That Reeling feeling

Wed. September 16, 2015 12:00 AM
by Gregg Shapiro

It's back! Reeling 2015: The 33rd Chicago LGBTQ+ International Film Festival runs from Sept. 17-24 with a multitude of films representing the alphabet soup in the title screening at Landmark Century Theater (2828 N. Clark) and Chicago Filmmakers (5243 N. Clark). Below are reviews of select titles being shown at Reeling. For the complete schedule, as well as tickets and more, visit

The arrival of gay filmmaker François Ozon's The New Girlfriend (Cohen), based on a novel by Ruth Rendell (who died in May of this year), couldn't possibly be better timed. After all, 2015 is the year of trans chic, with Vanity Fair cover girl Caitlyn Jenner, as well as Transparent and I Am Jazz on TV, and The Danish Girl scheduled to open in theaters in time for the winter holidays.

Best friends since they were seven years old when they became "blood sisters," Claire (Anaïs Demoustier) and Laura (Isild Le Besco) were even bridesmaids at each others' weddings. Laura and husband David (Romain Duris) started a family first, making Claire a godmother to baby Lucie. But shortly after Lucie's birth, Laura takes ill and soon dies.

It's hard to say who's more devastated, Claire or David. Claire's empathetic husband Gilles (Raphaël Personnaz) does what he can to make her mourning process as comfortable for her as possible. In an attempt to get back in the swing of things, Claire goes for a run, during which she finds herself at David and Laura's front door. Her knock goes unanswered, but when she hears Lucie crying she lets herself in and then gets the surprise of her life.

David is sitting on the couch in a blonde wig, full make-up and one of Laura's dresses feeding the baby. Both are understandably uncomfortable at first. David lets Claire in on his secret, of which he says that Laura was well aware.

Before you can say "ultimate makeover," Claire and David, whom Claire nicknames Virginia after a favorite hotel, become partners in David's transformation. Claire and Virginia go shopping together at a mall. Claire gives Virginia make-up, hair and general style tips. Following the devastating loss of Laura, Claire is happy to have a new girlfriend and Virginia is happy to oblige.

Things get considerably more complicated. David is trans, not gay, which puts an added strain on the relationship when an attraction reveals itself. Claire finds herself caught in a lie to Gilles involving David/Virginia and only makes matters worse when trying to tell the truth.

The New Girlfriend has the kinds of twists and turns one might expect of a movie based on a book by thriller/mystery writer Rendell, including a major surprise ending. The performances are all solid and believable. Ultimately, the movie belongs to Duris, whose nuanced portrayal of David/Virginia is in a class all by itself! Brava diva/divo! In French with English subtitles. [Sept. 18, 7 p.m. at Landmark Century.]

Those People (Little Big Horn),the feature film debut by out director and co-screenwriter Joey Kuhn, feels like one of those LGBT film festival flicks that could easily have crossover appeal for a wider ranging audience. That's mainly because almost everyone, gay or straight, can relate to the story of one person being in love with someone who is too self-absorbed to notice or care.

Spanning a three month period, from September through December, the people in Those People include Charlie (Jonathan Gordon), a gay MFA student in painting with "Jewish stomach" issues, and his childhood best friend Sebastian (Jason Ralph), a spoiled gay Upper East Side rich kid, whose family name has been destroyed by his imprisoned financial swindler father. There is also Ursula (Britt Lower), who is an underling at Vogue and a part-time waitress, straight bartender Wyatt (Chris Conroy) and London (Meghann Fahey), who used to be employed by Sebastian's father.

A night out at a piano bar for Charlie's birthday results in a flirtation between Charlie and experienced piano man Tim (Haaz Sleiman), who also happens to be an accomplished chamber musician. A street confrontation with paparazzi also hastens Sebastian's downward spiral. Caught between his unrequited love for Sebastian and the promise of a new and thrilling romance with Tim, Charlie is forced to make difficult decisions about himself and his future.

Those People has a lot going for it, including strong performances from lead actors Gordon, Ralph and Sleiman and a solid supporting cast. Kuhn also proves his mettle as a writer and director, one who shows great promise. [Sept. 19, 7:15 p.m. at Landmark Century.]

As irreverent and inappropriate as gay comedy can get, Guidance (Edyson) will have you laughing out loud, while looking around you to make sure you aren't the only one doing it. Pathologically immature David (Pat Mills, who also wrote and directed) had a modicum of fame as a child actor on a kids' TV show. Now an irresponsible adult with a serious drinking problem, a cancerous growth on his shoulder and the inability to keep a job, pay bills and make rent, he stumbles upon an opening as an interim high school guidance counselor, a position for which he is ill equipped.

David, the kind of guy who blacks out the faces of his relatives in a family portrait, assumes the identity of Roland, a high school guidance counselor he saw on YouTube. While on campus, he taunts resident discipline problem Desmond (David A. Wontner), insults the staff, including gay gym teacher Scott (David Tompa), makes friendless shy girl Rhonda (Eleanor Zichy) a personal project, does shots in his office with student Jabrielle (Zahra Bentham), bonds with goth girl Alexondria (Emily Piggford) and gets high with the newly expelled pot dealer Brent, aka Ghost (Alex Ozerov).

However, it doesn't take long for everything to unravel, beginning with Scott's discovery of David/Roland's true identity while they are on a date, courtesy of a waitress who was a fan of David's show. Then Guidance abruptly shifts gears to become a campy Bonnie and Clyde tale.

Guidance makes some interesting observations, including that there is "nothing more repulsive to a teenager than taking life advice from someone who went to school to help teenagers." David, who "exists in the space between caring too much and not giving a fuck," must eventually face his problems. His jailhouse finale rocks. [Sept. 19, 9:15 p.m. at Landmark Century.]

The late Nigel Finch's 1995 film Stonewall , based on Martin Duberman's acclaimed book with a screenplay by Ricki Beadle Blair, might have been flawed, but it's a far better movie than the new Stonewall (Roadside Attractions), directed by gay director Roland Emmerich, featuring a screenplay by gay playwright Jon Robin Baitz. Even before its release, the film was creating a stir because of the supposed lack of minority representation within the cast. In all honesty, that's small potatoes in comparison to the way that the movie doesn't think that the subject of the Stonewall Inn is compelling enough on its own. Instead, it's bogged down by the story of a gay kid escaping small-town Indiana to come to the big, bad city to be who he is. He's cute, but he's just not that interesting.

In June 1969, with homosexuality still against the law and classified as a mental illness, fresh-faced lost sheep Danny (Jeremy Irvine) arrives in New York's West Village with a hastily packed suitcase and big plans for attending Columbia University in the fall. He left his rural Midwestern home earlier than planned after his homophobic high school football coach father discovered that Danny and the team's star player Joe (Karl Glusman) have been huddling together off the field.

Landing in Sheridan Square, near the Stonewall Inn, Danny meets trans hustler Ray (Jonny Beauchamp), aka Ramona, and his queer crew, including the legendary Marsha P. Johnson (Otoja Abit) and gay rights advocate Bob Kohler. Swept up in the scene Danny has a variety of new, exciting and terrifying experiences, including being paid for sex, bar raids, getting beaten up by cops and being romanced by hot gay activist Trevor (Jonathan Rhys Meyers).

With his future plans becoming increasingly fuzzy – his Columbia scholarship is at risk of being rescinded because he left school early and his father is in control of his paperwork – Danny is torn. Does he join Ray and the world of the streets or follow Trevor and his activist circle, including Frank Kameny of the Mattachine Society? Of course, the night of the June 28, 1969 Stonewall raid changes his life forever.

To its credit, Stonewall includes a fascinating section about the bar's bouncer/manager Ed Murphy (Ron Perlman) who procured hustlers for high profile folks such as a cross-dressing J. Edgar Hoover. Because of his mob and pimping connections and blackmail activities, Murphy is presented as the main focus of Deputy Seymour Pine's (Matt Craven) primary motivation for raiding the bar.

The biggest problem is that we've seen some of this before in the aforementioned 1995 Stonewall movie. The bummer is that the history of the Stonewall bar itself gets buried in the excess. Maybe someone somewhere will finally make a movie about the Stonewall that is deserving of the title. As they say, the third time's the charm. [Stonewall screens on Sept. 20, 7 p.m. at Landmark Century as part of Reeling 2015.]

Based on a pair of short stories by Rattawut Lapcharoensap, writer/director Josh Kim's How To Win At Checkers (Every Time) (Draft Day) is a sensitively rendered story of older gay brother Ek (Thira Chutikul) and his much younger brother Oat (Ingkarat Damrongsakkul). Orphaned brothers raised by their superstitious Auntie (Vatanya Thamdee), the checker-playing pair are inseparable.

Narrated by the adult Oat (Toni Rakkaen), How To Win At Checkers (Every Time) portrays the relationship as one that is supportive and accepting on both ends. In fact, Ek's boyfriend Jai (Arthur Navarat) is a regular presence at the brothers' house.

But there are external elements threatening the happy situation. Ek and Jai are both draft age and the upcoming lottery hangs heavily over everything. Jai, who is from a well-to-do family, may have found a way out of the draft. Meanwhile, Junior (Anawat Patanawanichkul), the bullying and meth dealing and smoking son of the area's black market boss, finds ways to make everyone miserable.

Things take a unexpectedly dark turn after Ek is drafted into the army. His drug use and hustling for cash come to light, effecting his relationship with both Oat and Jai. This sudden shift in mood is a little jarring, but not enough to distract the audience from what is mostly an enjoyable film. In Thai with English subtitles. [Sept. 21, 7:15 p.m. at Landmark Century.]

The title of gay filmmaker/writer Ron Nyswaner's doc She's The Best Thing In It can be interpreted in two ways. First, it can be taken as a comment on Tony Award-winning veteran actress and playwright Mary Louise Wilson's acting career, when she often was the best actress on stage or screen. Second, it also rings true for Wilson and the other people, famous or not, within the doc itself.

According to Wilson there are five stages of actors. Who is Mary Louise Wilson? Get me Mary Louis Wilson. Get me a Mary Louise Wilson type. Get me a young Mary Louise Wilson. Who is Mary Louise Wilson? It's this example of her sense of humor that has sustained Wilson throughout her career and throughout her more than 80 years on this planet.

A professional actress for more than 50 years, Wilson finally received a Tony Award in 2007 for her portrayal of Big Edie in the musical Grey Gardens. Award-winning gay Grey Gardens playwright Doug Wright is among the interview subjects in Nyswaner's doc. Others include Estelle Parsons, Frances McDormand, Valerie Harper, Melissa Leo, Tyne Daly and Charlotte Rae, to name a few. If you see a pattern of character actresses, you are right. And Wilson is one of the finest character actresses of her generation.

She's The Best Thing In It follows Wilson, post-Tony, to New Orleans where she has accepted a teaching position in the theater department at Tulane University. Interweaving scenes from the acting class with interviews and the story of Wilson's life, the doc does a decent job of allowing us to get to know Wilson. Especially touching are the sections in which Wilson talks about her relationship with her late gay older brother, with whom she lived in New York. [Sept. 21, 9:30 p.m. at Landmark Century.]

A bit of a strange selection as LGBT film festivals go, Coming In (WB/Summerstorm) is a German language rom-com about a gay hairdresser and trendsetter who discovers that he is in love with a woman. Directed and co-written by gay filmmaker Marco Kreutzpaintner, Coming In is as romantic as it is comedic.

Gorgeous Tom (Kostja Ullmann) has the most successful men's hair salon in Berlin. His sexy boyfriend Robert (Ken Duken) helps him run his business and keeps it a profit- making entity. Tom is also a highly respected figure in the gay community, not just for his business prowess but for his philanthropic work for gay youth, as well.

The launch of a new line of hair care products for men takes Tom to Berlin's Neukölln borough where he meets Heidi (Aylin Tezel, a ringer for Sarah Silverman). Heidi's earthy Bel Hair salon is a far-cry from Tom's sophisticated and chic place of business. Making matters worse is a photographer who snaps a picture of Heidi kissing Tom at the press event, leading to questions about his sexuality.

In an effort to make things right, Tom secretly helps Heidi out at her shop. Of course, that only confounds the situation. After spending a lot of time together, an attraction develops into something more than just a passing fancy. Funny and sexy, is a rom-com that has earned the designation. In German with English subtitles. [Sept. 22, 7 p.m. at Landmark Century.]

In writer/director/actor Michael Worth's new film Seeking Dolly Parton (Grizzly Peak), the sought-after Dolly Parton is a rose found in a garden from the childhood of Britain to Berkeley transplant Charlie (Kacey Barnfield). Charlie, a lesbian painter, visited the garden as a child with her late father and has spent most of her adult life trying to relocate the park housing the garden.

When Charlie and her partner Cerina (Anya Monzikova) decide to have a baby, they ask not-all-the-way-out gay BF Jon (Raffaello Degruttola), who lives with his grandmother and is too much of a mess, to be a sperm donor. After literally banging his head against a wall, Jon turns them down. Unsuccessful online sperm donor searches lead the women to ask Cerina's ex Josh (Worth), a free-spirit photographer, to fill the bill, so to speak.

As you might expect, this results in all sorts of complications, one of which plays out during dinner with Cerina's parents, in which her mother dotes on Josh while being nothing short of rude to Charlie. Josh, who has temporarily moved in with Charlie and Cerina during the pregnancy prep process, also puts considerable strain on the women's relationship.

Seeking Dolly Parton is somewhat uneven, alternating between being predictable and delightfully surprising. The element of surprise is perhaps best exemplified in the scene where Jon comes out to his grandmother. It's the kind of moment that reverberates well after the movie has ended. [Sept. 22, 7:15 p.m. at Landmark Century.]

The extremely intimate Like You Mean It (Breaking Glass) starring, written and directed by Philipp Karner is an emotional journey through the end of a gay relationship. Struggling actor Mark (Karner) and musician Jonah (Denver Milord) have dinner with straight and engaged couple Nicole (Gillian Shure) and Craig (Adrian Quinonez) during which the soon-to-be-wed duo announces that they are taking a brief hiatus from each other in advance of their big day.

This news seems to trigger something in Mark who is already struggling with a number of issues. His acting career has stalled. His sister in Austria keeps leaving him voice mail messages that he chooses to ignore. He goes off of his anti-depressants. Last, but not least, he feels himself growing apart from Jonah.

Mark, who takes solace in the solitude of car washes and the memories of when he and Jonah first met, agrees to make some changes. He makes an appointment for him and Jonah with a couple's counselor and he agrees to go back on his meds. But the future is already written and what unfolds is the further deterioration of the relationship.

This is not an easy movie to watch and it is heartbreaking almost right from the start. Nevertheless, Kanner's well-written screenplay and his performance, combined with that of Milord's, make Like You Mean It mean something. [Sept. 23, 9:30 p.m. at Landmark Century.]

There's a lot of stuff in writer/director Suzanne Guacci's Stuff (Aspire). Married lesbian moms Deb (Yvonne Jung) and Trish (Karen Sillas) are going through a rough patch in their relationship. Stay-at-home mom Deb takes care of the house and daughters Sam (Brianna Scudiero) and Suzie (Maya Guacci). Dentist mom Trish is the bread-winner. Both women are stressed out by their responsibilities, but that's the least of their stuff.

Five years after her beloved father's passing, Trish still hasn't properly dealt with her grief. Even worse, her cold and stubborn mother Ginger (Phyllis Somerville) is holding Trish back by simply refusing to have a headstone placed on the grave. There is also a lot of Trish's father's stuff – clothing, belongings, paperwork – still cluttering Ginger's house, but it's just more stuff for her to avoid.

Meanwhile, Deb strikes up a friendship with Jamie (Traci Dinwiddie), the tattooed apprentice tattoo artist mom of Joey (Vincent P. Colon), an autistic boy in Sam's pre-school class, which stirs all sorts of stuff within her. Jamie has her own stuff, including Brian (Joseph A. Halsey), the trashy father of Joey, who is out of his latest rehab stint and wants more contact with his son.

Of course, there's stuff with the kids, including Suzie's determination to get a part in the school play. Not quite stuffed to the gills, Stuff does want you to keep track of a lot of stuff, but it does so without belaboring the point. [Sept. 24, 7 p.m. at Landmark Century.]

In what could be a setup to a joke, a gay couple, a lesbian couple and a straight couple go to Fire Island for a weekend in late September in That's Not Us . Jackie's (Nicole Pursell) aunt Linda has offered her and her girlfriend Alex (Sarah Wharton) use of her house. They are joined by Alex's BFF James (Mark Berger) and James' boyfriend Spencer (David Rysdahl), as well as Alex's sister Liz (Elizabeth Gray) and her boyfriend Dougie (Tommy Nelms).

In what is something of a familiar device, all six characters will learn something new about themselves and each other over the course of the weekend. For example, Spencer has been accepted to grad school in Chicago, which means that he will have to leave New York and James in order to attend. We watch Spencer struggle with what has become something of a mixed blessing for him. In the case of Jackie and Alex, the dreaded lesbian bed death has set in and the rainbow dildo that Alex packed in her suitcase only serves to remind them of that fact. Interestingly, Dougie's secret – he can't ride a bike! – is the least traumatizing, although he does end up with a broken wrist when Liz tries to teach him how to ride.

Add in Spencer's persistent mother who won't stop calling him while he's on the island, a neighbor with a lost dog, and a case of mistaken house identity, and you have plenty of opportunities for conflict and comedy. That's Not Us is a sweet, if forgettable, movie. [Sept. 24, 7:15 p.m. at Landmark Century.]

Hush Up Sweet Charlotte , a Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte drag parody/homage about the Southern belle who became a "living mystery," is an idea that probably looks better on paper than it does in reality. For years, theater companies such as Ryan Landry's Gold Dust Orphans and David Cerda's Hell In A Handbag, have been doing these kinds of productions with far better results.

It's not a total loss. Jeffery Robertson (a.k.a. Varla Jean Merman) as bosomy and conniving cousin Melanie, Jason Stuart as journalist Mills and Mink Stole as rancid housekeeper Velma keep the camp coming. But the movie is overly long and more than a little self-indulgent. [Sept. 24, 9:15 p.m. at Landmark Century.]

Editor's Note: is a proud Premiere Sponsor of Reeling 2015: The Chicago Lesbian & Gay International Film Festival. Visit for tickets and more information.