Reeling: The Chicago LGBT International Film Festival runs Friday through Thursday, November 8 through 14, at Chicago Filmmakers, 5243 N. Clark; Logan, 2646 N. Milwaukee; Music Box, 3733 N. Southport; Northwestern Univ. Block Museum of Art, 40 Arts Circle Dr., Evanston; and smaller venues around town. Unless otherwise noted, tickets are $12; passes are $50 (five screenings), $80 (ten screenings), $125 (all screenings excluding special events), and $175 (all screenings and events). For more information call 773-293-1447 or visit reelingfilmfestival.org. Reviews of selected films follow.
Before You Know It With this documentary about three elderly gay men, director P.J. Raval aims to illustrate the struggles of LBGT seniors, but their assorted hardships—loneliness, waning health, financial problems—aren’t exactly exclusive to the gay community, so the sociopolitical harangue, however well-intentioned, doesn’t really hold water. The film succeeds mainly as portraiture, particularly when Raval focuses on the octogenarian Dennis. Broken by his decades in the closet, he openly contemplates suicide, his anguish and regret receding only when he’s dressed as his female alter ego, Dee. His story, not uncommon among gay people his age, is devastating and beautiful, and more worthy of its screen time than Raval’s politics are. —Drew Hunt 110 min. Sat 11/9, 2:30 PM, Northwestern Univ. Block Museum of Art, $9
Easy Abby A charismatic slacker in her late 20s, procrastinating about going back to school, keeps herself occupied by having lots of casual sex with beautiful women. That might sound like the premise of a porno, and in narrative terms this local production often resembles one. Compiled from episodes of a web series, it plays out as a series of offhand, loosely connected scenes, most of them pivoting on a random sexual encounter. Yet writer-director Wendy Jo Carlton (Hannah Free) generally keeps the sex offscreen, focusing instead on her urbanite subjects’ patter and hang-out rituals. The results suggest a lesbian variation on the work of local filmmaker Joe Swanberg, particularly his web series Young American Bodies. —Ben Sachs 88 min. Sun 11/10, 6:15 PM, Logan
First Period This send-up of 80s teen comedies is crass, lewd, occasionally disgusting—and pretty damn funny. New girl Cassie Glenn (“totally rockin’ superstar extraordinaire; you’re welcome”) longs to be accepted by the school’s most popular girls, Heather and Other Heather, but spends most of her time with best friend Maggie. Played in drag by Brandon Alexander III and Dudley Beene, respectively, they’re your average teenagers, throwing slumber parties and trying to sleep with the cutest guys. The intentional weirdness works in most scenes (when Maggie claims she knows how to cheer up Cassie, the other girl replies, “You know where the hot, angry homeless guy outside the supermarket lives?”). But this bogs down amid forced jokes and scenes that go on a little too long. Charlie Vaughn directed a script by Alexander. —Julia Thiel 100 min. Sat 11/9, midnight, Logan
G.B.F. A high school’s first openly homosexual student (Michael J. Willett) becomes a status symbol for three social butterflies (Andrea Bowen, Sasha Pieterse, Xosha Roquemore) seeking their own Gay Best Friend. Screenwriter George Northy seems to be aiming for a satire of teen society a la Mean Girls (directly referenced more than once), yet the main character is forced into so many LGBT stereotypes that the movie comes off as borderline offensive. A few sweet moments highlight the importance of acceptance and being yourself, but these after-school-special interludes clash with the snarky tone. Darren Stein directed, and Megan Mullally and Natasha Lyonne appear all too briefly as dysfunctional adults. —Brianna Wellen 92 min. Bowen and other cast members attend the screening, part of the opening-night program; tickets are $15, $40 with an afterparty. Thu 11/7, 7:30 PM, Music Box, $15 or
Ludwig II An object of fascination to such filmmakers as William Dieterle and Luchino Visconti, the eccentric Ludwig II ruled Bavaria from 1864 to ’86, enriching its cultural life even as he allowed his subjects to be absorbed into the German Empire. Written and directed by Marie Noelle and Peter Sehr, this opulent German drama (2012) hits all the high points of Ludwig’s reign, noting his repressed homosexuality, his ardent patronage of composer Richard Wagner, his controversial diplomacy toward a militaristic Prussia, his growing mental instability, and the mysterious drowning incident that ended his reign. Sabin Tambrea plays the young Ludwig as a man of passion and principle who nonetheless lacks the steadiness required of a good statesman; for some reason the directors bail out on Tambrea near the end of the movie and present Sebastian Schipper as Ludwig in his final years, and this jolting change comes close to wrecking the movie. Given all the silk and velvet onscreen, you’d think the producers could have sprung for a little prosthetic makeup. In German with subtitles. —J.R. Jones 137 min. Screens as part of the closing-night program; tickets are $40 for the first screening, which includes an afterparty, and $15 for the second. Thu 11/14, 6:30 and 9:15 PM, Logan
One Zero One: The Story of Cybersissy & BayBjane This German documentary profiles two improbable (and improbably successful) drag queens: Antoine Timmermans (aka Cybersissy), an overweight, middle-aged schizophrenic, and Mourad Zerhouni (aka BayBjane), a one-eyed German-Moroccan midget with a bone disorder. Remarkably, the movie never feels like a freak show. Director Tim Lienhard (who also shot and edited) presents drag performance not as a subculture but as a genuine art form—his interest in his subjects seems to lie in what they communicate through performing, rather than their audacity in performing at all. That might be a moot point if you don’t share his connoisseur’s perspective, but the movie is undeniably singular and colorful. In English and subtitled German. —Ben Sachs 90 min. Wed 11/13, 9:15 PM, Logan
Route of Acceptance A lesbian teen in Toronto (Emily Alatalo) is accepted to three colleges but can’t decide which to attend; when her brother announces that he’s engaged, she begins to worry that she’ll make the wrong choice and miss meeting her soul mate. Writer-director Heather Tobin follows her protagonist through three interminable episodes that show her possible future paths (one for each school, I presume). Will she get pregnant in college and face the prospect of an abortion? Marry a much older woman? Inadvertently (and bizarrely) steal her brother’s fiancee? Spoiler alert: after lumbering through these half-baked scenarios, Tobin resolves that the girl will skip college and opt instead to travel with her mother, a minor character up to that point. —Julia Thiel 114 min. Mon 11/11, 7 PM, Logan