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Lez Bomb

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When is the best time to come out to your family? As Lauren (Jenna Laurenzo) is about to find out, Thanksgiving is NOT one of those times.

Lauren has been dating Hailey (Caitlin Mehner) and when things get serious she decides its time for her family to meet her girlfriend. The problem is Lauren’s family doesn’t know she’s gay. When Lauren arrives ahead of Hailey at her family’s home for Thanksgiving, she surprised by her roommate Austin (Brandon Micheal Hall). He’s been invited to celebrate the holiday with the family and Lauren’s mom Rose (Deirdre O’Connell) and dad George (Kevin Pollak) are convinced Lauren and Austin are a couple. Austin, who doesn’t quite mind the confusion, gives a few half-hearted attempts to rectify the situation but caves when confronted by an irate George. When Lauren tries to tell her parents the truth things start to spiral out of control. And that’s when the rest of the members of this wacky yet lovable family arrive.

And what a motley crew of characters they are. Lauren’s loser brother John (Davram Stiefler) has the hots for Hailey and won’t be persuaded to leave her alone. Lauren’s Grandpa (Bruce Dern) is the first to find out that Lauren and Hailey are a couple and Grandma Josephine (Cloris Leachman) is convinced Hailey is Lauren’s side dish and Austin is her main course. Aunt Maggie (Elaine Hendrix)  just wants everyone to appreciate her artichoke dip, cancer survivor uncle Ken (Rob Moran) is just happy to be there and their overly-hormonal daughter Jessica (Jordyn DiNatale) is hot for Austin. And pothead uncle Mike (Steve Guttenberg) sets the basement on fire and the whole family is uprooted to Rose’s motel for Thanksgiving dinner. And all the while poor Hailey is stuck in an awkward limbo of staying hopeful but losing faith that Lauren will make her big announcement. In the chaos, Lauren must come to terms with her sexuality and face some harsh truths about herself.

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Lez Bomb is written and directed by filmmaker Jenna Laurenzo who also stars as Lauren. This is her feature film debut and her first film, a short called Girl Night Stand, went viral. This multi-generational comedy is quirky, off-beat and all around charming. There are plenty of side-splitting moments and the humor is perfectly paced. The story itself would be ridiculous if it wasn’t grounded in some very real emotions. This film has a lot of heart. I loved the tender, somber moments in the film. For example, when its revealed Grandpa promised to pray with the rosary daily if his son Ken survived cancer was particularly touching. I also appreciated the scene when Lauren talks to her mom Rose about how she struggles with her sexuality and the inconvenient truth that it’s just easier to live a lie than to come out. In an interview with Gravitas Ventures, Laurenzo said,

“The mother-daughter story for me is the heart of the movie… Telling my mom that I was gay was one of the most challenging things because she knows me the best, and while I was afraid of disappointing her, I was equally afraid she’d be upset with herself, for missing it. But it was really me, who was not ready to be honest with myself… We often assume it’s the external pressures that make coming out difficult, and while that is also a factor, sometimes it’s the inner struggle that needs to be reconciled. That theme extends beyond sexuality.”

The film’s resolution happens a little too quickly and cleanly. I felt like there needed a few more minutes of drama before it wrapped up. Otherwise this was an incredibly enjoyable movie. Highly recommended!

Lez Bomb releases in theaters tomorrow November 9th and on VOD.

Transformer

“How am I ever going to find peace being comfortable in my own skin?”

Matt “Kroc” Kroczaleski was caught between two worlds. He always knew he wanted to be a woman and he wanted to be strong. But he didn’t know how he could reconcile those two things being biologically born a man. Over the years Matt found success as a Marine and then as a champion bodybuilder and powerlifter where he won competitions and graced the cover of bodybuilding magazines. He became a legend in that world, idolized for his ability to develop huge muscles and to lift some really heavy weight. He had his fair share of struggles overcoming a difficult childhood, then surviving testicular cancer, depression and a divorce. Now a single father of three sons, he made sure they would grow up with an attentive and involved father. But something was missing for Matt. He could no longer fight against his true authentic self.

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Janae Marie Kroczaleski

“I felt like the person I was was completely constructed. There was a whole bunch that was missing. I didn’t know if there was anything about me that was authentic.”

Michael Del Monte’s documentary Transformer, follows 43-year old Matt as he transitions to become Janae Marie. It’s an intimate portrait of a transgender individual grappling with how to function in society, relationships and career. Janae struggles the stability of being a man and instability of being a transgendered woman. And because Janae spent so many years as a visibly muscular and masculine man, she must deal with how to present her femininity but still train as a body builder. Having the majority of her hair, Janae must wear wigs and depend on make-up and clothes to present as feminine as possible even when a deep voice, wide jaw and wide muscular build fight against that.

What stands out about Janae’s story is the dichotomy between femininity and muscularity. She is a woman who founds success in the bodybuilding world as a man and its a world that she can’t seem to leave behind. In the documentary, we see Janae switch back to male many times until she finally decides to stay as Janae forever and moves forward with facial surgery that will help her connect with that feminine self that seems just out of her grasp.

“If all else fails your Matt Kroc.”

The film follows Janae through her transition, how she currently stands in the bodybuilding world and her relationships with her father (who refuses to accept), her mother (who is starting to accept) and her sons (who are completely supportive).

Transformer is an important LGBTQ documentary and its most significant message is for transgender individuals life is a constant struggle. However, as an audience we don’t really learn too much about the transgender community or the bodybuilding world and how it rejects transgender athletes. Its focus is squarely on Janae’s story. I would love to see another documentary that shines a spotlight on the gender bias in the bodybuilding world and how female and transgender athletes are treated.

Transformer is in select theaters today and is available to purchase on iTunes, Amazon prime, YouTube, Vimeo and other digital platforms. You can find more information on the official website.

Transformer

TIFF Review: Colette

Colette

by Raquel Stecher

Colette
dir. Wash Westmoreland
starring Keira Knightley, Dominic West, Denise Gough,

Review:

Colette was a woman ahead of her time.

Wash Westmoreland’s biopic follows Colette (Keira Knightley) from the age of 18 to 34; the pivotal years when she was married to writer Henry Gauthier-Villars, also known by his nom de plume Willy (Dominic West). Colette starts her married life as a dutiful wife, helping Willy out with his business which involves hiring writers to create stories to be published under his name. Willy is a complete cad, spending the family finances on prostitutes, in gambling dens and treating others to expensive meals. When Colette tries her hand at some writing to help Willy out, the Claudine novels are born. Published under Willy’s name and not hers, these stories become the toast of Paris. As Colette begins to discover her authentic self, Willy finds himself losing control over her. We follow Colette’s trajectory from spunky country girl to fully realized woman and creator. She comes into her sexuality discovering her physical attraction to women. As Colette and Willy’s relationship falls apart, she falls for Missy (Denise Gough), a woman defying society by presenting as a man. Through her personal and professional relationship with Missy, Colette blossoms and finds the strength within herself to live courageously.

“My name is Claudine, I live in Montigny; I was born there in 1884; I shall probably not die there.”

The first line of Claudine are repeated throughout the film as a declaration of identity. And that is what this film, a story about discovering your true self.  Colette is a superb character study exploring gender dynamics and politics within the confines of deeply entrenched double standards. The real life Colette challenged sexual norms while finding her agency. Her message of female empowerment is desperately needed today.

 

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The idea to bringing Colette to the big screen came from Colette herself. In conversation at the Colette press conference at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival, Westmoreland said he and the late Richard Glatzer found Colette’s story to be  “a compelling narrative of a woman creating while a man was taking credit.”

As someone who loves a good period piece, Colette was rich in period detail. The cast wore real costumes of the era and scenes were shot in historic buildings. This imbued the film with a great sense of place and time. The part Colette fits Keira Knightley, no stranger to period pieces, like a glove. At the press conference she proclaimed, “I stood very tall when I played Colette. She was a maverick.” Colette is quite bold for a period piece. Comparing it with the relatively tame period pieces of previous decades, this movie demonstrates that you can still tell a story about the past that is provocative and interesting to contemporary viewers. Westmoreland went on to say, “for a long time period pieces have gotten a reputation for being a kind of safer genre. But I think at the moment there is something happening with period pieces that are radicalizing.”

Westmoreland found many parallels to Colette’s turn-of-the-century France with modern day. It was an era when people were questioning gender roles and women were demanding more access to power.  Westmoreland collaborated with screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz, who added the necessary female insights needed for the script. Actress Denise Gough called the casting one of the most progressive that she’d ever been involved with. Westmoreland went on to say:

 “With the casting we tried an approach that I don’t believe has really been tried before of having a very inclusive cast. We have trans men playing cisgender characters. We have trans women playing cisgender women. We have an out lesbian actor playing heterosexual. We have our gay actor playing someone who said he was heterosexual, we’re not quite sure. And we have Asian British actors playing characters who were historically white. We have a black actor playing someone who in history was white. And guess what? It all works. And these have been sacred rules for so long…. Colette broke a lot of rules so we though we should too.” – Wash Westmoreland

 

 

 

Colette is in select theaters starting today.

I attended a press and industry screening as well as the press conference for Colette at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.

TIFF Review: Tell It to the Bees

by Raquel Stecher

Tell It to the Bees
dir. Annabel Jankel
starring Anna Paquin and Holliday Grainger

“You should tell the bees your secrets. Then they won’t fly away.”

Set in 1950s Scotland, Tell It to the Bees is the story of two women who must face a society that isn’t ready or willing to accept them. Dr. Jean Markham (Anna Paquin) has returned home to her small town to take over her father’s practice. A secret about her past still lingers among the tight knit community. Jean meets Charlie (Gregor Selkirk), a curious young boy who is fascinated by the bee hives Jean keeps on her estate. Back at home, Charlie’s mother Lydia (Holliday Grainger) is going through a rough patch. Charlie’s father Robert (Emun Elliott) has abandoned the family, her sister-in-law Pam (Kate Dickie) is suspicious of Lydia’s every move and Lydia isn’t making enough money at the local mill and is facing eviction. When Charlie comes home with a bee-keeping journal and a novel Jean has gifted him, Lydia confronts Jean to discover the doctor is a kind woman and not a meddling man. The two quickly bond and when Lydia and Charlie are eventually evicted, Jean hires Lydia as her housekeeper. Behind the closed doors of the estate, Jean’s attraction for Lydia grows stronger and her desire to pull back weakens. As the two become intimate, whispers and rumors begin to circulate in the village. In an era where their relationship is not only frowned upon but illegal, can Lydia and Jean stay together? And what will happen to Charlie if they do?

“This town is too small for secrets.”

Based on the novel by Fiona Shaw, Tell It to the Bees was adapted to the screen by sisters Henrietta and Jessica Ashworth. In an interview with director Annabel Jankel, she remarked that she was drawn by “the power of generosity to fulfill another person’s potential.” Lydia and Jean are two female characters who are lifting each other up instead of tearing each other down. Resiliency and compassion is what drives Jean to pursue medicine in a town that won’t have her. Lydia’s the extrovert to Jean’s introvert and she shows Jean how to be free with her emotions. And for what it’s worth I appreciated that the Lydia and Jean were working women and not bored housewives.

The general theme of secrets and lies runs strong in this story. It’s the main conflict for the story’s narrator Charlie who is grappling with major changes and doesn’t know how to process the actions of the adults around him. It’s refreshing to see a child character who is curious and receptive and an integral part of the main story and not just a sideliner.

A secondary story follows Lydia’s sister-in-law Annie (Lauren Lyle) who is in an interracial relationship with a young man. When she becomes pregnant, her disapproving brother Robert and sister Pam try to “fix” the situation. It’s a reminder that while that era had many beautiful aesthetics the cultural mores could be quite ugly.

The bees are another character in the story and add an almost fantastical element. The close up shots of the bees are stunning. They pulsate with energy and you can feel that coming off the screen. In the film they react to the goings on in the human world around them and at one point even intervene on behalf of some of the characters. About the bees director Jankel says, “I felt an added kinship with the supernatural cinematic quality that the extraordinary world of the bees could provide, for an audience, both visually, and sonically.”

Tell It to the Bees is a sweet indie film with a tender heart. Paquin and Grainger deliver beautiful performances as their polar opposite characters. My only small criticism of what is otherwise a beautiful film is that I felt there was a lack of sexual chemistry between the two leads. However, I appreciated the fact that their sexual relationship wasn’t the focus of the story. And thanks to the women writers and the woman director we don’t see a lesbian love story as a male fantasy. Rather it’s a deep and meaningful relationship that transforms the characters and allows them to grow as persons. If you get a chance to watch Tell It to the Bees, take it! I hope this film finds its audience.

I attended a press and industry screening of Tell It to the Bees at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.

 

Hot to Trot: Inside the World of Same-Sex Competitive Ballroom Dance

“Dancing is the vertical expression of a horizontal desire.” 

In the world of ballroom dancing, there is a strict gender construct. Men and women. That’s it. To qualify for competition you must have a male dancer as leader and a female dancer as follower. But where does leave members of the LGBTQ community? Rejecting the mainstream ballroom scene, a group of dancers have sought out their own way to participate in their beloved dancesport.

“It makes a difference when you get to dance with the gender you prefer.” – Benjamin Soencksen

In a new documentary by director and producer Gail Freedman, Hot to Trot explores the little known world of same sex ballroom dance. It follows the story of six dancers as they prepare for the 2014 Gay Games, the largest and most prestigious international same-sex dance competition in the world. In NYC we have Ernesto Palma, a former meth addict from Costa Rica who found a new appreciation for taking care of his body and embraces his love of dance. He starts off with partner Robbie Tristan, a Hungarian ballroom champ who runs a dance studio. But when Tristan has to leave the country for urgent medical care, he begins a new partnership with Nikola Shpakov, a Russian dancer who is coming to terms with his sexuality and his father’s traditional values. In San Francisco there is Emily Coles, a diabetic who wears an insulin pump 24/7, and Kieren Jameson, her dance partner. Coles struggles with her medical condition while pursuing her passion for dance. As Jameson starts to slip away, she recruits her partner Katerina Blinova to help her compete.
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“Dance relationships are intimate in a way that no other relationship is.” – Emily Coles

The documentary follows these dancers over the span of four years leading up to the 2014 Gay Games in Cleveland, Ohio and beyond. The film includes extensive interviews with the dances as well as their family members and spouses and judges, dance organizers and coaches. We follow as they train, compete and fall in love. Ballroom dancing is an emotional experience and the physicality of it requires the partners to be in tune with each other. It’s fascinating to see how the different pairs struggle with this as they prepare for the big day.

As a former non-competitive dancer, I was particularly fascinating with the training process. But what drew me in was how these dancers are breaking down gender binaries by rejecting the mainstream notion of male-female ballroom dancing. I wish the film had explored how these dancers made a living outside of their sport. I wanted to learn more about Tristan’s dance studio and what dream job was drawing Jameson away from ballroom dance. Did the dance support them enough or did they all have to work full-time jobs to make ends meet?

Hot to Trot shines a spotlight on the little-known world of same-sex ballroom dance and gives the dancers the platform they deserve. Their stories are joyful but come from a place of emotional pain. This compelling documentary is a must-see for anyone interested in dance or the LGBTQ community.

Hot to Trot opens August 24th at the Quad Cinema in New York City and September 14th at the Laemmle in Los Angeles. Other cities to follow. Visit the First Run Features website for more information.

Update: Hot to Trot is available on iTunes and Amazon VOD 1/29/19 and on DVD 2/5/19.

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