Outfest Reviews: Bloomington, A Marine Story, Topp Twins, Anne Lister
The following films are screening at LA's Outfest this week and will likely make the rounds to LGBT film fests near you! Be sure to check them out and support lesbian filmmaking at all levels. Check out Bloomington, a Loving Annabelle-esque look at a student / teacher lesbian affair, A Marine Story with Dreya Weber and Paris Pickard, the documentary about singing New Zealand twins The Topp Twins and The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister.
The following films are screening at LA's Outfest this week and will likely make the rounds to LGBT film fests near you! Be sure to check them out and support lesbian filmmaking at all levels.
Fernanda Cardoso's Bloomington, while simple, is one of the best movies I've seen this year so far. It's a touching and realistic portrayal of a student/teacher romance and the ultimate affect it has on both women involved. However, Bloomington avoids obvious clichés and excessive drama, focusing only on the reactions of the two central characters to each other. I especially appreciated that the relationship is a gay one is almost never an issue. Too many movies these days feel the need to treat homosexuality as a character quirk rather than a natural part of the person, and Bloomington never once takes that road.
The highest point of Bloomington is undoubtedly star Sarah Stouffer, a newcomer who carries the movie flawlessly as Jackie, an ex child TV star trying to live a normal life in college. Stouffer is a complete natural with an innocent sweetness that justifies her many times questionable choices. It is astounding that this distractingly adorable actress is still virtually unknown. Allison McAtee plays Catherine, the hot, young teacher who lures Jackie into her life (and bed). It's a challenging role as Catherine is generally portrayed as the "villain," but McAtee manages to make her pathetically sympathetic-- a lost soul with more power than she knows how to handle. While the idea of a student/teacher affair is generally frowned upon, Catherine and Jackie have a playful connection that seems comfortable for the both of them. Eventually, their seemingly perfect relationship hits a roadblock in the form of Jackie receiving an offer from Hollywood, and both women are forced to face the nature of their relationship.
Bloomington is short and bittersweet, and while it left me wanting to know more, I was perfectly satisfied with the journey it took me on. Sarah Stouffer is a true star in the making, and hopefully we will be seeing much more of her in the future. Until then, check out Bloomington, you won't regret it.
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The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister
The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister tells the true story of the titular Anne(1791-1840), the first modern lesbian in history who kept many coded diaries of her admirable ventures. The Secret Diaries may have a similar tone to many other early 19th century English romances played out on the big or small screens (i.e. Pride and Prejudice), but it is not so much a love story as an exploration of Anne's courageous journey to prove that her lifestyle is just as acceptable as anyone else's. Of course, Anne (played with an almost too fierce intensity by Maxine Peak) does have many a love interest, most prominently Anna Madeley's beautifully delicate Mariana Belcombe.
Anne and Mariana are planning to get married, although this is spoiled when Mariana accepts the marriage proposal of the wealthy and much older Charles Lawton. Anne slowly heals, taking on new conquests all while trying to build a business and deflect a vast amount of prejudice from those around her.
While Anne's open sexuality leads to many mixed reactions and rumors, her life is generally undisturbed. She's a crusader fighting her own personal battle for love and marriage that, while many don't understand it, isn't too devastatingly threatened. Although this is fortunate for Anne, it makes for a slow, somewhat tiresome movie that seems to repeat the same formula: Anne falls in love, Anne gets rejected, Anne gets mad, repeat.
Maxine Peak is very dedicated to the role, but her Anne has a harshness and almost selfish determination that detracts sympathy. The side characters are too shallowly explored to be truly understood, which is unfortunate as each of them obviously has their own personal battle as well. The film drags, but the conclusion is rushed and confusing, giving the viewer too little time to put the last pieces together. Anne's character and story is certainly impressive, but the film seems unsure of what it wants to say, and instead gets lost in its own drama.
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A Marine Story
Ned Farr's A Marine Story is a daring commentary on the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy that is sure to stir some very mixed reactions. Dreya Weber of The Gymnast stars as Alexandra (Alex) Everett, a marine who was recently honorably discharged for homosexual behavior. Everett, who is married to a man, fights for her right to stay in the Marine Corps, which she literally lives for, but she loses the fight and returns home to California. She confides in no one except her close friend Holly, and is so filled with anger and regret that she cannot adapt to her new lifestyle. Her life develops a new meaning, however, when she begins training young local Saffron, a delinquent who can only avoid jail time by joining the military. Saffron is played by virtual newcomer Paris P. Pickard (who could be seen in the first season of Gimme Sugar), who seems like an offbeat Jodie Foster/Kristen Stewart hybrid. Saffron is at first vulgar and disrespectful, but with Alex's help turns into a responsible and strong woman.
A Marine Story is fascinating and gripping, and never follows the obvious path. Alex Everett is a sympathetic and incredibly likable heroine with a terrible yet inspiring story, and Dreya Weber does her nothing but justice. It is risky to tell a story in which the military is essentially the villain, but two sides of the matter are represented rather fairly: the hateful, homophobic side that will not let a patriotic, fearless woman fight for her country, and the side of a soldier who loves her nation so much she can't dream of doing anything else. Although this is not based directly on one true story, it is a very realistic and shocking portrayal of what is undoubtedly going on in our nation's military and needs to be stopped immediately.
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Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls
I had never heard of the the Topp Twins before watching this documentary, but I never would have guessed how fascinating and powerful their story would be. Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls follows New Zealand twins Jools and Lynda Topp, who are one of the most successful comedy/folk duos in New Zealand. The sisters are known for not only their extremely catchy music but also their hilarious character acts and political activism. Both sisters are also out, loud, and proud lesbians who are not afraid to fight for equality. They are an inspiration, two completely dedicated sisters and friends who have shared an amazing life together and are still going strong.
Untouchable Girls manages to cover in depth the Topp Twins' entire story from beginning to end, including video footage of nearly every milestone of their career, as well as several moments from their private lives. They started out as young farmers with a penchant for songwriting and became superstars in their country as well as two of the first positive lesbian role models of their time. The Topp Twins are a rare case of women who have spent their whole lives performing, continually growing in success and have somehow remained completely unaffected by fame. They come off as two friendly people you'd want to have dinner with -- maybe a jam session if you're lucky.
Occasionally, the thick New Zealand dialects of the twins and interviewees make their speech difficult to understand, and many of the issue the twins sing about and discuss are particularly topical to their home country. However, these are minor hindrances and hardly affect the film itself. The Topp Twins certainly have a story worth telling, and it is a pleasure getting to watch them do so.