What to Watch? Gay Teens, Family Trauma, and New Queer Cinema

by Frank J. Avella

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Sunday May 22, 2022
Originally published on May 9, 2022

A still from the Italian film 'Mascarpone'
A still from the Italian film 'Mascarpone'  (Source:IMDb)

May boasts a bonanza of LGBTQ streaming pleasures that are just appetizers for what to expect in the Pride month of June.

"Heartstopper," which quietly began streaming in late April has rightly exploded into the gay consciousness—and with good reason, it's truly unique and vital.

The Criterion Channel is exploring the 30th anniversary of the independent film explosion and four queer films are among those being celebrated.

And, of all the so-many limited series dropping like mad for Emmy consideration, "The Staircase" is proving to be the most riveting and the one that dares to explore bisexuality in a very open manner.

Here are nine reasons to stay in and let this next COVID subvariant kill itself off.

'Heartstopper'




Charlie (Joe Locke) is a shy, sweet, out teen who is bullied at school and is meeting up with one of the bullies who takes advantage of him (just kissing, but still). Nick (Kit Connor) is a popular rugby player. The two have very little in common and yet when they meet the bond is strong and both boys crush on one another. Charlie begins to realize he's worth more than being treated like a dirty secret. Nick, who never questioned his sexuality before, thinks he might be bi. Alice Oseman's groundbreaking Netflix series, "Heartstopper," delivers a show like no other, a heartfelt love story between two boys where everyone really does try and do the right thing, but, more importantly, where you cannot help but root for these two irresistible teens, thanks to the amazing work of Locke and Connor. There is nothing currently on TV or in film like this aptly named show.

"Heartstopper," Season One, is streaming on Netflix.

'The Staircase'




The central, wholly enigmatic, character in HBO Max's 8-part limited series, "The Staircase" is Michael Peterson, a North Carolina writer turned politician accused of murdering his wife. One of the big reveals in episode one (that you can see coming) is that Peterson was bisexual. His penchant for hookups with men becomes quite integral to the plot in episodes two and three. Colin Firth, who has played gay numerous times before, has never been so simultaneously sexy and scary. "The Staircase," based on the true and gruesome death of Kathleen Peterson (Toni Collette), the subsequent trial (and the Peabody award-winning documentary from France of the same name), has a lot going on in the first 3 episodes. It had me tantalized and wanting to binge more (as opposed to a host of other limited series currently streaming that are either a mixed bag or a carbon copy of the docs they're based on.)

"The Staircase" is currently streaming on HBO Max with new episodes dropping each week.

'Spring Awakening: Those You've Known'




The 15th anniversary reunion of the Broadway cast of "Spring Awakening" is the subject of the HBO Documentary Film, "Spring Awakening: Those You've Known," a charming and absorbing look back at the tumultuous and formative creation of one of the most enduring musicals of this century, one that boldly dealt with teen love, sexual abuse, queer love, abortion and suicide, in a striking manner. Jonathan Groff and Lea Michelle, the breakout stars, discuss their respective journeys along with other cast members. Groff goes into detail about knowing he was gay at the time of the run and his concern that if people found out they wouldn't accept him in the role. The doc boasts some amazing look-back footage as well as exciting new moments from the November 2021 reunion concert. It's a fascinating story about a show that no one wanted to see, until it swept the Tony Awards—winning eight—and then everyone did.

"Spring Awakening: Those You've Known" is currently streaming on HBO Max.

'Anaïs in Love'




The delectably carefree, titular character in "Anaïs in Love," is someone many wish they could emulate since she rather brazenly follows her passion, damn the consequences. Writer-director Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet's glorious first feature presents her heroine (played by a wonderful Anaïs Demoustier) with little judgment and with great determination. Tired of the stifling men in her life, Anaïs pursues celebrated author Emilie (a terrific Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) who appreciates her combination "audacity and timidity," and an enchanting love story takes shape, with the help of Kim Carnes' "Bette Davis Eyes."

."Anaïs in Love" is currently in theaters and On Demand..

'Great Freedom'




Last year's Austrian shortlisted Oscar entry, Sebastian Meise's "Great Freedom," is timelier than ever in its portrait of a concentration camp survivor (embodied fully by Franz Rogowski) who is immediately imprisoned post-liberation for being gay and spends most of his adult life there. Meise doesn't hold back in depicting queer persecution and in Rogowski's mesmerizing and truly remarkable work we find pain, poetry and the desire to seek out one's own path regardless of where it takes you. "Great Freedom" is extraordinary cinema. In German with English subtitles.

."Great Freedom" is currently streaming on MUBI..

'Nuclear Family'




Ry Russo Young is a brave filmmaker and a brave soul. Most people would not have her daring as she shares her past with viewers; and, more importantly, most would not have the empathy she displays in her examination of a dark time in her family's past. In HBO's powerful 3-part doc, "Nuclear Family," what begins as a loving desire between two women to have a family (during the late 1970s and 1980s when that just wasn't done), turns into a court battle that pitted the women against the gay biological sperm donor years later, with two young girls becoming collateral damage. Russo Young was one of those girls, and now, decades later, she delves into that past to find answers to lingering questions about decisions that were made that might not have entirely been in her best interests. A harrowing story that seeks truth—everything "Allen v. Farrow" was not.

."Nuclear Family" is currently streaming on HBO Max.

'Mascarpone'




This super sexy, super sly and super subversive yummy concoction is now on VOD and DVD. "Mascarpone," the queer-positive gem from Italy, centers on gorgeous twentysomething Antonio (Giancarlo Commare) who is dumped by his husband of 12-years and must now figure out who he is on his own. He moves in with free-spirit—and usually naked—Denis (a fabulous Eduardo Valdarnini) and finds work in a bakery run by the smoldering Luca (Gianmarco Surino, walking sex). And with the help of his new friends, Antonio discovers a new kind love...the most important kind.

."Mascarpone" is now on VOD and DVD..

'Sundance Class of 92 The Year Indies Exploded: 4 Queer Films'

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Over at the Criterion Channel they're commemorating the 30th anniversary of the watershed year that changed independent cinema forever: 1992. Among the 23 movies streaming are the four major gay-themed films, which along with Todd Haynes' "Poison" the year prior, represented the New Queer Cinema. They include Gregg Araki's subversive HIV-poz roadtrip film, "The Living End," Tom Kalin's Leopold and Loeb love story, "Swoon," Derek Jarman's Medieval/gay-rights experimental blend, "Edward II" and Christopher Münch's "The Hours and Times," which focused on the relationship between Beatle John Lennon and his manager Brian Epstein.

In addition, for more queer delights, "Desert Hearts," "Morocco" and "Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean" are also streaming on TCC this month.

"Sundance Class of 92 The Year Indies Exploded" Series is currently streaming on The Criterion Channel..

'Hacks'




Creators Lucia Aniello, Paul W. Downs, and Jen Statsky return with a Season Two that promises to up the ante while giving us more of what we love: Jean Smart and Hannah Einbinder going toe-to-toe and further deepening their relationship—this time, on the road. Meanwhile, Carl Clemons-Hopkins' character explores his bond with Johnny Sibilly (soon to be seen in the ambitious "Queer as Folk" reboot). And Laurie Metcalf pops in to steal some scenes for herself.

."Hacks" begins streaming on HBO Max on May 12, 2022.

Frank J. Avella is a film journalist and is thrilled to be writing for EDGE. He also contributes to Awards Daily and is the GALECA East Coast Rep and a Member of the New York Film Critics Online. Frank is a recipient of the International Writers Residency in Assisi, Italy, a Bogliasco Foundation Fellowship, and a NJ State Arts Council Fellowship. His short film, FIG JAM, has shown in Festivals worldwide (figjamfilm.com) and won awards. His screenplays (CONSENT, LURED, SCREW THE COW) have also won numerous awards in 16 countries. He is a proud member of the Dramatists Guild. https://filmfreeway.com/FrankAvella https://muckrack.com/fjaklute