What is worth watching at Outfest — Los Angeles’s major contribution to the LGBT film festival circuit? From a survey of these six titles, it seems best to stick with the foreign entries, as the American indies are largely disappointments.
“Driving Not Knowing” receives a “World Premiere” at Outfest, but this arty, improvised drama about the co-dependent relationship between the gay Lee (Jay Jadick) and the straight-ish Will (Dane Mainella) is underwhelming. Haphazardly directed by the actors, with Benjamin R. Davis and Dylan Hansen-Fliedner, there is all too little of interest (or at stake) regarding these two young men who cannot seem to work out their non-sexual love relationship. “Driving Not Knowing” visually conveys the physical intimacy between the men as they brush their teeth together, or lie in a bed together, but the emotions they supposedly experience never convince. It may be the lackadaisical performances, but the absence of any real drama is largely exasperating. There are a handful of moments of the characters fighting that are compelling but these are few and far between. Mostly “Driving Not Knowing” goes nowhere slowly.
“Like You Mean It,” written and directed by Philipp Karner, will also receive it’s World Premiere at Outfest. It’s a perfect title for the Los Angeles queer film community. Karner stars as Mark, a struggling actor who is also struggling with his partner, Jonah (Denver Milord). As the guys enter couple’s therapy to recalibrate their relationship, Mark is frustrated by work (and the lack thereof) and trying new meds to combat his anxiety. However, his downward spiral is painful to watch because “Like You Mean It” is simply enervating. Everything Mark does—from auditioning, to rebuffing Jonah’s efforts to be affectionate, to having an affair—lack meaning and power. Karner has no sense of timing as a filmmaker. He fills every scene with long, pregnant pauses that are meant to emphasize dram-ah, but the characters are superficial, it is hard to care about them, or what they do.
Outfest also plays to its audience in the horror-comedy, “You’re Killing Me” which features some of the best-known queer comic talents in Los Angeles. Director/co-writer Jim Hansen takes the juicy premise of asking, “What if ‘American Psycho’s’ Patrick Bateman were a gay man?” And posits that he might be something like Joe (Matthew McKelligon). The joke in this one-joke movie, is that Joe tells his new boyfriend, George (co-writer Jeffery Self), a serial dater, that he is a serial killer. George is more tickled than ticked off. He gives Joe a gold star for weirdness. The fast-talking “You’re Killing Me” has fun with the various pop culture references and amusing drag webseries segments that George and his BFF Barnes (Bryan Safi) make, but the film alternates its deadpan, campy humor with some off-putting violence, which might make this killer comedy too off-kilter for some viewers.
Missing the mark is “Fourth Man Out,” which features Adam (Evan Todd), a regular, small town mechanic who comes out to his three best friends, Chris (Parker Young), Nick (Chord Overstreet) and Ortu (Jon Gabrus). At first, everyone experiences discomfort, but eventually Adam’s supportive friends take him to a gay bar, and trying to him find a suitable boyfriend. This would work if the film was done in a low-key, realist style, but “Fourth Man Out” plays it as broad comedy, which reinforces the gay (and straight) stereotypes it thinks it is breaking. But the characters need to be somewhat three dimensional, or sympathetic and not tired caricatures. The obvious humor cudgels viewers with its messages about acceptance. There are a few nice moments involving Adam and/or Chris and their potential romantic partners, but most of “Fourth Man Out” is forgettable.
An unexpected gem is the modest, intimate German film “You and I,” which has gay Brit Phillip (George Taylor) meeting his straight friend Jonas (Eric Klotzsch) for a road trip through the historic Uckermark region. The guys camp out, and Jonas takes photos of Philip skinny-dipping. They dance and play hide-and-seek in an empty house. Their affectionate friendship turns into a curious love triangle when they pick up Boris (Michal Grabowski), a young Polish man, who accompanies them to a manor. “You and I” creates a strong sense of sexual tension as Phillip and Boris couple up and Jonas starts to feel jealous. Director Nils Bökamp plays things cool for the most part, but the ending is quietly powerful and highly satisfying.
Also of note is “The Guest,” an Argentinian-Chilean co-production that has the transgender Elena (Daniela Vega) returning home for her father’s wake and funeral. Her visit adds a level of stress to an already tense household. The kids’ heads are full of lice, the power goes out at an inopportune time, and the plumbing is broken. Writer/director Mauricio López Fernández frames every scene artfully, and he is especially good at using mirrors and windows to reflect the characters. The propriety of the upper class deteriorates beautifully in this suffocating, hothouse atmosphere, where the stench of death permeates every room. “The Guest” is most exciting when the characters behave badly, as when the matriarch inappropriately gropes Elena, or a mischievous young boy keeps getting his hands on various guns.