Being a member of the LGBT community is a life altering experience. This experience starts with the first discovery of true identity and it can vary greatly depending on the person.
This realization may come at four, fourteen or one hundred, but there is a moment of profound revelation . In cinema, these moments of realization happen often in coming of age films.
Coming of age films most often touch on heterosexual stories of the loss of virginity, the first kiss, or just growing up facing challenges together with friends. Coming of age films that feature prominent LGBT characters focus on identity in different ways.
There are some pressing questions which have been answered in the history of LGBT coming of age stories, which range from tragic to fabulous and everything in-between. These films constitute the gems of a genre. The following films illustrate many facets of these films which may well contain great meaning for many kindred souls watching them.
1. Blue is the Warmest Color (2013)
Perhaps one of the most famous films on this list, due to controversy caused by its long running time and graphic lesbian love scenes. The film subverts this controversy by providing an insightful and beautiful tale of Adele, a fifteen-year-old girl, who experiences her identity as a female sexual being.
The film strips away the heterosexual male version of lesbianism common to Hollywood cinema and creates instead a story about exploration of sexuality.
The leading actresses Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux bring a realism and authenticity to the film, which can often be lacking in Hollywood films about homosexual relationships. The camerawork, in addition to the cast, echos the realism and personal feeling that just emanates off the screen.
The Palme D’or winner was praised, but also attracted controversy for its direction, acting, and realistic nature of the women’s relationship. It received a standing ovation at the festival and ranked high on many critics’ lists at the end of the year.
Although the film is long, with an almost three-hour running time, and some of the sex scenes are graphic. The film’s realism and depiction of the women’s relationship, among other attributes, make this a must watch.
2. Beautiful Thing (1996)
This British classic adapted from Jonathan Harvey’s play of the same name has been an introduction for many young people to LGBT films, especially those who viewed it at the time of its release. The film is about finding identity and a place in the world, as each of the teenager characters balance school, growing up in the working class area of South East London, their parents and, for Jamie and Ste, their sexual orientation and love for one another.
The leads, Glen Barry and Scott Neal, are perfectly cast in their roles and each brings a unique perspective to growing up gay in that environment. However, it is the supporting cast who steals the show. Featuring such players as Linda Barry, who plays Jamie’s mother, a hard-working, tough-talking single mother who wants nothing but the best for son, or Tameka Empson, as Leah, the precocious, sassy next-door neighbor and huge lover of Mama Cass, who has her own growing up to do.
Although the film may seem a little dated, its message of being oneself, regardless of background or sexual orientation and learning self love and worth, is perfect for the world of today. The last 30 minutes of the movie are so heartwarming and touching that it will cause the film to demand repeat viewings.
3. Edge of Seventeen (1998)
This autobiographical joy from writer Todd Stephens and director David Moreton is a faithful, honest recreation of teenage life at the time. Eric, who is based on Stephens, tries to discover his true self.
Eric and his friend Maggie get jobs at an amusement park, where they befriend their lesbian boss, played by the hilarious and underrated Lea DeLaria and a gay college student names Rod, played by Anderson Gabrych, who reprises his role in another Todd Stephen’s film Another Gay Sequel: Gays Gone Wild!
Poor Maggie sits in the wings and sparks fly between the boys. Through this relationship he learns to accept himself as a gay man and learns where and with who he can find acceptance.
The film, whose title comes from a Stevie Nicks song, is a hidden gem in the canons of both LGBT films and coming of age tales. The characters, setting, and situation, which are all based on true events and people are so realistic and much more poignant than other coming out films of the era. And to top all these off, the soundtrack is a fabulous array of 80s classics.
4. Boys (2014)
Boys, or Jongens, is a Dutch film from director Mischa Kamp. It tells the story of Sieger (Gijs Blom), who is a quiet, sporty 15-year-old who is training for the national relay championships when he meets Marc (Ko Zandvliet), who intrigues Sieger with his unpredictability.
Sieger harbors strong feelings for Marc and engages in a lonely struggle because he doesn’t know if Marc feels the same way. It turns out Marc shares his affections and their friendship deepens to love.
Boys is nothing new, groundbreaking or adventurous in the annals of LGBT cinema. The film is simple, yet elegant, there is no need for a crazy plot, or an exotic place.
It is all about the relationship between the boys. Nonetheless, it is refreshing to see the acceptance of queer youth and the sheer presence of a queer relationship simply and sweetly on the screen. It is not overly sweet, though; it never passes into the realm of the after-school TV special. Boys has a stellar cast, beautiful, yet self conscious directing and is a delightful 80-minute film.
5. Get Real (1998)
Get Real is also a hidden gem in LGBT cinema. The story focuses on Steven, a middle-class British schoolboy who is misunderstood at home and bullied at school. One of his few friends is Linda, who is basically a British Rebel Wilson before Rebel Wilson.
Steven cruises around the bathroom and finds John, who is the stereotypical closeted popular boy. Their friendship and budding romance leads to questions of popularity, high school social structure, and the way men behave in high school.
Although the film is a bit cliched, there is still heart and compassion behind the dialogue. There is an exploration of the paranoia of being together in secret, something that is universal truth of being a member of the LGBT community.
The film has been praised by critics and ranked 34th in Entertainment Weekly’s 50 Best High School Movies, ahead of well-known classics like Friday Night Lights, Sixteen Candles, and Napoleon Dynamite. So the heart and realism of the film fights through the stereotypes to make this film a poignant high school piece.
6. Geography Club (2013)
This indie dramedy based on Brent Hartinger’s novel of the same name tells the story of Russell Middlebrook, who is still dating girls while having a secret relationship with the high school quarterback, who doesn’t want his teammates to find out his sexual secret.
Though somewhat cliched, the film still has a feeling that many who are in the closet feel about their peer groups, especially if one is the star quarterback. Russell and Kevin explore their feelings alongside new friends Min and Therese, who are the secret lesbian couple,and Ike who is trying to decide who he wants to be form the titular Geography Club.
The secrets begin to flow as the club that no one wants to join, finds its members becoming closer. There is an overall sense of love and acceptance as part of the “new normal” where being LGBT is more accepted as a usual thing.
The film has won considerable praises. Entertainment Tonight called the film the most culturally significant movie of the year 2013. Although Geography Club relies on some coming of age/coming out tropes, its heart and cast help it to stand apart by creating a space and recognizable characters which are relatable to a large audience.
7. Mysterious Skin (2004)
This film is not for the squeamish. Greg Araki’s opaque film is based on Scott Heim novel of the same name. The story follows two teenage boys who were abused by their baseball coach and explores how this fact affects their lives in different ways.
One of the boys (Joseph Gordon Levitt) becomes a male prostitute, not so much for the money, but because he was programmed by his coach to please older men. The other (Brady Corbet), becomes entranced in a fantasy world dominated by aliens, which leads him to try to find a woman who says she was abducted by aliens.
The film is rated NC-17 and is among the most explicit on this list. The film is carefully crafted and challenges the viewer to think about the effects of abuse, sexuality and the loss of childhood. Gorden Levitt shines and executes the raw and tough material he was given, showing his true depth as an actor.
The film depicts both the period of childhood and the wonder of that time and the strife of being teenagers, especially after losing a childhood. The film is not so much about the character’s sexuality as about how one’s life can be affected by sex. Overall, the bold direction, stellar performances , and social undertones, make this a tough, but beautiful experience.