Two lesbian films, one more month of social distancing

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Dreya Weber in “The Aerialist”

Two films featuring lesbian characters are available this week for streaming. 

“The Aerialist,” launching on Amazon June 5, is a quasi-sequel to the 2006 film, “The Gymnast.” (Though one can appreciate this film without having seen the previous one). The title character, Jane Hawkins (Dreya Weber), is poetry in motion working silks and lyras as a performer rehearsing for a popular singer’s farewell tour. But age and injuries are catching up with Jane. When Xavier (Kelly Marcus), a new director with a new vision for the show prompts Jane’s fellow dancers — known as “the family” because of their tight bond — to quit, Jane steadfastly pushes through, much like how she ignores her body pain. Meanwhile, Runa (Morgan Bradley), a reporter doing a story on Jane, is hanging around the studio and snooping for information beyond the aerialist’s athletic skills.

This respectable drama, written and directed by Ned Farr, plays up a backstory to Jane’s character — but not her past romance with Serena (Addie Yungmee), who appears briefly to recommend a physical therapist. Instead, the subplot focuses on a decision Jane made years ago regarding a family matter. “The Aerialist” wraps its main plot around Jane holding onto her “family that matters” — the one she created with her fellow performers, including Hathaway (out actress Thunderbird Dinwiddie), who repeatedly shows up at her door after hours with alcohol.

Although much of the film deals with the drama the toxic Xavier creates trying to reconfigure the show and clashing with the talent, the rehearsal scenes are enjoyable and showcase the performers well. One nifty aerial sequence has Jane, Hathaway and Jamal (Grasan Kingsberry) rotating on a cube as Farr films from above in a dizzying style. (The filmmaker also employs visual effects to mimic Jane’s feelings after she is injured after a fall). 

However, narratively, everything from Jane’s injury to another dancer’s pregnancy to a “big dark secret” that is revealed during a critical moment in Jane’s life, feels transparent. The film works better as a character study of a tough-as-nails woman looking back on her life, grappling with some difficult choices and trying to hold on to something she loves. This is why a scene where Jane dresses down the haughty Xavier is so satisfying. 

Weber is magnificent to watch here, and she conveys Jane’s pride and her personal agonies well. While “The Aerialist” provides an appreciation for all the sweat and skill done by back up dancers, Weber is the main attraction. 

Steven Strait (left), Anna Camp (center) and Kristin Taylor (right) in “Here Awhile”

In the earnest drama, “Here Awhile,” available on digital and on-demand June 9, Anna (Anna Camp), a lesbian, is introduced, in silence, as she receives a medical diagnosis that she has inoperable cancer. Anna soon turns up on the doorstep of her estranged brother, Michael (Steven Strait), in Portland, Oregon. Her motivation is not just to reconnect with the sibling she left behind when their homophobic father kicked her out of the house for being gay, but also to invoke Oregon’s “Death with Dignity Act.” 

“Here Awhile” certainly depicts an important theme regarding assisted death, and “going out on one’s own terms,” but this debut by director/co-writer Tim True, is often clumsy. Anna’s terminal condition is used more as a plot device for her to seek resolution and forgiveness than it is to address end of life issues. 

The low-budget drama unfolds primarily in Michael’s house, where Anna looks through her childhood belongings and reflects on her past. These episodes are meant to provide shading to Anna (and by extension, Michael) but they seem to only flesh out a thin narrative.

Moreover, the exchanges Anna has with Michael about her condition and decision seem to be raised and then papered over in time for the next dramatic moment. There are some comic scenes involving Michael’s neighbor Gary (Joe Lo Truglio), who has Autism and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and a sweet exchange between Anna and Michael’s friend Shonda (Chloe Mason), who gives her some medical marijuana to help ease her suffering. Anna’s girlfriend, Luisa (Kristin Taylor) also arrives.

Alas, most of “Here Awhile” consists of these friends and family members drinking, dancing and taking trips to scatter Anna’s and Michael’s father’s ashes or the beach. The poignancy of these scenes never quite engages the emotions. Even when Michael finds blood in the bathroom sink and breaks down, it is more forced than forceful. 

The actors do their best with the subpar material. Anna Camp, however, is far too lively for a terminally ill patient, and Steven Strait alternates between brooding and not. As Luisa, Kristin Taylor is given too little to do; the few scenes she has caring for Anna fail to emphasize the extent of their relationship. The best thing in the film is Lo Truglio’s Gary, He injects some life in to “Here Awhile,” which fails to jerk the tears it should.