“Monster Pies” (7:15 p.m. July 16, Ritz East, 125 S. Second St.; 5 p.m. July 18, East), one of several films about teens, is a sensitive Australian import about two classmates who unexpectedly fall in love. Bullied Mike (Tristan Barr) slowly befriends newcomer Wil (Lucas Linehan), in part because he is crushing on the hunk. Bonding over a school project, the guys become close, and when Mike impulsively kisses Wil one night, Wil tells him that he likes it. Thus begins their clandestine romance that ultimately takes a surprising turn. “Monster Pies” is a bit crudely made and clumsily acted, but it is a heartfelt drama about coming out and caring for others.
Less successful is “Geography Club” (5 p.m. July 13, East; 7:15 p.m. July 20, East), a disappointing adaptation of Brent Hartinger’s young-adult book about gay teens. This slight film plays like a not-so-special “After-School Special” — one in which audiences are cudgeled by the “be yourself” message. Sure, Russell Middlebrook (the appealing, if too old, Cameron Deane Stewart) is adorable, especially when he is kissing quarterback Kevin (Justin Deeley) in the rain. But while the filmmakers understand issues surrounding peer pressure, taunting and sexual self-expression, “Geography Club” never makes the characters’ awkward situations or painful struggles feel authentic, however credible they are. In fact, the film is remarkably underdeveloped and so haphazardly constructed it feels unfinished, in addition to being unsatisfying.
Two worthwhile selections at QFest feature Latina lesbians. The terrifically titled low-budget comedy “Who’s Afraid of Vagina Wolf” (7:15 p.m. July 13, East; 2:30 p.m. July 14, East) chronicles 40-year-old Anna (director Anna Margarita Albelo), who hopes to make a film, get a girlfriend and lose 20, no 10, pounds. She dresses up periodically in a vagina costume and, one night, she catches the eye of Katia (Janina Gavankar), a beautiful, smart and substantial woman. To impress Katia, Anna gives her a role in her all-female remake of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” However, during filming, there is competition for Katia’s affections from Anna’s best friend Penelope (Guinevere Turner, feisty as ever). Although the lesbian romance plays out without much surprise, the improvised black-and-white film-within-a-film scenes are great. And there is a sweet scene between Penelope and Anna, and some nice moments Anna shares with Julia (Agnes Olech), the film’s cinematographer, who has a crush on her. “Who’s Afraid of Vagina Wolf” may be slight, with one-liners serving as character development, but Albelo’s film is a labor of love.
“Sexual Tension: Violetas” (7:15 p.m. July 15, Ritz at the Bourse, 400 Ranstead St.) features six tales of seduction that pivot on women using their sexuality to get what they desire. The film opens very strongly with a short written and directed by Marco Berger in which a lesbian ogles a lithe young woman checking into a hostel. Before long, she is invited upstairs to share the girl’s room. Watching these two women slowly connect on a physical level is incredibly erotic, but it is what happens after their tryst that makes this entry so memorable. Berger’s entry “The Apple” is also a beautiful story about the awakening of same-sex desire, complete with a gorgeous and extended fantasy sequence between a lesbian and the secret object of her affection. Marcelo Monaco offers a diverting tale, “Sweetheart,” in which a young man waits — and waits — for his girlfriend, who is off experimenting sexually with a café’s comely waitress. Monaco’s “The Other Woman,” a tale of two lifelong friends discussing their relationship status, is also wonderful, a beautifully filmed short featuring real dramatic tension between the two women. It provides an appropriately powerful ending for “Sexual Tension: Violetas.” The two other shorts — one about getting over heartbreak, the other about a man’s fantasy of having two women — are fine entries, but they don’t have the same level of frisson the other four do.
QFest is also showcasing two fantastic documentaries about cross-dressers this year. “I Am Divine” (9:45 p.m. July 19, East; 5 p.m. July 21, East) is a fabulous portrait of the plus-sized transvestite who took drag to a level of anarchy. This affectionate film traces Harris Glenn Milstead’s life from childhood to Hollywood. Excellent interviews with friends and costars and video footage chronicle the underground star’s creation, his film work with John Waters and his popular music career. There is also talk of makeup, his issues about weight, eating dog shit and working with Tab Hunter (twice!). Fans will especially enjoy Divine’s mother’s comments and the various clips, as this larger-than-life cult icon gets the biopic s/he deserves.
“Before You Know It” (2:30 p.m. July 20, Bourse; 6 p.m. July 22, Bourse) is an important, inspiring documentary portrait of three very different gay seniors. Dennis is 76, and he likes to go out in public dressed as his alter-ego, Dee; Ty is a 60-something African-American who wants to marry his reluctant partner, Stanton; and Robert is the 73-year-old owner of a drag bar in Galveston. Director PJ Raval intercuts their stories and viewers become completely fascinated by their lives, getting to know these folks as they deal with various trials and tribulations. But the film’s true focus is how these men define themselves and “home,” as they maintain their place in a world that mostly ignores them.
Two explicit sex films at QFest are both quasi-documentaries and should be hot tickets. Arguably the better of the two is “The Go Doc Project” (9:15 p.m. July 14, East; 5 p.m. July 16, East). Fixated on his online crush, a New York-based but Iowa-bound college student (Tanner Cohen) writes to a sexy go-go dancer (Matthew Camp) and asks if he could film him. And thus begins “The Go Doc Project,” where “Go” is the charmingly uninhibited object of desire being interviewed by the insecure “Doc.” The film, which is full of references to Warhol, and explores gay-identity issues, employs split-screen shots and handheld camerawork to create an arty vibe. But it is the “action,” which alternates between Go and Doc being mundane and highly erotic, that makes the drama compelling. Their relationship may be contrived, but the charismatic leads are wonderful, and the film is at its best when Go turns the tables on Doc.
“Interior. Leather Bar.” (7 p.m. July 12, East; 12:15 p.m. July 13, East) is an hour-long documentary that probes the blurry line between straight/gay and reality/fiction, as it “re-imagines 40 lost minutes from ‘Cruising,’” yet it is too inconsequential to be an effective or thorough investigation. Co-director James Franco attempts to shatter conditioned (e.g., hetero-normative) responses to sex/sexuality, focusing on the confusion and anxiety his straight friend, Val Lauren, experiences playing the Pacino role. But this is more exasperating than illuminating. There is a smattering of unsimulated gay sex scenes, which balance the straight-guy anxiety, but it fails to function as a storytelling tool. As Lauren says at one point, “I like James’ mission, but I don’t always understand it.” Viewers will undoubtedly concur.