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Knight at the Movies: I'm So Excited; Laurence Anyways; notes
by Richard Knight, Jr., for Windy City Times

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It's a stellar week at the Cineplex for gay-themed movies from two tremendously talented foreign-born queer auteurs. Pedro Almodovar, the master, represented by I'm So Excited, his first comedy in 25 years. Also, there's Xavier Dolan, the young French-Canadian whose third film, the nearly three-hour transgender relationship drama Laurence Anyways, is yet another impressive addition to his output.

Any new movie from Spain's premiere film auteur, the openly gay writer-director Almodovar, is cause for celebration. And to read Almodovar dub I'm So Excited as his "gayest movie" since his frothy sex comedies of the 1980s that established his reputation is further cause for rejoicing. (Boy, is it.) I'm So Excited is perfect summer fare—as light and breezy and fizzy as one of Sidetrack's specialty concoctions. There's no better way to keep the spirit of Gay Pride alive, methinks, than to trek down to the Landmark Century, 2828 N. Clark St., where this pop-colored campfest is having its exclusive Chicago run beginning Friday, July 5, and take off with this delightfully raunchy cinematic soufflé.

Onboard a jet flight from Spain to Mexico, the trio of gay male first-class flight attendants are up to their usual tricks—sneaking drinks, checking out the hefty package tenting up the pants of a sleeping hunk destined for his honeymoon, putting up with the usual histrionics of a blonde diva, prepping to do another of their choreographed songs (hence the title, a reference to the '80s Pointer Sisters hit) and kvetching about their own gay relationships. Joserra (the hilarious Javier Camara)—the plumpish lead attendant whose boyfriend is the handsome, quietly bisexual married pilot of the aircraft—seems at first to be the most level-headed.

But when trouble with the landing gear develops and the aircraft is forced to endlessly circle while a solution is sorted out, things go deliciously to hell and Joserra starts tippling big-time. As the attendants and first-class passengers consume copious amounts of drinks and drugs (those in coach are fast asleep, thanks to a dose of Xanax the attendants administered), the raucous high jinks, sexual couplings and pie-eyed confessions become more outrageous by the moment.

There's bound to be a fair amount of critical backlash lobbed at the movie—Almodovar's comedies (with the exception of Women on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown) never having attained the hosannas his psychologically deep melodramas have. But as thin and fluffy as I'm So Excited undeniably is, the entertainment factor it delivers is as high and pixilated as it's whacked-out, crazy characters. Further, some of the backlash, in all honesty, might have to do with mainstream (read: straight) audiences not beint exactly comfortable with Almodovar's blatant, unapologetic gay humor. It's one thing for mainstream audiences to laugh at dick jokes and gay innuendos that straight male characters spout but quite another for those same jokes and sight gags to come from their gay counterparts.

With Laurence Anyways—the two-hour-45-minute new film from Xavier Dolan—the discomfort is right there on the screen. When Laurence (the compelling Melvin Poupaud, who was so memorable in Ozon's Time to Leave) announces to longtime girlfriend Frederique (the luminous Suzanne Clement) that he has always felt trapped in his male body and wants to transition to female, her reaction is instant and palpable.

Shocked, angered, bereft, supportive, frustrated, confused—Frederique goes through a range of conflicting emotions in the ensuing days, months and, finally, years that are so raw and convincing that it's hard to know where the character and actress separate. Clement gives one of those legendary, no-holds-barred performances that announces the arrival of a sensational new screen presence. Dolan again shows his strength with drawing the best from his actresses. (Anne Dorval who played his mother in his debut, I Killed My Mother, was no less tremendous.)

Poupaud holds his own as the quietly determined Laurence, who is torn between his helpless love for his "Fred' and his overwhelming need to transition. The always welcome Nathalie Baye—as Laurence's flinty, unsentimental, artistically inclined mother—adds notable support. Dolan's script, epically scaled from 1989 through the mid-'90s (the soundtrack and fashions are spot on), really gets at the heart of the emotional challenges facing both the person desperateely needing to transition and the conflicts faced by their loved ones. Heartfelt, messy and filled with genuine emotional insight, Dolan's movie is a marvel.

In the Chicagoland area, Laurence Anyways is playing exclusively at the AMC South Barrington theatres, 175 South Studio Dr., South Barrington). A DVD release is scheduled for the fall from Breaking Glass Pictures, distributor of the film.

Film notes:

Games—the 1967 psychological thriller starring Simone Signoret, Katharine Ross and James Caan—is having a rare theatrical screening Wed., July 3, at 7 p.m. at the Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Ave. Signoret plays a mysterious cosmetics saleswoman who enters the rarefied world of a wealthy, bored Manhattan couple and, to say the least, shakes up their existence when she introduces some rather daring new "games" into their lives. Although the film didn't do well at the box office, its twists and turns, atmospheric setting—the modern-art stuffed townhouse of the couple—and excellent performances from its leads have helped elevate its reputation.

The movie was helmed by gay director Curtis Harrington, whose career had its beginnings with the experimental queer avant-garde filmmaker Kenneth Anger. Harrington went on to direct the horror-tinged What's the Matter with Helen? and Who Slew Auntie Roo? His posthumous autobiography, Nice Guys Don't Work in Hollywood, has recently been published by Chicago's Drag City, which is co-sponsoring the screening along with The Northwest Chicago Film Society.

Great news for queer film fans: This fall the Chicago International Film Festival is pumping up its selection of LGBT films, giving this segment of the festival a new moniker, OUT-Look. The fest will further highlight these movies—narratives, documentaries and shorts—with its own competitive award, to be called the Q Hugo. .

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