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Short Film Reviews: Pride Month

For Pride Month 2021, I'll be reviewing 7 short films that all address some aspect of the complex (and at times, difficult) LGBT+ experience.

By Trevor WellsPublished 3 years ago Updated 3 years ago 15 min read

It seems that when it comes to LGBT+ equality, we're at a point where the scale is pretty mixed. The Biden Administration has made noble strides to improve the lives of LGBTQ individuals and 2021 seems to be following in 2020's footsteps when it comes to seeing an influx of celebrity coming-out stories, providing comfort and inspiration to others struggling with their sexuality/identity. But for all that change, it's tragically clear that LGBTQ bigotry is still a prevalent force in our world. A horrific number of anti-LGBT legislations have been put into effect in 2021 (with more potentially on the way) and the COVID-19 crisis has taken a heavy toll on the mental health of LGBTQ youth. And the recent murder of Alireza Fazeli Monfared is a poignant reminder that violent homophobic hate remains an ongoing problem. It also shines a light on the disturbing fact that in many countries, LGBT+ behavior is still being criminalized and people still face prison time, physical abuse, and even execution for being who they are.

It's a scary reality, and one that we can only change for the better by continuing to depower hate and fight to make the world a place where everyone can live and love without fear. So to honor that continued battle, I present 7 films showcasing LGBTQ stories and the highs and lows that come with them:

Something New:

Part of the Christina de Leon-created web series Nasty Habits, Something New (dubbed a "Quarantine Special" feature) tells the story of two girls in 2006. Hanging out over beer and weed, best friends Jenny (Claudia Doumit) and Becca (Zoe Kanters) end up connecting in an unexpected way as the conversation takes an emotional turn. Confined to Jenny and Becca's makeshift tent, Something New is a low-concept film focusing entirely on the evolving interactions between these girls. While their sleepover starts with your average teenage chit-chat, the conversation eventually turns to more personal matters as a gradual change can be felt between Jenny and Becca.

It does take quite a while for things to turn to the topic of sexuality, with the subject only being brought up explicitly in the final few minutes of the film. As the movie goes on, there might be moments when your attention falters as Jenny and Becca's conversation begins to stretch itself thin. But before the story has the chance to stretch itself far enough to snap, Something New reaches its heartfelt climax and ends on a sweet note with a hint of realism. SPOILER ALERT Both Becca and Jenny end the movie having tentatively confessed to questioning their sexualities, with the former more or less revealing her romantic feelings for the latter. But between Jenny's uncertainty about her identity and the strain her changing life/troubled family is having on her, these revelations aren't given a clear-cut resolution. It's a bittersweet but authentic conclusion, attesting to how the path to self-discovery is rarely a smooth one. Spoilers Over

Speaking of authenticity, Claudia Doumit and Zoe Kanters' performances prove essential to making up for the film's wobbly pacing. While the film takes a while to directly address it, Kanters plays Becca in a way where you can see whenever she's grappling with her changing feelings. She and Doumit blend well together as lovably goofy besties, with Doumit being just as effective at portraying Jenny's self-doubt and fear when she lets her sensitive side show. Thanks to the chemistry of its lead actresses and the natural vibe of Becca and Jenny's conversation, Something New's iffy plotting doesn't fall into sluggish territory. Overall, a heartwarming exploration of friendship and identity that'll make you want to see the rest of Jenny and Becca's story.

(To see more of Jenny and Becca, check out episodes 1x04 and 2x04 of the main Nasty Habits series)

Score: 7.5 out of 10 apple bongs.

The One You Never Forget:

Hours away from attending his first school dance, you'd think 14-year-old Carey (London Curtis) would be excited. But to the confusion of his parents, Carey is being uncharacteristically secretive, refusing to tell them anything about his date. How will Carey's father (Charles Malik Whitfield) respond when he finds out why? While both films are simplistic in nature, The One You Never Forget manages to outdo Something New in its breeziness. With about half the runtime of the film that precedes it on this list, The One You Never Forget tells a short story with an ending many are sure to see coming--with or without a spoilery thumbnail.

Looking past the fairly forgivable predictability, I can't help but find the story a trifle weird, given how it hinges on Carey's parents being unusually content with their son sulkily evading questions about his date for the evening. There's also that matter of how, because of the short runtime and uncomplicated storyline, all of the characters feel static and leave their performers with little to do. London Curtis's Carey gets hit the worst out of everyone due to how out of focus he is for literally half of this 6-minutes-not-including-credits movie.

But as a short and fluffy coming-out tale, The One You Never Forget makes for a worthwhile watch. The story is sure to make you smile a little, and Carey's parents are both charmingly portrayed by Tasha Smith and Charles Malik Whitfield. And while their opportunities to make an impression are limited, Curtis and Owen D. Stone get their lovable moments as an adorkable preteen couple--especially during the final few seconds. It's not a groundbreaking or memorable film by any stretch of imagination and I can see it earning the mockery of more cynical viewers. But if you're looking for a wholesome bite-size gay love story, The One You Never Forget fits the bill and is worth the time. And stick around past the credits for a cute Easter egg at the end.

Score: 5 out of 10 white graduation caps.

LoverGirl:

While coming out as a lesbian went better than she expected, Dakota (Shoana T. Hunt) is left still dealing with another problem: the crush she has on her seemingly straight best friend Danny (Erica Smith). But after Danny comes out as bisexual, can Dakota work up the courage to tell her how she feels? If you were awkward in high school like I was, there's a good chance Shoana T. Hunt's take on an awkward lovestruck teenager will be incredibly relatable to you. While there are some instances when Dakota's awkwardness feels exaggerated, Hunt otherwise gives a humorously true-to-life depiction of the anxiety that comes with a secret crush--an anxiety made worse by the possibility of Incompatible Orientation being at play.

For the most part, though, LoverGirl isn't about sexuality. Instead, the primary focus is on Dakota and her disastrous attempts to ask Danny out. Dakota's John Hughes-esque shenanigans are moderately funny to watch fall apart on her, culminating in an endearing climax set to a track that wouldn't be out of place in a 90's-early 00's coming-of-age flick. But at the same time, I can't help but find it off-putting how Danny's bisexuality isn't used for anything other than allowing Dakota an opening to make her move. Danny mentions being worried about telling her parents she's bisexual and Dakota offers to be there when she does, but nothing comes of that. It would've made for a more unique and touching storyline if we followed Dakota as she helped Danny come out to her family and deal with whatever aftermath there is, thus leading to Dakota opening up about her feelings. Such a plot would provide stronger bisexual representation and allow room for some humor to keep with LoverGirl's easygoing disposition.

As is, the film's story is still a solid enough tale of teen love as performed by Hunt and company. Despite the film not giving her character's coming-out story the attention it deserves, Erica Smith is adorable as Danny, serving as a soft-spoken parallel to her snarkier friends. Heather Muriel Nguyen is similarly likable as Dakota's other friend Cameron, allowing us to see that beneath her sarcastic jabs, Cameron truly cares about Dakota as she encourages her to take a chance on Danny. It's another light-on-substance story and the wasted opportunity for something more moving is admittedly frustrating. But thanks to its more engaging story complete with vibrant characters played by compelling actors, LoverGirl doesn't fall as far down the scale as The One You Never Forget does.

Score: 6.5 out of 10 bi pride balloons.

A Lack of Colour:

Now for a film that paints a truly striking picture of the challenges that come with being LGBTQ. Having been forced to move and change schools after coming out as transgender, 10-year-old Julia (Dylan Barrett) quickly makes friends with new classmate Ethan (Viktor Sawchuk). Not wanting to risk ruining that friendship, Julia is uncertain of whether or not to tell Ethan she's trans. It's a decision she'll soon have to face, however, when word reaches Ethan's parents. Of the short films discussed thus far, A Lack of Colour is the one that had me the most invested. Even as the film focuses on Julia and Ethan's wholesome companionship, seeds of dread are planted as we build up to the moment Ethan's parents find out about Julia's past and become a threat to their bond.

Julia's character is another way A Lack of Colour draws you in. With her sardonic wit and surprising level of emotional maturity and strength, it doesn't take long for Julia to earn your adoration. Dylan Barrett makes a stellar impact in their first leading role, keeping Julia believable as a wise-beyond-their-years child. For all her snark and social intelligence, Julia is still a kid who's been through a great deal of strife because of who she is. Barrett and co-star Viktor Sawchuk play Julia and Ethan as realistically mature-but-awkward children, allowing us to see in small doses how their respective struggles have affected them. While Barrett and Sawchuk both accumulate a fair share of awkward line deliveries, it doesn't take too much away from what the young stars bring to the table.

The supporting cast of adults doesn't leave their adolescent counterparts to do all the work. Adam Fawns strikes warm chemistry with Barrett as Julia's father, as does Gabriel Hudson as sassy piano teacher Maxwell. In addition to their bright personalities, both men are wholeheartedly supportive of Julia, loving her unconditionally and encouraging her not to hide who she is to please others. On the opposite side of the coin, there's Ethan's parents as played by Britt MacLennan and Jonathan Davies. MacLennan gives an understatedly accurate depiction of a controlling and uncompassionate mother, while joining Davies in bringing the same accuracy to Mr. and Mrs. Kendall's shared self-righteous transphobia.

Aesthetically speaking, A Lack of Colour's cinematography is fine apart from a few bizarre sequences (particularly the scenes where the camera is super shaky to no purpose) and the soundtrack knows how to tap into the emotions of the story and its characters. Telling a beautiful story of love, friendship, and staying true to yourself, A Lack of Colour will surely capture your heart with its lovable central characters and faith-in-humanity-restoring ending.

Score: 9 out of 10 Justin Bieber posters.

It's Not You. It's Not Me.:

A moodily shot romantic drama, It's Not You. It's Not Me. follows young couple Chris (Lee Shorten) and Tina (Jaymee Mak) as they struggle to reconcile their relationship with Chris being asexual. Even now, with the media making some great progress in terms of LGBTQ representation, asexuality seems to have been largely left behind. Written by its female lead, with Jaymee Mak drawing inspiration from her own experience being in a relationship with an asexual partner, It's Not You. It's Not Me. provides a blunt look at the challenges sexual incompatibility can raise for even the strongest couple.

If you're looking for an upbeat asexual-positive short film, this isn't it. Mak's script tells a more somber tale of troubled romance, with the lighting and dark color scheme (styled after the asexual pride flag colors) befitting such an atmosphere. Not that everything in this film is doom and gloom; for all the tension their differing sexualities cause, it's clear that Chris and Tina love each other. Lee Shorten and Jaymee Mak convey the love their characters have for each other well, making it hard to watch as something beyond their control drives a wedge between them. And thanks to their performances, you'll sympathize with both halves of the couple as they let their insecurities show.

When it comes to Tina, though, there are points when her likability wavers. It's understandable that Chris's aversion to having sex with her would leave Tina feeling undesirable and in doubt about their relationship. But after she and Chris talk about his asexuality, Tina's words and actions take on some unsettling implications. SPOILER ALERT Her tearfully saying that she "really wanted to be with Chris" feels like manipulative guilt-tripping, even as Mak seems to try and play it as a genuine expression of sadness. Thankfully, the resulting tryst is rightfully depicted as uncomfortable and forced, with Shorten making the viewer painfully aware of Chris's discomfort. Tina's reaction is harder to pinpoint. Is she upset at seeing Chris well and truly has no interest in sex? Guilty at having pressured Chris into doing something he didn't want to do? Or just disappointed in how unsatisfying the tryst was for her? Basically, Tina has all the makings of a Base-Breaking Character, and given how she's likely based on Mak herself, I'm not sure if that's the reaction she was going for. Spoilers Over

Apart from Tina's unsteady characterization, It's Not You. It's Not Me. is a pretty engaging relationship drama, drawing you into Chris and Tina's woes and allowing you to feel concern for their fraying bond. Peter Warkentin's direction captures the dysphoric spirit of the piece and the ending takes after Something New in how it leaves you to wonder where Tina and Chris will go from where we last see them. It's not perfect, but with such slim pickings when it comes to films about asexuality, It's Not You. It's Not Me. is a welcome addition.

Score: 7 out of 10 guys in thick sweaters.

Flush:

Another character-driven drama, this time in Portuguese. Flush is a Brazilian short film that follows two vastly different college students as they wind up locked in a school bathroom overnight. Tom (Nicolas Prattes) is cisgender, Sarah (João Côrtes) is non-binary, and both are quick to be at each other's throats as they realize they're stuck together for the night. But over the course of their confinement, Tom and Sarah tentatively open up to one another--and find that they're not as different as they originally thought. If you're thinking Flush sounds a little on the simple side, you're not too far off. While atypically set in a grimy and graffiti-covered restroom, Tom and Sarah's dynamic is your average "two polar opposites find out they actually have a lot in common" setup. Some cliché dialogue crops up that aligns with such a well-worn narrative.

But Nicolas Prattes and João Côrtes (the latter of whom also wrote Flush's screenplay) work together to mine this familiar territory for emotional resonance. Prattes does an excellent job as Tom, bringing realism to his character's arc as a Troubled Sympathetic Bigot. We open the film watching Tom deal with unspecified issues with his father, though Prattes' performance and later revelations indirectly point to the source of that conflict. It makes Tom's quiet dismay (something depicted brilliantly by Prattes using only his eyes and body language) all the more upsetting. Even as he begins lashing out at Sarah and spewing disgusting slurs, Prattes allows you to see that it's all a mask for his insecurities. Sarah is quick to call him out on this, and it doesn't take long for Tom to begin letting his icy shell melt away.

Côrtes' Sarah, meanwhile, is the more relaxed half of the pair. While Sarah may not consider themself confident, they never let Tom's vicious words get under their skin. Instead, Sarah bluntly admonishes Tom's bigoted remarks before patiently breaking through all the walls he's put up around himself. SPOILER ALERT That self-assurance, level-headedness, and eventual compassion for Tom takes on a different connotation when the ending reveals "Sarah" was a figment of Tom's imagination. In addition to being a well-delivered twist, it provides more dimension to Tom's character. With the reveal that all of Tom's hostility was essentially being directed at himself, you realize that his earlier bigotry was actually self-loathing--and that Sarah's statements about craving freedom are based on Tom's own desires. Kissing Sarah and later using their accessories (lip gloss and earrings) further suggests Tom is struggling with his sexuality/identity, putting his attitude throughout the movie in a more tragic light. If hearing Tom drop the gay F-bomb was enough to make you hate him, learning the whole truth about his situation is sure to change your tune. Spoilers Over

Direction-wise, the only complaint I have for Flush is its semi-frequent use of a split-screen effect (showing Tom on one side of the screen and Sarah on another). At first, this effect feels odd and distracting, but after the first few instances of its use, it begins to feel more natural. Helmed by a pair of talented actors fully capable of working through their characters' clunkier bits of dialogue, Flush takes an oft-seen premise and gives it a depth that grabs you by the heartstrings and pulls you in.

Score: 8 out of 10 Elite Squad references.

Conversion Therapist:

Easily the darkest film on this list, we end this Pride Month tribute with Conversion Therapist. The titular therapist abuser is Ira (Michael Dickson), who opens the movie getting drugged and kidnapped by trusted assistant Justine (Sara Fletcher). Not only is Justine pansexual, but she's also in a polyamorous relationship with Salina and Clay (Evalyn Jake and Jordan Morgan). Disgusted by Ira's cruel practice, Justine and her lovers have planned out a gruesome punishment for him. For those thinking this just sounds like a cheap torture porn horror short with LGBTQ undertones, fear not. While there is a fair amount of gory torture to be found in Conversion Therapist, it's not explicit or gratuitous enough to be comparable to Hostel or a later installment of the Saw franchise.

As for the plot, I'd be remiss if I didn't say I had doubts. Conversion Therapist takes a while to get off the ground, initially feeling like a stagnant revenge horror that didn't know where its story was going. Not helping is how we don't learn the full details of Ira's twisted work until later, leaving it harder for us to sympathize with Justine as she terrorizes him. The fact that Justine's the first one to start throwing out homophobic insults isn't likely to win viewers over to her cause either. But once the whole truth starts to become clearer, the pacing becomes more concise and Justine's previously distasteful behavior makes sense in hindsight. After learning the full extent of Ira's capacity to hurt, seeing Justine give him a hefty taste of his own medicine by using his abusive "therapy" tactics against him is pretty damn cathartic.

Casting is similarly imperfect, but the brighter stars of the bunch help make up for where the others dim. Sara Fletcher is definitely having fun as ruthless ringleader Justine, playing up her character's gleeful sadism for all its worth. Michael Dickson takes the opposite approach, bringing subtlety to Ira's character arc as he slowly begins to let his true colors show. While you may find yourself pitying him as he endures unimaginable agony, you'll ultimately recognize Ira as the unrepentant bigot he is, refusing to take responsibility for the trauma he inflicted under the guise of "doing God's will" and pathetically groveling for mercy. Fletcher and Dickson's co-stars, while giving decent performances, don't rise to the same heights. Evalyn Jake powers through wooden deliveries to give a serviceable debut performance, especially when Salina's backstory is revealed. Whereas Jordan Morgan struggles to make any impression as Clay, the most inactive member of the kidnapper group and the one with the least amount of lines. SPOILER ALERT Even Ira's wife Tanya is more memorable thanks to Laura Hunter's biting demeanor and the twist revealing that Tanya had helped orchestrate her husband's ordeal. Spoilers Over

Pace ends up being where Conversion Therapist stumbles the most. It takes a few minutes for the story to really start picking up steam, and even after that, some bouts of sluggishness persist. But once that story finds its groove, the compelling lead characters and Ira's deliciously heinous karma are bound to keep your interest piqued. Especially if you're in the mood to see a heartless homophobe get their just desserts...

Score: 7.5 out of 10 chloroform-soaked panties.

Overall:

I'm pleased to report that for Pride Month 2021, I managed to stumble across a collection of LGBTQ short films that were altogether entertaining. LoverGirl and especially The One You Never Forget had more than a fair share of flaws, earning them the lowest scores of the lot. But even then, both films had enough charm to them that they avoided becoming insufferably flawed. In any case, all of the films discussed above do something to address the trials that have been faced by many on the LGBT+ spectrum. And with those difficulties still being present today, we can't stop the fight for equality until we have a world where no one has to be afraid of being who they are.

Visit GLAAD or The Trevor Project to learn more about LGBTQ issues, find ways to show your support to the community, and receive guidance if you're an LGBTQ individual in need of help. And to any LGBTQ+ readers out there: you will always have my love and support. Whether you're in the closet or out and proud, keep being your beautiful self and never let anyone tell you your love or identity is invalid.

💖🧡💛💚💙💜

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About the Creator

Trevor Wells

Aspiring writer and film lover: Lifetime, Hallmark, indie, and anything else that strikes my interest. He/him.

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Comments (2)

  • Made in DNA2 years ago

    Wow, I sat and watched a couple of these. They are really damn good. It's Not You. It's Not Me. is my fave. So heartbreaking, but it's best to understand oneself.

  • I've only watched A Lack of Colours but I'll he sure to check out the others! Thanks for sharing!

Trevor WellsWritten by Trevor Wells

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