QFest, Philadelphia’s annual LGBT film festival, launches July 7 at the Ritz East with the dual presentations of “Judas Kiss” and “Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same,” and ends July 18 with the Philadelphia premiere of “Going Down in La-La Land. ” In between, more than 100 features, shorts and documentaries will showcase American and international LGBT life. Here is a rundown of some of the good, adequate and bad unspooling at this year’s fest.
“Judas Kiss” (7:15 p.m. July 8 and noon July 9, Ritz East) features Zack (Charlie David), a scruffy, chain-smoking, washed-up filmmaker who returns to his alma mater to judge a film festival he won 15 years ago. When he meets a handsome young student named Danny Reyes (Richard Harmon), Zack realizes he has entered a parallel universe and has been given a chance to change his past — and his future. “Judas Kiss” aims to be a metaphysical love story but the makers of this clichéd drama about correcting past mistakes should go back to the drawing board. The gay romance is hardly convincing, in part because the acting is stiffer than the cardboard characters. The silly script is no help either: It is full of dull and/or confused talk about fate and bad lines/metaphors about “rollercoasters going backward.” Worst of all, the “big reveal” is both uninspired and unsurprising. “Judas Kiss” betrays those audience members who think they’re in for an intense gay romance. Instead viewers get a dopey drama that gets more ludicrous as the various plots converge.
Bisexuals deserve better than “Three” (5 p.m. July 8 and 7:15 p.m. July 10, Ritz East). “Run Lola Run” director Tom Tykwer’s pretentious meditation on biological determinism is all about the problems of categorizing life. Asking if people can be bisexual, or sexually fluid, “Three” introduces the couple Simon (Sebastian Schipper) and Hanna (Sophie Rois). While he is undergoing graphic testicular cancer surgery, she is off dating Adam (Devid Striesow). Halfway through the film, Adam and Simon meet at a swim club, and Adam rouses Simon’s penis to sexual climax. Suddenly, the straight Simon is pining for Adam, unaware that his new lover also is seeing Hanna (as well as other guys neither of them know about). “Three” eventually culminates in Hanna and Simon’s inevitable discovery of each other’s affair — which of course happens when Hanna discovers she’s (no points for guessing) pregnant! “Three” is supposed to be about sexual ambivalence, but the brief glimpses into the uninteresting lives of these distracted characters will make audiences ambivalent about “who’s the daddy,” or what relationship will win out in the end. The film does give Tykwer a chance to showcase his nifty visual style — with split screens and theatrical images, along with some impressive locations (like the swim club) — but these few salient features do not compensate for the many flaws of this overlong and underwhelming film.
“Gun Hill Road” (7:15 p.m. July 14 and 4:45 p.m. July 16, Ritz East) is an exploration of gender. Enrique (Esai Morales), released from his latest stint in prison, returns home and has trouble reconnecting with his family — and specifically his son Michael (Harmony Santana), who wants to change his gender. Enrique’s issues — which revolve around masculinity and honor — are important, but writer/director Rashaad Ernesto Green overemphasizes them. Discovering that his son likes to use the girl’s bathroom in school and wear eyeliner, his biggest concern is, “What does this say about me?” That is a realistic response for the macho character, but it seems to be Enrique’s only concern. Repeating this theme does not make it any more powerful. Yet Morales is magnetic in his poorly conceived role, and scenes such as Enrique angrily cutting his son’s long hair while advising him, “Be strong,” are quite potent. But too much of what Enrique does — from violating his parole to how he aggressively treats his family — is stupid and frustrating; he never earns viewers’ sympathy. In contrast, Michael’s narrative is far more absorbing. Watching his transformation into Vanessa is more telling than any of the scenes of Enrique alone. Santana gives a brave performance and expressions — whether asked to play baseball, annoyed at his boyfriend or getting his hormone shots — are all too real. Which is why it is such a shame that “Gun Hill Road” fails to mesh its two narratives together better. Green cannot seem to find a less clunky way to make this earnest father-son drama resonate. By the time the film ends, it’s more of a release than a catharsis.
And speaking of ending, QFest’s light and sunny, sexy and slick closing-night film, “Going Down in La-La Land” (7 p.m. July 18, Ritz East), is an enjoyable drama based on — and changed from — Andy Zeffer’s semi-autobiographical novel. Adam (Matthew Ludwinski) is a broke young actor who arrives in Hollywood. Grappling with the realities of parking tickets, dead-end jobs and a lack of romance, Andy and his vivacious BFF Candy (Allison Lane) wonder if they will ever “make it” in the industry. But all that changes when he gets a tip from Nick (Andreas), a photographer who gets him a job at Jet Set Men. Soon Adam is picking up extra cash at the porn shop, doing side work such as posing nude, shooting solo videos and escorting. And of course, this eventually leads to some opportunities with John (Michael Medico), a closeted actor who may be more trouble than he’s worth. “Going Down in La-La Land” makes every character’s desperation — for work, money, drugs, sex or love — believable. When Adam and John kiss naked in a pool, it’s magical. While the view of the porn industry is perhaps rose-colored, the realities of drug abuse are appropriately portrayed, if a little predictable. Yes, Adam is a bit too naïve — hasn’t he ever seen a film like this one?! — but Ludwinski makes his character’s journey compelling. Lane provides terrific support, even when she’s saddled with a dumb subplot about hiring a slave. “Going Down in La-La Land” is perfect summer entertainment.