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Screen Queen

Mr. Rogers' quiet gay activism, plus 'Love, Simon,' 'A Raisin in the Sun' and 'Blockers'

Movie Review by Chris Azzopardi (From December 2020 Online)
Screen Queen: Mr. Rogers' quiet gay activism, plus 'Love, Simon,' 'A Raisin in the Sun' and 'Blockers'
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Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
For over 30 years, national treasure Fred Rogers welcomed kids who felt different to his  "neighborhood." Maybe you were there, enchanted by the trolley and talking puppets. Maybe you, like me, felt like you didn’t fit in with the other kids, and maybe, again like me, Mr. Rogers made you feel more at home in this big, scary world – for 30 minutes every day during his longtime PBS children’s show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, anyway. Uncertain, divisive times like ours call for another soul-soothing balm, and documentarian Morgan Neville, who rightfully won an Oscar for 20 Feet From Stardom, delivers just that with his Rogers-centered doc Won’t You Be My Neighbor?. Perhaps most surprising to those watching his show as a child: Rogers was a quiet gay and civil rights activist, demonstrated by the casting of gay, black actor François Clemmons, who portrayed Officer Clemmons. In the doc, Clemmons extols Rogers’ no-barriers-for-love inclusiveness and compassion for everyone, recalling his special bond with Rogers, whom he considered a father figure. Beyond interviews with Neighborhood cast members and Rogers’ kin, as well as archival conversations with Rogers himself, vintage footage dating back to the show’s 1968 premiere is featured, including an early episode with Rogers as his alter-ego cat puppet, Daniel Striped Tiger, expressing through song feelings of inferiority. It’ll wring your eyes dry, but save some tears for the rest of this moving trip down memory lane, a tightly constructed tribute to Rogers’ philosophies on love and kindness for a world still trying to grasp both.

Love, Simon
You can think Love, Simon isn’t enough because it isn’t. Not yet, anyway. Gay culture has long revelled in queer art-films with niche-queer narratives, where societal pressures befell closeted cowboys in Brokeback Mountain, and where homosexuality and blackness intersected in Moonlight. Comparatively, Love, Simon is one serviceable but slighter-in-scope pop bop. But if you saw it in a theater with crying teens and their crying moms, like I did, then you know the movie’s banality alone – finally, gay people get their John Hughes film – is groundbreaking. Directed by Greg Berlanti from a script based on 2016’s young-adult bestseller Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, I didn’t expect Love, Simon to deliver high-brow gay cinema – not if its first order of business was to let queerness live in many of the same rom-com conventions as any Sandra Bullock or Jennifer Garner lovefest. And on that same massive level, in wide release on the big screen, where gay teen Simon miserably navigates out-gay life at high school as he searches for "Blue," an unidentified, closeted schoolmate he’s confided in through an emotionally invested email exchange. The proceedings are richly gay and heartwarming and nostalgic: a Whitney Houston musical number, a shamelessly ’80s-by-way-of-John Hughes sensibility and an affirming tearjerker of a mom speech from Garner herself. I cried lots, and its cathartic sweetness – being the great love story it promised to be – charmed me and the Simon I once was. A deleted scene featuring actor-slash-dreamboat Colton Haynes is among the Blu-ray’s special features, which also includes more deleted scenes, a Berlanti commentary and a book-to-screen featurette.

Also Out

A Raisin in the Sun
Even after Lorraine Hansberry adapted her 1959 play A Raisin in the Sun – the first play by a black woman to be performed on Broadway – for the silver screen, the 1961 film, directed by Daniel Petrie, preserved the theatrical simplicity of the source material. The story's familial and racial tensions also remained fraught with complications: A money-strapped black family, the Youngers, living in close quarters in the Chicago slums in the 1950s contend with how to best spend a $10,000 life-insurance check – their chance at a fresh start. That fresh start looks different for single mother and grandmother Lena Younger (Claudia McNeil), her daughter Beneatha (Diana Sands), her son Walter (Sidney Poitier), plus his wife Ruth (Ruby Dee) and their son Travis (Stephen Perry). Tremendous performances – particularly Poitier and McNeil as the family's willful rock, which she inhabits with true grit and grace – are the touchstones of Hansberry's moving portrait of a black family hoping to rise above the economic and cultural forces against them, and the firsthand destruction it causes when they can't. But joy – find it, the film suggests, even if the world won’t let you have it. Criterion Collection's Blu-ray restoration of the classic gleans an array of well-rounded supplemental material, including interview features with Hansberry and Petrie.

Blockers

Here’s what the Blockers trailer tells you: three teenagers are on a mission to get laid on prom night and their parents are freaking out. What it doesn’t tell you is that one of those, Sam (Gideon Adlon), is a closeted lesbian. Cue the supportive dad, Miles (Ike Barinholtz), who suspects his daughter will be the only boy-averse girl of that girlfriend group, while the other parents, Lisa (Leslie Mann) and Mitchell (John Cena), have a parental meltdown and embark on a mad chase to cockblock their kids. Desperate to shut down their impending sexcapades after decoding a series of suggestive emojis, which is funny because watching parents try to figure out modern-day technology will forever be funny, Lisa, Miles and Mitchell go to raunchy extremes to save their children’s virginity. I laughed plenty at the ridiculous gags (one involving Gina Gershon playing naked Marco Polo with her husband), but what threw me was the film’s sweet, emotional throughline, set in motion in the beginning when Mann, perfect in scenes where heart and humor collide, desperately tries to pretend to be OK with her college-bound daughter leaving the nest. Something else to celebrate besides Mann: sex comedies with high schoolers where one just so happens to be a lesbian. Yes and thank you, Hollywood.

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Contributor Chris Azzopardi |


Topic Movies |


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