Magazine article Metro Magazine

Boy, Interrupted: Teenage Kicks and Queer Authenticity

Magazine article Metro Magazine

Boy, Interrupted: Teenage Kicks and Queer Authenticity

Article excerpt

CRAIG BOREHAM'S FEATURE DEBUT DRAMATISES THE COMING OF AGE--AND COMING OUT--OF A QUEER TEENAGER FROM A MIGRANT FAMILY LIVING IN SYDNEY CERTAINLY, MORE LGBTQIA VISIBILITY IS IMPORTANT BUT ACCORDING TO GLENN DUNKS, THE FILM MISSES AN OPPORTUNITY TO ILLUMINATE SEXUALITY'S PROBLEMATIC INTERACTIONS WITH RELIGION AND CULTURE, AND PERHAPS FALLS SHORT OF FAITHFULLY DEPICTING LIFE FOR NON-HETEROSEXUAL YOUNG PEOPLE TODAY.

In the opening scene of Teenage Kicks (Craig Boreham, 2016), two young men sit on a bed taking hits from a bong made out of an empty flavoured-milk container. The eyes of Dan O'Connel (Daniel Webber) are fixed on the porn video playing on the television, but the eyes of Miklos 'Mik' Varga (Miles Szanto) are flitting between the girl-on-girl action on the screen and the body of his best friend. Obviously the less shy of the two, Dan--with his school shirt unbuttoned--extends his hand into his pants, which only makes Mik's voyeurism more daring; it's not long before Mik takes Dan's lead and gropes himself as well. Mik's face, covered in shaggy surfer's hair, is barely able to contain his teenage lust--but, as his eyes dance between the telly and his object of lust's body, in walks Dan's father (Ian Roberts), who breaks up the party. Boner-killer.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

If the movies are to be believed, this intimate scene and others just like it are something of a regular occurrence in the world of the adolescent gay male. As a gay man myself, maybe I was just never attracted enough to any of my friends, and not brazen enough to attempt anything even if I was. But the closest I ever got to anything this erotically charged at this age was sneaking off from a party with a cute boy from another school who was clearly questioning his sexuality; ultimately, the encounter went nowhere. But then again, I also didn't look twenty-four and have a perfect tan.

Nevertheless, these are the sorts of moments in a young gay kid's life that filmmakers have suggested--time and time again--are a rite of passage, regularly appearing in queer coming-of-age films. In the last five years alone, we've seen films from all over the world cover similar terrain--North Sea Texas (Bavo Defurne, 2011) from Belgium, Boys (Mischa Kamp, 2014) from the Netherlands, Henry Gamble's Birthday Party (Stephen Cone, 2015) from the US and Seashore (Filipe Matzembacher & Marcio Reolon, 2015) from Brazil, to name just a few. These titles dramatise the sexual awakening of young men as they stare winsomely off into the distance, away from the dissatisfaction plaguing their lives and into the eyes of somebody who may or may not share their feelings.

While it may be nice to fantasise about this motif, it makes critiquing the many films it is present in occasionally rather frustrating: films targeting younger LGBTQIA audiences are rare enough as it is in Australia without having to sit through tired narrative beats. Coming out still carries a lot of emotional baggage for non-heterosexual and trans young people, and--in spite of the world moving dramatically forward on LGBTQIA issues--it remains a difficult part of life for many. For this reason, young queer Australian viewers need films that reflect their life experiences. But what does it mean to tell a queer Australian coming-of-age story? What can a filmmaker do to make their tale of sexual discovery uniquely Australian?

Cultural specificity is a valuable asset that can set a work apart from what is literally a global queer filmmaking niche that has, arguably, reached saturation point. There's no mistaking that local examples like Tan Lines (Ed Aldridge, 2007) and Monster Pies (Lee Galea, 2013, blandly retitled Beautiful Love in some international markets) achieved whatever meagre success they did--the latter won the Audience Choice Award for Best Feature at the 2007 Melbourne Queer Film Festival, while the former was, purely anecdotally, a staple in the specialty queer shelves of local DVD retailers--because they were distinctly Australian stories that were different in tone and voice from other examples of the subgenre from across the globe. …

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