5 Essential 'Coming Out' Movies, In Honor of LGBT History Month
October's designation as LGBT History Month and yesterday's National Coming Out Day is more than enough reason to revisit five movies that chronicle coming out, the disorientation that comes with queer self-identification, and the still-underrepresented world of gay romance. Our quintet includes a touch of the mainstream, a dollop of the obscure, and a heady mix of fantasy and reality. Cue up your Mama Cass solo discs!
Harry Hamlin's ineffably Hamlinesque haircut may be a distraction, but the impact of Making Love as a progressive gay film in 1982 can't be overlooked. A doctor (Michael Ontkean) eventually confides in his exec wife (Kate Jackson!) that he's gay after entering an affair with an unromantic author (Hamlin). A touching effort for director Arthur Hiller, the man who also helmed my least-favorite two lovers of all time in Love Story. In the battle of Kate (Jackson) and Ali (MacGraw), I take Kate any day.
Edge of Seventeen
This coming-of-age story of a gay teen in 1980s Ohio (note the scenes set at Sandusky's Cedar Point amusement park) is an emotional, but thoroughly relatable story of young love. It's just honest and unpretentious, with a very appealing lead in Chris Stafford. He's just like a white-winged dove in that darling preppy vest!
Featuring a soundtrack that will leave you with a pretty comprehensive knowledge of Mama Cass Elliot's solo work, Beautiful Thing takes place in South East London's blue-collar housing. A gay teen named Jamie (Glen Berry) lives with a single mother (Linda Henry) and is infatuated with his classmate Ste, who lives with abusive family members. When Jamie's mother takes pity on Ste and lets him sleep over with Jamie, the two realize they have feelings for one another, though Ste is reluctant to admit it. Without giving much away, I have to say that the conclusion of this movie is damn great, and you'll never think of "Dream a Little Dream of Me" the same way again.
In & Out
In & Out is notable not because it's a prized piece of cinema or even a very funny movie, but because it was a mainstream success that focused solely on one man's (Kevin Kline, as a buttoned-up schoolteacher) journey of self-acceptance after one of his students (Matt Dillon) outs him during an Oscar speech. Though Joan Cusack earned the real-life Oscar nod as Kline's histrionic wife, it's Kline who transcends the cliched jokes about effete demeanor with his plucky, fully realized portrayal. The conclusion is an expected feel-good triumph, but it doesn't undermine the fun of our befuddled protagonist's arc.
Angels in America
Tony Kushner's two-part Pulitzer-winning epic play came to vivid, ethereal life in the form of Mike Nichols's glorious 2003 HBO miniseries. We keep track of several characters (many double-cast, like in the Broadway form) including an AIDS-afflicted New Yorker with heavenly hallucinations (Justin Kirk), his craven boyfriend Louis (Ben Shenkman), legendary right-wing fixer Roy Cohn (Al Pacino), an unhinged Mormon housewife (Mary-Louise Paker) and her deeply closeted, moral crisis-enduring Mormon husband Joe (Patrick Wilson). Joe's transformation throughout the series is resounding, and Wilson plays him with melancholic grace. If you can handle the genius of Meryl Streep's triple-casting as Wilson's mother, a bearded old rabbi, and Ethel Rosenberg, you may be slightly ready for the scope of Angels in America.
For further insight, check out Alonso Duralde's indispensable book 101 Must-See Movies for Gay Men.