Actually, they all walk into a movie theater . . . at Houston’s International Film Festival…
by Steven Foster
Among the 15 World and 25 North American premieres, two queer independent features will screen at the 43rd Annual WorldFest Houston International Film & Video Festival. In each film, the tired—er, tried—and true coming-out tale is, somewhat refreshingly and entirely coincidentally, given a racial spin. But the similarities end there. One is a kvetching comedy with the wince-inducing title of Oy Vey! My Son Is Gay! (extraneous exclamation point intentional*), the other an either sharp or potentially sappy drama, La Mission. Here’s the cinematic shakedown.
First He Didn’t Become a Doctor, and Now This. One thing’s for sure. Oy Vey! My Son Is Gay! isn’t breaking any new ground here. Clueless Jewish couple wishes their son would hurry up and settle down, and then through some wacky, nutty coinkydink! (*see above), they discover their beloved bubbeleh is, yep, a faygala. Forehead-slapping hilarity and heart-tugging drama ensue, presumably ending with a sweet, gagging dollop of Afterschool Special moralizing.
Fatigued plot aside, the movie certainly looks terrific, as if it was shot by an actual film crew instead of some intern borrowed from Sean Cody or Lifetime Movie Network, as most queer independent films sadly appear. And the cast shows real promise. Hollywood legend Lanie Kazan stars as the Jewish mother, Soprano Vincent Pastore portrays the lover’s goomba father, go-to scribe and comic Bruce Vilanch is given a choice walk-on, and slutty hottie Carmen Electra looks like she might get to show off more of the funny bone she teased us with in the Scary Movie franchise. Unfortunately Jai Rodriguez, that painfully boring fifth wheel from the Queer Eye posse, also gets billing as Kazan’s potential son-in-law. Oy Vey! screens April 15 and 18.
La Mission: Possible. Official 2009 Sundance Selection La Mission is the obviously classier pic. Starring the criminally under-used Benjamin Bratt in a career-defining performance and confidently directed by Bratt’s brother Petwer, La Mission takes us inside the titular district of San Francisco, a world rarely seen in cinema, and Mission’s unflinching gaze into the barrio’s both endearing and unnerving Latino machismo is one of the movie’s many strengths.
Che Rivera (Bratt) wears his respected Papi status as skin-close and publicly visible as his expansive tattoos. He possesses street cred (he’s a reformed con), strength (he’s a recovering alcoholic), and artistry (he lovingly builds lowriders, which the camera justifiably swoons over with as much lujuria as if each shining, chrome-accented muscle car was a naked Salma Hayek or, for that matter, a shirtless and tattooed Benjamin Bratt).
Unfortunately, Rivera’s got a hair-trigger temper, a deadly-caliber rage that reveals itself, barrels blazing, when a discovered Polaroid reveals Che’s teenage son is gay. Rivera’s reaction is brutally honest and, be warned, honestly brutal. The son survives his father’s violent attack, only to suffer a far worse fate after he’s kicked out of the house and onto the streets. It’s here the film threatens to slide into Blind Side sentimentality. But it could rise to Precious-daring cinema. Be one of the first in Houston to find out on April 11 and 13 when La Mission makes its Houston debut at the festival. The film is scheduled for limited release in May.
Okay, Here’s One Moore. Though a stretch to call it an independent, worth special mention is The Joneses, a film that features a whip-smart concept where the enviable family on the block isn’t actually a real family but a “unit” of paid spokeshotties hired to spin and sell the latest cars, clothes, gadgets, and get-me’s. With the recent economic woes, the script does seem like it’s been sitting around some studio exec’s desk for too long. Still, with all the controversy about lack of full disclosure regarding sneaky advertising in the new social media cyberworld, the film could deliver a timely commentary if it opts for smart, acidic wit over mainstream comedic mush. A good sign is The Joneses brags the game, crackerjack cast of Demi Moore, David Duchovny (welcome back, Dave), Amber Heard, and Ben Hollingsworth as the family everybody wants to be like and, more importantly, buy like. FYI, the local rumor mill’s whispering the still smokin’-hot Mrs. Kutcher will grace H-town with her very presence at the opening night HIF screening, but at press time, she hasn’t tweeted about it. Yet.
All films for the Houston International Film Festival are screened at the AMC Studio 30 at Dunvale Theaters. Details: www.worldfest.org.
Steven Foster is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine.