LGBTQI+ Youth Week: Coming Out Films – The Finest Five

Young gay couple sitting at the cinema, watching a movie and eating popcorn.
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I am constantly being told that there is an obsession with being young in our community. When I flick through one of our typical magazines maybe I can see why people say that. But really is this obsession any different in the straight world? It is also a surprising thing to hear when you think about it, considering that for many of us (myself included) remember those younger years as the toughest of our lives. I know I wouldn’t go back if you paid me.

Have things really changed? With the LGBTQI+ teens that I talk to, I get the impression it really isn’t that much easier. Yes, there RuPaul’s Drag Race now and some more queer culture references in the main stream, but I still hear stories of the rolled eyes, comments, disappointed families and a sense that you don’t belong.

Coming out is still as significant a milestone as ever it was in any young LGBTQI+ persons life. I don’t know about you, but I am weirdly obsessed with coming out stories, and I often trawl Netflix to find a new one. Its something we all go through and something we all share! So in celebration of our youth week here at BGL we wanted to shout about some of our favourite coming out movies out there.

Heavenly Creatures (1994)

When I saw this film as a teenager it gave me an ache in my stomach. I ached to have the kind of bond that we see so fiercely projected by Kate Winslet’s and Melanie Lynskey’s portrayal of these two young heroines. They bond over their love of make believe (as a frustrated actor this is something I can get on board with) and when their parents begin to feel that the relationship is getting too close, the girls hatch a dark plan to deal with those who are trying to keep them apart.

This “us against the world” attitude is a romantic concept that I hold on to today, and for me it’s what made this film so appealing.

The film received strong critical acclaim with special praise going to the unknown Winslet and Jackson’s direction.

The film (that is set in the 1950s) is also an interesting insight into the attitudes of the time. I can’t quite put my finger on what is about this film that is so magical, but what I do know is that it’s the film that made me kiss my boyfriend in the middle of provincial back water high street in an East Dorset when I was 17. It’s the film that gave me the courage to think screw you when I got those disapproving stares! I think I’m starting to remember why I love a coming out films so much!

Beautiful Thing (1996)

Ok, I’ve got goose bumps just writing the name of this film because its been so significant in my life. Jonathan Harvey, that penned the play of the same name, has been a significant contributor to queer culture in the UK for a long time. He was a writer on Coronation Street and responsible for many of the gay story lines, brought us the hilarious dysfunctional and wonderful characters on Gimme Gimme Gimme! and is one of the most prolific LGBTQI+ playwrights in the UK. On a personal note Beautiful Thing has significance because the performance of one of its monologues got me into drama school!

Beautiful Thing tells the story of two young boys growing up on an estate in South East London finding love, friendship and their place in the world. The boys are very different, and each has their own challenges with their equally dysfunctional families. For me the film is timeless and there is so much you recognise in the lives of these boys (even if you are too young to recognise the cassettes players that they listen to music on).

This film isn’t all about the boys, there are also stand out performances from some recognisable faces (you would be excused for thinking you had tuned into EastEnders for a second). Linda Barry plays the mum beautifully and is a character that we all have met in some form in our lives; she loves her son, she wants the best for him but doesn’t always know the right thing to say. Then sometimes she says exactly the right thing and you can’t help shedding a tear. Then of course there is much hilarity brought in the character of Leah, a fierce outspoken next-door neighbour who is someone you just want to grab and run to Soho with.

At the end of the film the camera pans away to show the sprawling dilapidated estate in stark comparison to one of my most heart-warming moments on film ever. If you are not left with just a little wet eye, then you are dead inside I tell you.

Prayers for Bobby (2009)

I am about to break the rules, but hey this is my blog so why the hell not. Firstly, it’s officially not a film but a TV docudrama, and secondly you could question if it really is a coming out/coming of age film at all.  In all honesty the film is more from the perspective of Bobby’s mum, played by the prodigious Sigourney Weaver. The first thing I can say is that I have never cried, no not cried…sobbed, as much as I did with this film. This is in part because it is based on the true-life story of Bobby Griffith, a young man who took his own life in 1983 when his mother refused to except that he was gay.

Bobby is a teenager from a devoutly religious Christian family and when he comes out, his family (particularly his mother) finds it difficult to accept. The story beautifully explores the complex path of coming to terms with your own sexuality and own prejudices. As time passes the family slowly accept Bobby, but his mother staunchly driven by her religious beliefs refuses to accept him. Bobby does everything to try and rebuild the broken relationship that was once so strong with his mother, but to no avail. Bobby does something that most of us can identify with at some point in our lives and tries to change and deny himself to please others. Eventually it becomes too much, and Bobby takes his own life.

The most memorable scene for me is when you see his mother trapped at work and receiving the devastating news.

The rest of the story is from the mother’s perspective and gives an illuminating insight into the mind of someone on the other side of our battle. This film is by no means enjoyable, but it powerful and thought provoking and quite honestly one of the most memorable films I have ever seen. And I never thought I’d be saying that about a straight to TV movie.

The Way He looks (2014)

This film hooks your heart in the first first five minutes, making this one coming out film that you have to watch when you just want to feel good inside. I am, and always have been in love with Brazil and as the movie is filmed entirely in Sao Paulo, so was a something of a treat. A combination of the setting, the constant streaming sun reflecting on the camera lens and the beautiful music (from the likes of Belle and Sebastain to Marvin Gay) all serve to pull you under the spell of this beautiful movie.  

Leo is a blind high school student who has a daily struggle for independence. At his side is loyal friend Giovanna. This boy clearly has big dreams and gets frustrated by the limits that others seem to put on him, not at least his parents whose constant worry for their son only serves to smoother him.  The friendship between the two is instantly recognisable for most of us.

Then new boy Gabriele comes to school and is immediately the centre of everyone’s affections. The rest of the film tells the tale of these two boys falling for each other, and keeps delivering scene after scene of things that we either experienced ourselves (or as in my case) were moments that we constantly fantasied about happening to us as teenagers. There’s the shower scene, the “I’ll rub sun tan lotion on your back” pool scene, the sneaking out at night and looking at the moon at night scene…need I go on. Nothing about this film is new or unexpected, but it is beautifully delivered and plays out just the way I imagined it in my head as a kid.

This is a beautiful simple love story and it made me smile from beginning to end.

Boys Don’t Cry (1999)

This story is about a transgender teen named Brandon Teena (played by Hilary Swank) who desperately desires a sex change operation which she can’t afford. So, she cuts her hair and begins dressing and acting as a male.  He ends up hanging around a small town in Nebraska where he fits right in. It’s this aspect of this movie that rang a chord with me. How many times growing up did I find that the feeling of fitting in well overshadowed any doubts I might have had about who it was I was fitting in with? This is not by any means the first time that I’ve seen this feeling explored in a film, but there’s something about Hillary’s performance that rang so true with me. I was hooked.

Brandon then goes on to meet the love of his life, Lana (played by Chloë Sevigny) and fits right in with her alcoholic mother.  As soon as John Lotter and Tom Nissen come on the scene you start getting that tense feeling in the pit of your stomach. Relatively new director Kimberley Peirce expertly manages to tease that feeling a little more up your spine as every scene grows in tension toward that terrible outcome that we all know is inevitable. This film isn’t a pleasant watch. Its tense. Very, very tense. But you won’t take your eyes of the screen. Just be ready to be left with a lot to think about after the film is over. It will play on your mind for a while.