Coming Out in Film
Coming out is a rite of passage for the GLBT community. Beyond self-acceptance, it is about sharing yourself with family members, friends, and even co-workers. Coming out as a teen is more common and perhaps easier than it was a generation ago, but it remains a political statement at any age.
Films have long depicted coming out stories, and while some members of the LGBT community who tire of seeing coming out stories, they are important and often give folks courage to take that big step. Here is a list of titles to check out to celebrate National Coming Out Day.
Back in 1982 Hollywood made "Making Love," a soapy drama about Zach (Michael Ontkean), a married doctor who is forced out of the closet when he begins an affair with Bart (Harry Hamlin). The film remains a touchstone for a generation despite mixed reviews and mediocre box office because it was one of the few efforts Hollywood made at courting a queer audience. Hollywood took a comic approach to the topic in 1997 with "In & Out," a popular and broad film about a schoolteacher (Kevin Kline) grappling with his sexual identity after being inadvertently outed by a former student’s award acceptance speech.
American independent film handled coming out with much more sensitivity. "Edge of Seventeen" (1998) is a coming out classic, and based on writer Todd Stephens’s semiautobiographical experiences. The film features a winning performance by Chris Stafford as Stephen’s alter ego and sexy support from Andersen Gabrych as the young man who seduces him. While "Edge of Seventeen" has a sincere (and de rigueur) coming out scene with his mother (Stephanie McVay), Stephens mocked it in his 2006 comedy, "Another Gay Movie." In this spoof, the flamboyant Nico (Jonah Blechman) is looking to lose his anal virginity, but has yet to tell his mother ("Edge of Seventeen"’s McVay) that he is gay.
One of the best American lesbian coming out films is the hilarious and affecting "Kissing Jessica Stein" (2001), in which the title character (co-writer Jennifer Westfeldt) decides to start dating women because she is fed up with men. When she connects with Helen (co-writer Heather Jurgensen) the two women have to determine who they want to love and what they want out of their relationship. Another comedy, "But I’m a Cheerleader" (1999), depicts a would-be lesbian (Natasha Lyonne) being sent off to a rehabilitation camp called "True Directions" to "cure" her of her orientation. Of course, she meets a handful of LGBT characters who express themselves and find self-acceptance.
Foreign films also portray coming out stories with considerable grace. From Canada, "C.R.A.Z.Y." (2005) is an outstanding film about Zachary (Marc-André Grondin) coming of age in the 1970s in a tight-knit family in Montreal. He loves David Bowie and develops strong feelings for guys, much to his disapproving father’s chagrin. Imaginatively filmed by director Jean-Marc Vallée, "C.R.A.Z.Y." is one of the best coming out films ever. On the lighter side, "Mambo Italiano" (2003) has lovers Angelo (Luke Kirby) and Nino (Peter Miller) coming out to their parents with fear and mixed but amusing results.
Two British films about teenagers that have long been embraced by audiences are "Beautiful Thing" (1996), about two male teenage neighbors in a London towerblock who fall in love, and "Get Real" (1998), about Steven (Ben Silverstone) who is crushed on the prep school jock (Brad Gorton), who happens to reciprocate.
The landmark German film "Taxi Zum Klo" (1980), depicts writer/director/star Frank Ripploh outing himself in his classroom by coming to school in drag after a night of debauchery. "Summer Storm" (2004) was a comedy-drama about same-sex attraction as the closeted Tobi (Robert Stadlober) and his best friend Achim (Kostka Ullman) compete in a rowing competition against the Queerstrokes, a gay crew team.
From France, "Wild Reeds" (1994), features one of the most remarkable coming out scenes in cinema, as François (Gaël Morel) confirms his sexuality in a bathroom mirror. Sexy Stéphane Rideau, who appears in "Wild Reeds," plays gay in "Come Undone" (2000), a moving story about Mathieu (Jérémie Elkaïm) who falls in love with Cedric (Rideau) one summer and confesses his attraction to his family. The film toggles back and forth in time, as Mathieu has attempted suicide following the end of the relationship.
One of the most important coming out films is the Oscar-winning 1994 short "Trevor," about a young Diana Ross-loving teenage boy negotiating his sexual identity in high school. The short, which unfolds as a series of personal diary entries, is still fresh and funny two decades later. But it is perhaps most significant for sparking The Trevor Project, the suicide prevention hotline for LGBT youth.
Also in video diary format, is the emotion-filled, confessional coming out documentary, "Wish Me Away," chronicling country singer Chely Wright’s transformation from closeted singer/songwriter to a bold, out lesbian waving the rainbow flag at various Pride events. The film also provides a revealing behind-the-scenes look at how her public coming out campaign was orchestrated.
Coming out for minority characters is captured in two extraordinary films. "Pariah" (2011) gives a glimpse into the African American butch world as teenager Alike (Adepero Oduye) negotiates finding her sense of self in the face of negativity from her mother and her efforts not to hurt her father. "La Mission" (2009), has a Latino teenager Jes (Jeremy Ray Valdez) trying to hide his same-sex desires from his macho father (Benjamin Bratt) in San Francisco’s Mission district. "Gun Hill Road" (2011) tells a different kind of coming out story as Michael (Harmony Santana) reveals he has become Vanessa to his father Enrique (Esai Morales) after dad comes back from a stint in prison.
Coming out later in life is the subject of several films. Just out on DVD is "Turtle Hill, Brooklyn" (2011), which has Mateo (Ricardo Valdez) throwing his partner Will (Brian W. Seibert) a 30th birthday party, only to have friction arise when Will’s sister pays an unexpected visit and learns about her brother’s relationship. In the modest and endearing low-budget comedy-drama "The One" (2011), Daniel (Jon Prescott) is engaged to Jen (Margaret Ann Florence) only to fall in love with Tommy (Ian Novick).
Other notable entrants in the genre include "Big Eden" (2000), a romantic drama about Henry (Arye Gross), a city slicker who moves to Montana where he grew up and finds a new life as a gay man; "Mulligans" (2008), about a young man’s father (Dan Payne) having an affair with his son’s best friend (Charlie David, who penned the screenplay); and "Beginners" (2010), in which actor Christopher Plummer won an Oscar for his performance as a dad who comes out at age 70.
Coming Out Through the Ages: A list of must see coming out films
Taxi Zum Klo - 1980
Making Love - 1982
Wild Reeds - 1994
Trevor - 1994
Beautiful Thing - 1996
In & Out - 1997
Edge of Seventeen - 1998
Get Real - 1998
But I’m a Cheerleader - 1999
Come Undone - 2000
Big Eden - 2000
Kissing Jessica Stein - 2001
Mambo Italiano - 2003
Summer Storm - 2004
C.R.A.Z.Y. - 2005
Another Gay Movie - 2006
Mulligans - 2008
La Mission - 2009
Beginners - 2010
Turtle Hill, Brooklyn - 2011
The One - 2011
Gun Hill Road - 2011
Wish Me Away - 2011
Pariah - 2011