The Best Queer Coming of Age Films of All Time
By Todd Laing
I don’t know about you, but I find the majority of queer movies really hard to watch. Not because they’re confronting or tackling some serious subject matter, but because they’re so cringeworthy. There – I said it!
Nevertheless, over the top cliché-riddled films still have a place in queer cinema, and many of them are coming of age tales.
You know the drill. Set in an all boy’s boarding school, a young tween pines after the school jock – only to be outed and ridiculed. Drama ensues before the shock twist – the jock’s feelings are reciprocated and they all come to accept each other in the end. Bless!
Come to think of it, I’m actually a real sucker for a coming of age tale. But you’ve got to sift through a lot of junk to find the great ones, which is why I have compiled a list of the greatest coming of age queer films for your perusal.
A few of the films I’ve chosen aren’t all that merry. Not all of them get tied up in a nice sweet bow – just like in real life.
I’m the first to admit that a lot of them have their saccharine moments, but there is something so nostalgic, relatable and innocent about each of these tales that gets me every time. Below, in no particular order, are my picks for the 10 Best Queer Coming of Age Films ever committed to celluloid.
This 2011 French entry is so naturalistic in its approach you almost forget you’re watching a film. Focusing on 10-year-old tomboy Laure, we watch as she moves to a new town with her family and begins to explore her gender identity. Now known as Mikael to her new male friends and her burgeoning crush Lisa, Laure gets the chance to experience childhood the way she wants. The two young leads are phenomenal, and there is a reason this film has a 97% certified fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Bruce La Bruce is a divisive filmmaker in the queer community at the best of times, and his 2013 film didn’t do him any favours – yet to his credit he tackles incredibly difficult subject matter with warmth and heart. Teenager Lake is sexually attracted to elderly men, so he takes a job at an aged-care facility and falls for a senior citizen named Mr. Peabody (Canadian stage actor Walter Borden in a phenomenal performance). This film has such a timeless feel about it and really captures the themes of teenage exploration, thus deserving to be seen by a larger audience.
Produced by the great Spike Lee and premiering at Sundance in 2011, this film truly encompasses the message that the main character Alike conveys to those around her in her journey of self-discovery: “I’m not running. I’m choosing”. Focusing on her character and her acceptance of her own sexuality, the film is illuminating, empowering and a thrill to watch. Actress Adepero Oduye nails every nuance of the character and her experiences as a young women coming out to her family and friends. The actress deservedly garnered several wins for her performance, but how she was never nominated for a more mainstream award is beyond me.
The most recent entry on this list I happened to catch at the Sydney Film Festival earlier this year, and was the highlight of all the films I saw. This Canadian features sees young Oscar witness a heinous gay crime as a child that sends him into a state of emotional turmoil, and finds him hiding his emerging sexuality. Later in his teenage years this turmoil manifests itself through a series of fantasies and a talking hamster named Buffy. I laughed, I cried; I felt everything. It’s amazing. See it now PLEASE.
The Blossoming Of Maximo Oliveros
There is a reason why this film was selected as the official Philippine entry at the 2005 Academy Awards. It’s AWESOME. This film may be campy but it never descends into melodrama. Young Maximo falls for the hunky detective who is investigating his family’s criminal activities. Maximo’s sexuality is never questioned, and it is so refreshing to see a story onscreen such as this one. The filmmakers never make fun of their main protagonist, or play him for laughs like they could so easily have done. Instead, we get a beautiful portrait of young puppy love; one that I’ve revisited several times. I recommend you do the same.
There were several Australian films that I could have included on this list (Holding The Man, Teenage Kicks, Dead Europe, The Sum Of Us, Head On and even the classic Wake In Fright, to name a few). However, I think Newcastle is the one film that truly captures the essence of the coming of age story. When I saw this film upon its release nine years ago, I was a young gay man dealing with my own experience of coming out. I don’t surf, I’ve never been to Newcastle and I’m an only child, but for some reason this film about two very different brothers really resonated with me. Family is a huge part theme of Newcastle, and accepting the ones that you’re stuck with on this earth is something we can all relate to. Xavier Samuel’s performance = MARRY ME!
My Summer of Love
Winner of the Best British Film at the 2005 BAFTAs, this was the screen debut of Emily Blunt. Honestly, I’ve never seen her in anything better than this. Her portrayal of Tamsin – the upper class girl suspended from boarding school – who meets the lost Mona, is nothing short of amazing. This summer romance is so beautifully shot, allowing it to perfectly encompass the thralls of infatuation. Who wouldn’t fall for Tamsin, the rebel beauty with a troubled past? Just be careful who you fall for.
The other British film on this list, and the oldest (and most dated), is this gay classic. Search any list of best gay films and this will come up for good reason. Set in the council estates of London in the mid-nineties, this film sees schoolmates Jamie and Ste fall in love after Jamie’s mother takes Ste into her home. Xavier Dolan’s film “I Killed Your Mother” is often cited as the great representation of the mother/gay son relationship, but I disagree. I feel like this film is so much more real and beautiful in its portrayal of a mother’s acceptance of her sons’ homosexuality. The final scene makes me well up just thinking about it. This film truly is a beautiful thing.
Probably the most well-known film on this list is also the most controversial and dark. By no means commercial, it is a film I’ve seen numerous times and it’s one I feel needs to be watched alone. It’s not a crowd pleaser, and there are at least half a dozen scenes that give me goosebumps. Joseph Gordon Levitt has never been better. Director Gregg Araki was the leader of the “doom generation” in the nineties, and with this film he delivered his masterpiece. Following two boys who are abused by their baseball coach, they each grow up very differently. One is a teenage hustler and the other is obsessed with alien invasions. Together they piece together the remains of their past in order to ensure their future. Hard-hitting cinema at its best .
Ma Vie en Rose
Winner of the Best Foreign Language Film at the Golden Globe Awards in 1997, this sweet Belgian tale is everything I love about coming of age tales. Ludovic is a young boy whose family struggles to accept his expression of gender as he identifies with being a girl, with Ludovic feeling totally perplexed about their dramatic response. This film is filled with magic and wonder, and the fact that is was given an R rating in the US is ridiculous. It is so innocent in its portrayal of the difficulties faced by a transgender child. This is a very real look at how families interact. Seek this film out.