Saturday, May 9, 2009

Queer Film Spotlight: Yossi & Jagger & The Trip

This post gonna kick off a new series of movie reviews I hope to write throughout the summer. I'll be reviewing films that focus on gay, lesbian, bisexual and/or transgendered characters and/or romances. Most of the films will likely be American but a few will be foreign, as exemplified by the first gay movie:

Yossi & Jagger (2002) is an Israeli film about two secret lovers in the Israeli military. Yossi is the commander of a small unit near Lebanon who is close to his second-in-command, Loir, who is nicknamed "Jagger" because he is "handsome like a rock star." Two girls arrive at the base, one of whom starts to fall for Jagger at the same time Ofir, another officer, falls for her - all happening as Yossi prepares the unit for an ambush that evening.

One thing I loved about this film was how short it was - barely an hour. Another thing I liked was that in other hands, the story could have been very weak. Two gay soldiers, a girl and a love triange. It could have been cheap, but the characters were all very believable and the story was paced slowly to let the audience digest the different emotions. The love between Yossi and Jagger was performed well - the comedy, the tension, the pain and the caring. I didn't mind the tangent story with Ofir most of the time, but at times it seemed like the main romance was playing second fiddle to it.

I couldn't complain much about film other than the slow pacing. (That, and I thought Yossi was kinda unattractive. He didn't have to be some hot Adonis, but sometimes the pairing with the clearly attractive Jagger felt weird.) I enjoyed it because it cared more about developing solid leading men who love each other during wartime more than it cared about forcing itself to be dramatic and emotional. It was good filmmaking and good acting despite its low budget.

The Trip (2002) is a bit uneven but enjoyable. It spans the years 1973 to 1984 and chronicles the romance between Alan and Tommy, the one a staunch straight Republican and the other a carefree gay activist. Alan is working on a book with the intent to threaten the gay rights movement and asks Tommy for an interview. What starts out as innocent curiosity soon sways to a secret love affair that soon becomes threatened by jealous others and the Christian right. Alan and Tommy part ways only to meet each other for one last time in the mid-eighties when the AIDS epidemic threatens every homosexual relationship, including their own.

The film's low budget doesn't make the production suffer but the writing does. One bad line made me cringe during what should've been a fantastic ending. It's definitely paced more quickly than Yossi & Jagger and while this doesn't fault the story's delivery, the stitching starts to come undone towards the film's climax, and by the end the conclusion seems decently developed but way too rushed. Alan's transition from straight to gay is clumsy but the two actors make the bumbling road fun to watch. For that matter, all the actors make up for the just-below-decent writing in delivering heartfelt performances.

Despite it's many faults, I liked this film because, unlike other American gay films I'm familiar with, it's clear about its own story. Most other gay films are so clearly marketed to horny gay men who fantasize about straight men that it can be cliche, trite and mostly annoying. They make it clear their makers were trying to make a "dick flick." The Trip doesn't try to be anything. The scenes are directed and performed in a way that lets you know that those who worked on the film knew they weren't making Titanic or A Walk To Remember. It's honest - sometimes flawed, but at least honest.

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