a series of reviews of selected titles being screened at Reeling.

Sept. 18, 2014, 7:30 p.m., Music Box Theater: There is much to admire about straight writer/director Eric Schaeffer's new film Boy Meets Girl. First, the film's lead character, pre-op transgender female Ricky, is portrayed by transgender actress Michelle Hendley, making her film debut. As if that wasn't enough, Schaeffer gets one of the most riveting and unforgettable performances out of Hendley, making it a debut with promise and resonance.

Ricky, "born in the wrong body and the wrong town," lives at home in Kentucky with her father and younger brother Sam, while she takes hormones and waits to find out if she's been accepted to the Fashion Institute in New York. She's an aspiring fashion designer and a waitress at a coffeehouse. Her best friend, straight Robby (Michael Welch), has been her champion and defender since they were kids.

Everything in Ricky's world is upended when local rich girl (and politician's daughter) Francesca (Alexandra Turshen) comes in for a beverage. The two young women strike up a fast friendship, leading to Ricky telling Francesca about herself by text – while Francesca is sitting right next to her! It's that kind of intimate detail that separates Boy Meets Girl from the pack.

Boy Meets Girl also turns the traditional romance suggested by the title on its pierced ear. Francesca, who claims to be saving herself for marriage, is engaged to U.S. Marine David (the stunning Michael Galante). However, David and Ricky have enough of a secret history that it infuriates David when he finds out that Felicia and Ricky are socializing. Meanwhile, Ricky and Felicia's relationship is quickly moving beyond the friend stage. This is sure to confuse more than a few people, but it's handled carefully and tastefully, and makes sense in context. Through it all, Robby stands by Ricky, who must also come to terms with his own feelings for Ricky. Smart, sensitive and enlightening on many fronts, audiences from all walks of life would be wise to get acquainted with this film.

Sept. 19, 2014, 9:30 p.m., Landmark Century Cinema: First the bad news: The Foxy Merkins, the second full-length feature by queer filmmaker Madeleine Olnek suffers from the same thing that weighed down her mostly funny feature length debut Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same. Once you get to the initial punchline that is the basis for the movie, it simply goes on much too long.

Now the good news! The Foxy Merkins is a major improvement over its predecessor. Also an homage, albeit one to classic male hustler flicks such as Midnight Cowboy and My Own Private Idaho), it's much more fun, entertaining and kooky in the way that parodies tend to be. Lead actress Lisa Haas (also the lead in Codependent Lesbian... ) now has an increased, confident screen presence. As inexperienced plus-size lesbian hooker Margaret, she is taken under the wing of streetwise "straight" lesbian hooker Jo (Jackie Monahan, who gives off a low-rent Idina Menzel vibe – that's meant to be a compliment!).

The two navigate awkward sleeping situations (the women's bathroom at Port Authority), staking out territory (outside of Talbott's is a surprisingly prime spot), negotiating compensation (Talbott's gift cards won't do), dealing with dicey clientele (mostly Republican, suburban and Right Wing Christian women) and pushy merkin dealers (played with easy sleasze by Girls' Alex Karpovsky), as well as the fuzz (Margaret is regularly harassed by hotel security – which turns out to be a regular John's – or should that be Jane's? – fetish).

Some of the gags go on way too long, become uncomfortable, and lose their comedic impact. All in all though, The Foxy Merkins is a laugh-out-loud comedy that would also work as a drinking game. A person could get wasted naming all the movies it references.

Sept. 20, 2014, 4:45 p.m., Landmark Century Cinema: The dance in the title of the film adaptation of Don Scime's stage play The David Dance (Brave Lad), has more than one meaning. Literally, it comes from the time that David's (playwright Scime who also plays the lead role) thrice-divorced older sister Kate (Antoinette LaVecchia), arranged for a perfect stranger, Chris (the incredible Guy Adkins), to dance with her gay brother at her third wedding. More memorable to Chris and Kate, this introduction plays an important role later in the movie when David and Chris meet again under different circumstances.

The other dancing that David does is more along the lines of the kind of thing someone who isn't comfortable with social interaction might do. For David, it's easy to do, because not only is he a librarian with limited public contact, but he's also a DJ on a gay radio show in Buffalo, New York. Safely hidden away in the stacks or in his booth, he can be anyone he wants to be and he chooses to be Danger Dave on air. This persona allows him to laugh, make jokes, sing, and even challenge a fanatical and hateful Christian talk show host named June (Jordan Baker) to a debate

But all the dancing really does is get in the way of his personal life, including a potential relationship with Chris (who is very into him) or becoming a father-figure to the daughter that single mother Kate plans to adopt from Brazil. As film adaptations of plays go, The David Dance feels stagey, in spite of the fact that the movie has multiple locations, ranging from Buffalo to Brazil. Part of it is the dialogue feels too theatrical. Here's the unexpected surprise. The late Adkins, who passed away in 2010 at 41, pretty much steals every scene in which he appears. His Chris is the opposite of David, at ease in his skin and immediately likeable. It's Adkins' nuanced performance that saves the movie and makes it worth seeing.

Sept. 20, 2014, 7:15 p.m., Landmark Century Cinema: Lesbians longing for a 21st century Claire of the Moon need look no further than Marina Rice Bader's noxious Anatomy of a Love Seen (Soul Kiss). From the effed-up play on words of the title to the insipid dialogue and plot, it's hard not to think – "Please let this be an elaborate hoax" – while watching this lascivious lesbian loathe story.

Actresses Zoe (Sharon Hinnendael) and Mal (Jill Evyn) have endured immeasurable pain and suffering while filming a love story as Ellie and Jordan for director Kara (Bader). Over the course of making the movie, they fell in and out of love, threatening the entire production. Kara gets the ex-lovebirds to return to the set on the pretense of finishing filming a crucial love scene.

The combination of the woo-woo prayers of Kara's new-age zombie assistant Anne (Constance Brenneman), the actor-speak, the tears and hyperventilating, and the rote recovery recitations, this Love not only dare not utter its name, it doesn't deserve to be Seen. Consider this review an open letter to director Marina Rice Bader to simply say, we already have one Nicole Conn, we don't need another. Please! Stop! Immediately!