For 16 year old Jaime (Anwen O’Driscoll), life will never be the same. When her father dies suddenly of a heart attack, her distraught mother sends her from their home in Thunder Bay, Ontario to Montreal, Quebec to stay with her aunt Beth (Liane Balaban) and uncle Jean-Francois (Antoine Yared). They are devout Jehovah’s Witnesses and Jaime must attend religious services with them if she’s going to live with them. At the Kingdom Hall Jamie meets Marike (June Laporte), a fellow teenager who immediately catches her eye. The two develop a strong emotional bond that quickly becomes something romantic. Jaime is caught in between two worlds and leans on her friend Nathan (Hasani Freeman) who becomes a much needed ally outside of her family’s religious community.
You Can Live Forever is an astounding queer drama that accurately depicts what life is like in a close knit—and closed off—religious community. Anwen O’Driscoll and June Laporte bring an intensity to their roles that is palpable. They convey so well the bond between these two teenagers and the pain of having to keep their love for each other secret. It was fascinating to watch Jaime’s outsider perspective as she’s thrust into this new world that has its own language, custom, culture and expectations. I only wish that Nathan’s character had more to do in the story.
The film is written and directed by Mark Slutsky and Sarah Watts and Watts herself grew up queer in a community of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In her director’s statement Watts writes:
“I grew up gay in a Jehovah’s Witness community in a small northern town. As a teenager, I was eager to see a story with a character who even remotely resembled me on the movie screen. But I was always disappointed. For years, [Mark and I] worked together to create a film that could honor my own background and the experiences of other young people in a similar predicament. You Can Live Forever is the movie I always wanted to see as a teenager.”
There are very few depictions of Jehovah’s Witnesses in film and almost always the filmmakers get some aspects of that religion’s culture wrong. You Can Live Forever is spot on in every single aspect. Every single one. Even down to the style of chairs found in a Kingdom Hall, the specific language used in the community and even the annoyance felt when others call them “Jehovahs” instead of Jehovah’s Witnesses. How do I know that the depiction of this religion is accurate? Because I grew up in this religion myself. It’s been nearly two decades since I stepped inside of a Kingdom Hall. You Can Live Forever brought all of those memories back. Like Watts, this is a movie I would have wanted to have seen as a teen. I repressed my own sexuality for many years, due to my upbringing, and film like this would have given me a much needed mirror. I commend Watts and Slutsky for bringing to life such a beautiful, honest and touching queer drama.
Side note: In one scene Jaime has a poster of Heavenly Creatures (1994) hanging up on her dorm room wall. Like You Can Live Forever, that film explores an intense emotional bond between two teenage girls. It was an important film for me in my teen years and I appreciated spotting this reference.
You Can Live Forever (2022) is currently available to rent on VOD and is coming to Blu-ray on June 6th from Good Deed Entertainment and Kino Lorber.
PJ (Rachel Sennott) and Josie (Ayo Edebiri) are bonded by their lifelong friendship and shared experience as lesbian misfits at their high school. They both have their eye on cheerleaders Isabel (Havana Rose Liu) and Brittany (Kaia Gerber). Their awkwardness becomes a roadblock in their quest to get laid. When Josie injures Jeff (Nicholas Galitzine), the star of the football team and an idol on campus, her crush Isabel is impressed. PJ and Josie soon concoct a plan. They start a girls-only fight club on campus, with the guise of building community, in order to impress their crushes. They even trick their teacher Mr. G (Marshawn Lynch), who is otherwise distracted by his divorce, into sponsoring them. What begins as a ruse becomes more earnest as the club members feel more empowered by their new skills and each other. All the events lead up to a football game between two rival high schools.
Directed by Emma Seligman, Bottoms is absolutely bonkers in the best way possible. The film unabashedly leans into its ridiculousness and is bolstered two strong leads. High school cliches are turned up several notches to great comedic effect. The story was co-written by Seligman and Sennott, their sophomore collaboration after the hit indie film Shiva Baby (2020).
My only quibble is that the romantic pairs, both lesbian and straight, have little chemistry. You have to suspend your disbelief in order to buy that these young people are into each other.
The cast is really stupendous. In addition to Sennott and Edebri, who have great on screen camaraderie, Marshawn Lynch, Miles Fowler and Ruby Cruz also shine in their respective roles. Bottoms is great fun and sure to be a crowd-pleaser.
Bottoms had its world premiere at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival and is distributed by Orion Pictures.
Update: MGM and Orion Pictures will be releasing Bottoms in select theaters on August 25th.
Saúl (Gael García Bernal) is a gay wrestler who performs for his local lucha libre matches. Wanting to evolve from his typical role as a El Topo, he develops the persona of Cassandro, a flamboyant “exótico” whose feminine energy taunts his more macho luchador opponents in the ring. Exóticos usually elicit boos from the audience and ultimately lose the match. But Cassandro wants to change that. As Saúl/Cassandro works with a new trainer on his skills, he grapples with his relationship with his in-the-closet boyfriend, his distant and homophobic father and his ailing mother.
Directed by Roger Ross Williams, Cassandro is based on the true story of wrestler Saúl Armendáriz, known as the Liberace of lucha libre. Gael García Bernal delivers one of the most spirited performances I’ve ever seen. He truly embodies this character, giving Saúl gravitas and Cassandro verve. The film conveys a strong message of acceptance and joy in individual expression. This one will be a crowd pleaser for sure.
Cassandro premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.
Clara (Penelope Cruz) and Felice (Vincenzo Amato) move their family, including their three young kids, to a new apartment building. It’s the 1970s and the city of Rome is in flux. New construction attracts wealthy families and transient workers who live almost side by side. On the other side of the reeds outside the new apartment building, Adriana (Luana Giuliani), who now goes by the name Andrew, meets Sara (Penelope Nieto Conti), a young Romani girl. Sara accepts Andrew as a boy and they form a tender bond despite the social expectations that threaten to keep them apart. At home, Andrew’s family is falling apart. Felice cheats on Clara and beats her. He also refuses to accept Andrew’s identity as a boy. Clara escapes her tumultuous marriage by tapping into her inner child and connecting with her children through music and play. Throughout it all Andrew struggles to shed his identity as Adriana and be embraced as his true self.
Directed by Emanuele Crialese, L’Immensità is a heartfelt coming-of-age story that treats its subjects with great reverence and care. It’s as much a story about a preteen coming into his identity as it is about a grown woman’s struggle with adulting. There are a handful of musical numbers that, while not really necessary, add levity to the film. Cruz and Giuliani both deliver strong performances. The audience is given enough context about the characters’ situation and the social atmosphere of their given place and time while still maintaining an air of mystery.
L’Immensità is an autobiographical story about director Crialese’s own upbringing. When this film premiered at the Venice Film Festival, Crialese revealed that he is a transgender man and that Adriana/Andrew’s story is his own. While I would have liked to have learned more about Andrew’s trans journey, I also appreciated the delicate handling of the matter. It’s an important part of the story but not the film’s main focus. L’Immensità reminded me a bit of Céline Sciamma’s film Tomboy (2011) which also explores gender identity in a similar way.
L’Immensità was screened at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.
Set in Beirut, Lebanon, Warsha follows Mohammad (Khansa), a construction worker tasked with operating one of the tallest and most dangerous cranes in the city. Isolated and far away from his fellow workers and the city below, Mohammad has a moment of freedom, tapping into his most secret desire. The climb up to the crane and the fantasy sequence were absolutely breathtaking. I enjoyed the LGBTQ angle. Highly recommended.
Warsha screened at the 2022 Nashville Film Festival.