Sunday, July 17, 2011

What's up with Gay (-themed) Movies? Part 1: Introduction and Under One Roof

Over the past few years I have purchased several gay-themed movies, like Under One Roof, Outing Riley, Trick, and Food of Love. Of course, I have to be honest and admit that a (significant) part of the attraction of these films was the degree to which I felt the principals were cute. In this regard, I have not been disappointed. And perhaps I should have just been content with that bit of gratification and not harboured any other hopes or expectations—I mean in terms of dramatic interest, thematic depth, quality of writing, and so forth.

Of the six or seven films I have in my collection, I am afraid that across the board the cinematic quality is just not there. The stories are generally sweet (read, therefore, predictable) and/or marginally funny, or dramatically promising at the outset, only to lose their way in the middle.

And do all these films have to be narrated?

These are movies made for a gay audience. Surely we are capable of making and appreciating films of more depth and relevance than these. Or maybe I have not yet seen the “great gay films” of our age. So far, in fact, the most powerful “gay” movie I have ever seen is Brokeback Mountain, based on a short story written by a straight female author, directed by a straight, Taiwanese film maker, and acted by straight actors. WTF?

Now I am gay but not really engaged in gay culture, so I am humbly willing to be educated here; in fact, I beg enlightenment.

In the meantime, here is a sampling of what I have seen so far:

Under One Roof
This is the first gay movie I bought. Again, a big reason is that I was attracted to the main actor, a rather cute Asian guy (Okay, I get the feeling I am going to be—justifiably accused of hypocrisy here, or at least of wanting my cake and eat it too). The story is of a lonely young gay Chinese-American, Daniel Chang, the only son of a widowed mother, who lives with her and his grandmother in San Francisco. His mother is desperate to get him a wife so she can have grandchildren and he is desperate to tell her he is gay so she’ll get off his back. Neither has been successful and the resulting tension is palpable; it only increases when the new tenant for their downstairs suite moves in. His name is Robert. Robert is good-looking, gay, and available, and Daniel is immediately smitten, cranking the tension up another notch or two.

The boys do their clumsy and tentative mating dance in the “forbidden palace” while the “evil empress” continues to plot wedding scenarios unawares. Until a convenient sewer back-up makes the basement suite uninhabitable and pretty-boy Robert is consigned to Daniel’s room while the very-long-term repairs take their course. Daniel is determined, however, to keep his home life separate from his “homo life” and sleeps on the couch. In the meantime, Robert is ingratiating himself further and further into Mrs. Chang’s affections.

Well, Mom finally gets tired of missing her favourite night-time TV shows and Daniel is forced into bed with Robert. And after a few more steps of the dance, the boys finally get it on. The scene is actually pretty hot, and quite tender.

Anyway, they carry on this affair under the unsuspecting mother’s nose until Daniel is forced to make a choice between Robert and his mom after the city declares the basement suite illegal and Robert is forced to leave the Chang household. Ever the dutiful son, Daniel elects to stay with his family.

After Robert is gone, Daniel recognizes that the problem is not his mother; it has been him all along. His love for Robert makes him realize that if he does not close the gap between his family and his friends and boyfriends he will end up alone for the rest of his life.

Finally, Daniel tells his mother that he wants to be with Robert—“the same way that you and Dad were together.” His mother is scandalized, but Daniel stands his ground, telling her that he wants to look after her but that he will not pretend any more, not for her and not for his dead father.

Mrs. Chang invites Robert’s mother over for tea. Robert’s Mom tells her that she too was “heartbroken” and “confused” when she found out her son was gay. But then she met a friend who told her that her son had left home and never returned, and Robert’s mom realized that nothing would ever come between her and her son.

Mrs. Chang: I know Daniel is hurting. I just don’t know how to help him.
Robert’s mother: Would a second son be so bad?

Daniel is hanging out with his friend Amy when he gets a call from his Mom, telling him that she’s set him up with someone to meet. He immediately heads home in a snit, determined to set her straight once and for all.

Of course, we all know who is waiting for him when he gets to the house.

Damn! I have been watching the movie again as I write this and, well, it doesn’t seem so bad after all. In fact, it is rather touching and entirely believable (to a gullible romantic at least). I can actually imagine a Chinese only son facing a dilemma like Daniel’s and choosing family over romantic love. I’m just not so sure the real-life dilemmas are resolved as happily as Daniel’s story is.

But then it is San Francisco.

To be continued…

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