Outfest LA 2021 Film Reviews: Being BeBe, We Need To Do Something, & Baloney

As another Outfest draws to a close, I can honestly say this has been a pretty incredible program of films. I’ve seen such growth in filmmaking styles, narrative experimentation, and a great amount of diverse stories and voices on display. So many films featured characters who just happened to be LGBTQ+ without it being the driving force of the film, yet for those where it was, we saw it from fresh perspectives and rarely explored cultures. From heartbreaking tales of those suffering in hostile countries to smart, sly campy comedies, I feel enlightened, enriched, empowered, inspired, and wiped out. The collision of topics has my brain pulled in so many directions, I may just need a Thomas Guide to help me find my way home. (For those of you who don’t know what that is, think of it as Siri’s very analog grandparent.) The final three films I’ve reviewed here represent the whiplash I’ve described, bouncing me from one topic to another. Many film festival programmers have often said how films speak to each other, whether intentionally or not. If so, the dialogue this year would sound like a room full of people discussing how they can break the mold of Queer Cinema. Here’s to the class of 2021!

Being BeBe | 2021 Tribeca Festival | Tribeca
BeBe Zahara Benet in Being BeBe. Courtesy of Outfest.

Being BeBe ★★★1/2

Marshall Kudi Ngwa, aka BeBe Zahara Benet, the first ever winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race, gets the spotlight in Emily Branham’s fascinating, complex look at a seemingly impenetrable subject. With his walls a little up, Marshall takes an introspective look at his own life, often seen watching clips of himself on an iPad. I’ve always thought of BeBe as a bit haughty, but there’s way more there than meets the eye. Refusing to define or label his sexuality seems strange at first, but Branham wisely chooses to provide context by bringing Marshall’s birth country Cameroon into sharp perspective. We meet members of the local LGBTQ+ community there, most of whom have their faces blurred out to protect them from certain persecution. Marshall, however, due to his fame, can travel freely there, which gives us a fascinating insight into the privileges of celebrity in our global society.

Additionally, BeBe, only won ten thousand dollars from the show versus the one hundred thousand dollars received by subsequent Drag Race winners with a network of spin-off shows and DragCons available to them, so she has had to struggle to maintain a career in a way others may not have had to do. We witness her pushing and pushing over the years, but not really breaking through. BeBe has tremendous insight as to why, with her being othered in the entertainment industry due to her accent, and her “African-ness”. Her shows gloriously celebrate her culture, which differs greatly from the usual lip-sync/comedy extravaganzas. One moment in particular, in which a producer suggests she take diction lessons, gets to the heart of the barriers she faces. Despite having the confidence and the talent, she is not guaranteed success. Not only does Being BeBe allow her to shine, but it smartly gives an insight as to how tough it has been for her to do so. I suspect this smart, entertaining documentary will give her the “Shantay You Stay” she deserves.

Screens virtually at Outfest LA 2021 until August 25th.

We Need to Do Something (2021) - IMDb
Sierra McCormick and Lisette Alexis in We Need To Do Something. Courtesy of Outfest.

We Need To Do Something ★★★1/2

With COVID sending us scrambling indoors for almost two years, it comes as no surprise to see so many confined, single set films this year. Some have felt unbearably claustrophobic and triggering, while others have risen to the challenge. We Need To Do Something, adapted by Max Booth III from his own novella and directed by Sean King O’Grady, certainly achieves the latter while placing a lesbian at the center of a gory psychological thriller. A nuclear family consisting of parents Diane and Robert (Vinessa Shaw and Pat Healy) and their kids Melissa (Sierra McCormick, who made a splash in The Vast Of Night and played another lesbian character recently in American Horror Stories) and young son Bobby (an impressive John James Cronin), enter their bathroom to wait out an impending tornado. During the storm, a tree falls on their house, trapping them inside this tiny space. Through flashbacks, we meet Melissa’s girlfriend Amy (Lisette Alexis) who experienced traumatic events which may explain the family’s current predicament.

Soon, terrifying things wreak havoc on this group, leading to a lot of yelling, struggling, blood baths, and yes, maybe a lethal creature or two. O’Grady proves adept at keeping a limited set interesting and gets strong performances from his cast. It did, however, feel a tad overextended and may have played better as an installment on the aforementioned AHS. The ending, while explaining what’s happening to a satisfying degree, let me down in its final seconds, leaning in too much onto a standard horror movie trope. Still, it scores points by exploring a patriarchal family dynamic and the women who intend to smash it down, while also introducing the idea that Melissa and Amy’s queerness may be the root to all of society’s troubles. It’s a pretty audacious statement to make, and yet it does so without being offensive.

Screens virtually at Outfest LA 2021 until August 25th.

Cast members from Baloney. Courtesy of Outfest.

Baloney ★★★

San Francisco’s gay all-male musical review (plus one woman), Baloney, has entertained audiences for several years with its sex-positive frankness and wacky comedy. Think of it as a strip show you can dance to and talk about afterwards. Destined to spark conversations about fetishes and feeling proud and free to explore them, while also challenging people as to how masculine and feminine constructs may constrain them. It’s exactly the type of show you want and expect from the world’s queerest city, and director Joshua Guerci has documented not only the painstaking effort it takes to mount such a show, but the beauty of the community it builds amongst its cast and the audiences who love them. It definitely has a Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney “let’s put on a show” vibe but with 10x the dildos and whips. Conflicts such as an actor who doesn’t show up for rehearsal don’t amount to high stakes, but it’s still possible to admire the efforts of everyone involved. Most touchingly, the film places itself squarely into the COVID pandemic, showing this troupe’s resourcefulness in keeping it going. I will confess to shedding a tear or two here, marveling at the strong bonds and joy oozing from everyone’s pores. Nothing groundbreaking here, but it’s impossible not to feel inspired and moved.

Screens virtually at Outfest LA 2021 until August 25th.

by Glenn Gaylord, Senior Film Critic

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