February always means Valentine’s Day! Here are a handful of queer films and shows available for streaming this month that deserve some love.
“Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness”
Available January 28 on Netflix, this affable six-part reality series allows non-binary “Queer Eye” stylist Jonathan Van Ness to explore his passionate interest in everything from skyscrapers to snack foods. Van Ness meets with experts in each episode, and his effusive enthusiasm is as charming as it is child-like. He tries to generate figure skating fever, understand how hairstyles over the years have come to slay, and why we have developed a sugar dependency. He is especially sensitive to issues of equity and self-expression as well as how beauty and gender expectations have been developed over time — and the damage that can cause. (The last episode, “Can We Say Bye-Bye to the Binary,” looks at gender expression and how fashion is gendered.) Van Ness peppers each show with fun facts and comic vignettes featuring folks including Michelle Kwan and Lea DeLaria. His amusing series will certainly whet viewers’ appetites to learn more about each subject.
Far From Heaven
Out gay filmmaker Todd Haynes’ “Far from Heaven” — his homage to Douglas Sirk’s “All That Heaven Allows” — streams on the Criterion Channel in February (as do four of Sirk’s films, “All that Heaven Allows,” “Written on the Wind,” “Magnificent Obsession,” and “Imitation of Life.”) Haynes’ 2002 film, set in the 1950s, has Cathy and Frank Whitaker (Julianne Moore and Dennis Quaid) grappling with trouble in their marriage. First, Cathy catches Frank kissing another man. Then when she befriends her kindly Black gardener, Raymond Deagan (Dennis Haysbert), the town gossip sets tongues wagging. “Far from Heaven” is a terrific film about the perils of conformity and hypocrisy as seen through the lenses of race, class, and sexuality. Haynes’ attention to period details along with the outstanding performances, music, and cinematography make this film top-notch. (It was nominated for four Oscars).
The fantastic documentary “The Conductor” (available Feb 28 on iTunes, Google Play, and Vudu) is an affectionate profile of Marin Alsop, a lesbian who was the first woman to head a major American symphony orchestra. Alsop was inspired by Leonard Bernstein, and wanted to conduct since she was a child. (She would study under him at Tanglewood). However, when she expressed interest in conducting, she was repeatedly told, “Girls can’t do that.” It only made her determination stronger. As director Bernadette Wegenstein’s inspiring film shows, it is a good thing Alsop persevered. Alsop’s love of music is infectious. Watching her teach a masterclass to students is one of the film’s many highlights. This engaging documentary briefly touches on Alsop’s personal life, from her childhood with musician parents in New York to her current life with her spouse, Kristin Jurkscheit, who has an amusing anecdote when Alsop is awarded a McArthur “Genius” Grant. But most of this documentary shows Alsop at work, and in these scenes, she is poetry in motion.
Don’t Look Down
“Don’t Look Down,” (available February 15 on VOD) is a stylish film by writers/directors Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau about four men and one woman who meet in a high rise apartment where a man they all once loved is being held in a locked room. As these strangers talk (and talk and talk), they recount their experiences with the man. To wit, Veronika (Manika Auxire) has a monologue about him creating the illusion they were a couple; Marius (Geoffrey Couët) describes the humiliation he experienced; and Nathan (Simon Frenay) confesses he only had sex with the man in clubs, never in a bed. Each individual also privately visits with the guy off screen, getting a chance to settle a score. As they eat (and eat and eat) over the course of this long, cathartic evening, they also reveal their thoughts and fantasies to one another. The filmmakers take a canny approach in creating a mosaic of who the guy was and how he influenced each lover. As such, “Don’t Look Down” has some shrewd observations about relationships and how a seducer can tell someone what they want to hear so he can gain their trust. But the best scenes in this chic film are of these strangers bonding.
Potato Dreams of America
“Potato Dreams of America,” (available February 22 on VOD) written and directed by Wes Hurley, is the fabulous feature film version of his 2017 documentary short, “Potato Dreams.” Based on Hurley’s life as a closeted youth growing up in the USSR, this visually stylish and dryly comic film recounts Potato (Hersh Powers in Russia; Tyler Bocock in America), coming to terms with his sexuality. He and his mother, Lena (Sera Barbieri in Russia; Marya Sea Kaminski in America), emigrate when she marries a man (Dan Lauria) in Seattle — but he may not be what he seems. Hurley’s wonderful and very queer film is full of wit, despair, and heart, and that is what makes it so winning.