2SLGBTQ+ film festival Inside Out is going virtual for a second year with 33 features and five episodic series. All films are available to stream anywhere in Ontario and the majority of titles will be viewable for the entirety of the festival – though films in the Premiere program will be rolled out at a specific date and time, and remain available until the end of the festival. For full Inside Out 2021 schedule and ticket info, visit insideout.ca.
Potato Dreams Of America
Wes Hurley’s imaginative autobiographical comedy could become a queer classic. Life in 80s USSR is horrible for young, movie-obsessed gay kid Potato (Hersh Powers) and his single mom, prison physician Lena (Sera Barbieri), both of whose idealized concept of America comes from pirated films. So when Lena joins a mail-order marriage service, they hope their fortunes will change. Once in the U.S., however, they fall under the harsh rule of Lena’s conservative, homophobic husband, John (Dan Lauria).
Writer/director Hurley, expanding his 2017 short, finds just the right tone for this immigration fantasia, which allows for surreal elements – Jesus is a character, and prayer can segue into a dance number – along with bleak observations about corruption and exploitation in both countries. Hurley eschews realism for something stylized but oddly effective, resulting in one of the freshest, smartest immigrant coming-of-age films around. The performances are exquisite, especially from Tyler Bocock and Marya Sea Kaminski as the American versions of Potato and Lena, Lauria (putting an intriguing twist on his Wonder Years patriarch) and queer icon Lea DeLaria as Lena’s embittered Russian mom. The closing credits are a revelation. 105 min. NNNN (Glenn Sumi)
Available to stream from May 30 at 8 pm to June 6 at 11:59 pm.
Winning character actor Morales – who’s popped up on everything from Parks & Recreation to Dead To Me and most recently appeared in The Little Things and Happily – makes her directorial debut with this warm two-hander, shot as a series of video calls between Oakland resident Adam (Mark Duplass) and his Spanish teacher Cariño (Morales), who lives in Costa Rica. Adam’s husband bought him Spanish lessons as an anniversary present; when Adam’s world changes dramatically, the weekly appointments become an unexpected lifeline.
Although Language Lessons was shot during COVID, Morales and Duplass’s script doesn’t incorporate the pandemic; their characters are isolated for different reasons. But their circumstances, and the means by which they forge their life-changing connection, will be piercingly familiar to anyone… and I’d be willing to bet the final shot will land with everyone. 90 min. NNNN (Norman Wilner)
Available to stream May 27 at 7:30 pm.
In Romanian director Jebeleanu’s thorny feature debut, a gay Romanian military cop reacts badly when his personal and professional lives collide in a Bucharest movie theatre. Cristi (Conrad Mericoffer) is closeted at work, and when a far-right group disrupts a queer film screening, he surveys the scene rather ambivalently – until one of the cinemagoers recognizes him and threatens to out him. His reaction intensifies an already heated situation and forces his tired colleagues into damage control mode.
Jebeleanu’s stage background is obvious, with the bulk of this talky film set inside the cinema; its bright orange seats and glaring house lights create a succinct visual metaphor for Cristi’s mental break. Inspired by a real event and shot on 16mm by DP Marius Panduru (Police, Adjective), Poppy Field has a claustrophobic realism that is more about plunging the viewer into inner conflict than drawing precise moral conclusions. Ioana Morau’s script gives each of Cristi’s fellow officers monologues that both play around with cop movie stereotypes. It’s a quietly ambitious film that uses taut pacing and framing to take a character study and springboard into a wider societal malaise. 81 min. NNN (Kevin Ritchie)
Available to stream from May 27 to June 6 at 11:59 pm.
Yes I Am: The Ric Weiland Story
Ric Weiland wasn’t just Microsoft’s first openly gay employee, but one of its first employees, full stop: a high-school friend of Bill Gates and Paul Allen, the programmer was only the second person to be hired in the nascent company, with stock options that quickly made him a very wealthy man.
Weiland became a committed philanthropist, but he didn’t stop there: he used his skills as an analyst and coder to figure out how to reframe corporate culture away from its ingrained homophobia, buying stock in companies like General Electric and using his access as a shareholder to influence policies towards inclusion – all while dealing with chronic depression and an HIV-positive status at a time when that was perceived as a death sentence.
Bear’s documentary organizes all of this information in an easily digestible manner, interviewing Weiland’s friends and partners and offering excerpts from his journals (performed by Zachary Quinto) to give us a sense of the man. But the abbreviated running time can’t help but minimize the complexity of Weiland’s life and the scale of his accomplishments; this is the rare doc that cries out for a longer, more comprehensive cut. 60 min. NNN (NW)
Available to stream from May 27-June 6.
Having grown up closeted – and terrified – in the 90s, journalist Liu sets out to investigate the misinformation, denial and fear that defined American sex education at the time, and continue to define it today. Interviewing educators, legislators, behavioural scientists and a man identified only as “Mike from PornHub,” Liu traces a long thread of shame and repression through generations of Americans, including his grandmother, his parents and himself.
The personal approach lets Liu fold his own lingering issues into the story he’s unpacking, making A Sexplanation feel a little more intimate than it might have otherwise; his genuine curiosity lets his subjects open up, and we start to recognize the nervous laugh that slips out whenever Liu asks a question with a personal dimension. Best of all, some real hope emerges from his research: it’s possible to have a healthy, honest conversation about sex. You just have to be comfortable with yourself first. 81 min. NNNN (NW)
Available to stream from May 27 to June 6 at 11:59 pm.
Ma Belle, My Beauty
Director/writer/editor Hill’s Sundance Audience Award winner about Americans rekindling romance in southern France is exactly the kind of movie you’d want to watch with an audience at a queer film fest thanks to a heavy emphasis on sexually charged escapism. Unfortunately, the drama is slight despite the first-time feature director’s intense focus on subtle dynamics, glances and body language.
Bertie (Idella Johnson) and Fred (Lucien Guignard) are newly married bandmates who’ve relocated from New Orleans to Cévennes to make it big on the local jazz scene. But Bertie is clearly in a creative and personal rut, so Fred asks her estranged ex Lane (Hannah Pepper) to pay an unexpected visit in hopes of shaking things up. Bertie was in a polyamorous relationship Lane and Fred but decided to marry Fred, laying the groundwork for sun-dappled melodrama.
The story doesn’t quite transcend the familiar treatment: well-to-do creative types drift around wallowing in personal turmoil in a setting that is reduced travel commercial prettiness. Fred essentially becomes a plot device (a cheeky one-liner about the utility of men sums up his role) as the two women slowly move toward broaching the crux of their separation. Ma Belle, My Beauty sets up interesting tension, but falls back on typical plotting that keeps things stuck on dramatic simmer. 93 min. NN (KR)
Available to stream May 29 at 8 pm to June 6 at 11:59 pm.