The June episode of the Incluvie Movie Highlights provides 3 new and buzzworthy films presenting different types of love: Good Luck to You, Leo Grande with intimacy, Father of the Bride with familial love, and this month's feature - Fire Island, with intimate and romantic love. Movie Critic Melanie Ojwang joins us to discuss Emergency, a film about the hurdles that three young men of color navigate in order to get help for an unconscious white girl whom they find. We give mini takes on theater blockbusters Top Gun: Maverick and Downtown Abbey: A New Era. Join in with your hosts: Cathy Yee and Hazel Bolivar!
CATHY: Welcome to the Incluvie Movie Highlights - for June of 2022. This is the show where we shine a spotlight on our favorite new movies that stand out for diversity and identity. From Incluvie.com, I’m Cathy Yee!
HAZEL: And I am Hazel Bolivar, on today’s episode we will showcase a guest highlight by Incluvie writer Melanie Ojwang on the film Emergency. Then we will cover three newly released comedy films. Those movies will be Father of the Bride, Good luck to You, Leo Grande, and our featured highlight for the month, Fire Island.
CATHY: But, before we get into those, we’re going to take a quick look at some notable new releases in theaters.
NEW IN THEATERS
HAZEL: The biggest blockbuster of the year so far is Top Gun: Maverick, a sequel to the 1986 film Top Gun starring Tom Cruise, which recently flew to grossing over a billion dollars worldwide.
CATHY: It really Cruised its way to that milestone.
HAZEL: Truly, and, though this isn’t the type of film I typically gravitate towards, I personally really enjoyed it. I do doubt we will be looking at it in thirty-five years with the same nostalgia as we see the original Top Gun, but if you enjoyed the original, this sequel is definitely worth the watch. In its own right as well, it is a very fun movie that takes viewers on a ride into the danger zone.
CATHY: I actually had fun with this high adrenaline movie - it really takes my breath away. I’m glad they included a top female pilot in this sequel, with Lieutenant Natasha as “Phoenix”, and the more diverse team that helps with the mission impossible, I mean their impossible mission.
HAZEL: That is an inclusion of one more woman in the cast of pilots than in the original so. Yay for progress..!
CATHY: Also in theaters is Downton Abbey: A New Era. Continuing the British TV Series and 2019 movie, A New Era sets the stage for a silent motion picture being filmed at Downton, creating much excitement for the family and housekeeping.
HAZEL: British period dramas are not my cup of tea so, I sat this one out. Did you like the film overall?
CATHY: I did! The film is very British, and very witty - with Mary and grandma Crawley being the wittiest, as usual. They’re delightfully eloquent even when insulting each other. Not much to see in terms of diversity, but if you are a fan of the Downtown Abbey franchise, it is definitely enjoyable.
HAZEL: I’ll take your word for it! Moving on from what’s new in theaters, let’s get into our Highlights for the month of June.
CATHY: First on our list of highlights is Emergency, with a special guest segment. The film is written by KD Davila and directed by Carey Williams. It focuses on a group of three young men of color at their university - Kunle, Sean, and Carlos, played by Donald Watkins, RJ Clyer, and Sebastian Chacon respectively. They have plans for an epic night of partying, completing the legendary tour, but their night is sidetracked when they come home to find an unknown drunk white girl lying unconscious in their home on campus. Incluvie movie critic Melanie Ojwang saw the movie, and we’re happy to bring her onto the show!
MELANIE: Hi, I’m Melanie Ojwang, and I am a movie critic at Incluvie.
CATHY: Thank you so much for joining us! To start out we did want to hear overall, what did you think of the movie? How did it resonate with you?
MELANIE: I tend to like movies that all take place in one night. I find the pacing of those stories to be really fascinating, so I was primed to like this movie, but, at the same time, I am kinda tired of witnessing traumatic events. So, by the time I got to the end, I felt very differently about the way the story was taking place. I will say I did really enjoy the main friendship and the tension of trying to plan for post-grad life with someone who you want to keep around but have drastically different plans, and I like that Kunle and Sean found a way to stay together after school in the end. That kind o made up for what I thought was going to be a genuinely escapist film, kind of in the same vein as Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, then turned a different direction, which is fine, it can do that, I just didn’t enjoy it as much.
CATHY: I can see that. There’s definitely a lot of anxiety and trauma. How do you feel the movie explores the topic of police violence versus the fear of police violence?
MELANIE: I don’t feel like the film really talked about police violence until the end when we see it happen and the lasting impact it has on Kunle, which was unfortunately realistic. But sometimes I watch stuff and I’m like, this is for people who don’t know. This is for the Kunles of the world. That being said, the fear of police is constant as Sean keeps emphasizing that three men of color with an unconscious white girl won’t end well. But, in a movie set in the present day, it was really hard to buy that a college-aged Blck kid, who isn’t self-hating would be like “No, that’s not true.” I feel like the film never really digs into why Kunle is less likely to fear the police than Sean. Kunle, by way of his class status I guess, has a trust built up that Sean doesn’t have, which I thought was a really interesting clash to explore. These friends have such deeply different worldviews, but it’s not really examined past one fight. Everything just culminates in Kunle’s belief system being shattered through nearly losing his life, which is a constant real fear a lot of people have, but police violence is widespread and forced onto specific communities, right? Sean and Kunle having different backgrounds could have been used to unpack why one of them fears the police and the other one doesn’t until he is harmed. That would have been more interesting to me, but I also get that Emergency is kind of a film for people who don’t know or don’t believe that way too many police officers just see Black skin as target practice.
HAZEL: I would also be really interested to see a film that does more intentionally dive into that sort of difference between characters with such different backgrounds. Emergency isn’t really focused on that as you mentioned, but I did want to ask how you felt about how the film explores the way presentation can impact identity, especially when looking at Sean and Kunle’s relationship in the film.
MELANIE: The differences in Kunle and Sean’s personalities are immediately made apparent by how they present themselves. Sean basically has a vape surgically attached to his palm, Kunle is wearing steam-pressed khakis on a Friday. It’s a setup for a familiar clash of characters, but, as I mentioned before the friends have a major fight, and it wasn’t about calling the police anymore, but about the validity of Kunle’s Blackness, and Sean’s reliance on deviance as a major personality trait.
HAZEL: So much to think about there, thank you so much, Melanie, for sharing your perspectives with us on the movie. This film is definitely not the escapist movie that one may expect.
CATHY: The film is weirdly misleading with its marketing - the poster and some of the main images make it seem like the movie is about the unconscious white girl instead of Kunle and Sean. It’s as if the creators made this movie with such good social commentary, and the marketing team felt the need to trick the audience into watching it.
HAZEL: I didn’t notice that myself but that is true, and interesting to point out. Overall though, I do think the film is worth checking out if you’re interested. Emergency is currently available to be streamed on Amazon Prime Video.
CATHY: Next on our list is Father of the Bride! This straight-to-streaming HBO Max film is a reboot of the 1990’s Father of the Bride - 1, 2, and 3ish - of the same name starring Steve Martin, which are a remake of a film from the 1950s with the same name. It is directed by Gary Alazraki and written by Matt Lopez, starring Andy Garcia as Billy, a Cuban immigrant to the United States who started from nothing and become a well-off architect - as he touts throughout the film. He is struggling to keep his marriage together with his wife Ingrid, played by Gloria Estefan.
HAZEL: The Iconic. Gloria Estefan.
CATHY: He takes it upon himself to plan a wedding for his daughter Sofia in a short period of time to a man he just learns about - because after all, it is “his duty” as the father of the bride. The groom to be, Adan, among other problems as seen by Billy, is a sensitive man who does not really care for sports.
HAZEL: As a Latin American myself, I can confirm that this is a major issue for a potential son in law to have. On a more serious note, the film portrays the generational differences between immigrant parents and their U.S. born children in a very authentic way. I watched this movie with my wife who is Cuban American, and we both related to the daughters in the film who are so different from their parents, and my wife enjoyed the uniquely Cuban elements of this Miami based film.
CATHY: I’m a new Miami resident, and it was fun seeing all the neighborhoods and landmarks in the movie! Like Coral Gables, Wynwood, Miami Beach, and even Domino park which I’ve driven past many times - I didn’t know it was a landmark.
HAZEL: There are a lot of specific cultural references throughout between the Cuban family of Sofia and the Mexican family of her fiancee, which is great to see because though a lot of Latin American people share certain cultural elements, there is a lot of particulars across experiences. The writer of the film, Matt Lopez, notes in an interview with palabra that he “wanted, on the one hand, to celebrate the differences between the cultures and show people that within this larger umbrella of Latinos there are (various) traditions and ethnicities and so on, but at the same time, there’s this nice moment at the wedding reception where you see the commonality of the Latino experience in America,”
CATHY: There is a modern element too. Benjamin Lee, reviewing the film for The Guardian notes that “Lopez’s surprisingly deft script shows that it’s the elder who needs to grow and learn and that the younger man’s progressivism is something that can help him out of the rut he’s stuck in.” This contrasts Top Gun Maverick’s message, where they emphasize that the young should learn from the old.
HAZEL: I personally really appreciated the film doing that, and I am sure that Garcia brought a lot of himself to the role to make that element of growth shine, because, as he states in an interview with The New York Times, he has two of his daughters getting married within this next month alongside the release of this film, so in a way he is “the father of the bride three times in a 30 day period.”
CATHY: How timely for him. Speaking of daughters, I really loved the character of Sofia and the ways that she went against tradition after following the expected path up until law school! Like being the one to propose to the man, and making different decisions for her law career than her father had expected. I also liked Sofia’s sister Cora, who ends up doing what she loved in designing the dresses for the wedding. She also seemed to have a gay relationship at the end? I think?
HAZEL: I guess so? A very blink and you’ll miss it bit of gay representation, I wish they could have given that plot line a little more time, or, not have it because it makes no difference, but for the film overall as a piece for representation, I think that it very accurately portrays Latin American family life, in a way that doesn’t present Latinos as monolithic. The film also had a lot of success during its Father’s Day weekend debut on HBO Max, Deadline reports that it is actually the biggest streaming only release ever for HBO Max, having large viewership in both the U.S. and Mexico, and I think it is deserved. It is overall a very enjoyable romantic comedy that breathes some modern life into a classic story. Given all of that, I would rate the film a four out of five for its Movie Score, and a five out of five for its Incluvie Score..
CATHY: I agree overall, and I think the film is a lot of fun to watch and is great for representation. I would personally rate it a four point five out of five for its Movie Score and a five out of five for its Incluvie score. Father of the Bride is currently available to be streamed on HBO Max. After a quick break, we’ll move on to our last two highlights, Good Luck to you Leo Grande and Fire Island.
HAZEL: Next on our list of highlights is Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, a comedy drama written by Katy Brand and directed by Sophie Hyde. Do note that this film and our review of it does touch on some adult themes, so viewer discretion is advised. The film stars Emma Thompson as Nancy, a retired religion teacher and recently widowed woman who hires a male sex worker named Leo Grande, played by Daryl McCormack. The film intimately depicts Nancy seeking pleasure for herself after the death of her husband, and the pair of actors deliver moving performances throughout.
CATHY: The performances definitely struck me. To be honest, while I was watching the film I was personally cringing during the first half of the film, I guess in part because of how Nancy was simultaneously so inexperienced and methodical about sex, treating it like setting up IKEA furniture instead of a raw and intimate connection. I was also personally worried, given the title, that this film would maybe end up being a fantasy story of this exotic Leo Grande falling in love with a middle aged client but, thankfully the film doesn’t go in that direction. It very honestly depicts his character as a sex worker, along with all the boundaries that sex workers have in their work.
HAZEL: That is a very important part of what makes this film unique I think, Emma Thompson notes in an interview with Yahoo! Entertainment that the two characters have “a good time without any reservations, without qualifications… And yet it was not a romance. I loved that. I thought that was radical to show intimacy without romance.” I think that the intention to present intimacy without romance makes the film a very responsible and human depiction of a character who is a sex worker.
CATHY: The team who created the film took very special care in bringing in real sex workers as consultants for the film, and Daryl McCormack notes in an interview with Cinemablend that “It was vitally important that we spoke to real sex workers.” He goes on to say he was “really inspired by their sense of self and the power and the boundaries that they've created to really add value in the work that they do,” and that bringing all of those elements within his character was important.
HAZEL: I loved the way that McCormack portrayed the role, and the film overall presents the often contested subject of sex work in a way that is honest, and shows the value that sex work has, take for example a scene where Leo Grande walks Nancy through the many different ways he provides services for his clients, from just sitting with them to having sex with them and then leaving, it is always focused on allowing the clients to experience pleasure and connect with themselves. That is exactly the story that Nancy embarks on across her four sessions with Leo Grande, learning how her experience with him can allow her to rethink the ways in which she sees sex and pleasure.
CATHY: Beyond sex and pleasure is also rethinking the way in which Nancy sees her body, which also ended up being a challenge for Emma Thompson in playing the role, because she does have a nude scene in the film, that she saw as being essential. Nicole Sperling, writing for The New York Times notes that “the choice to disrobe was [Thompson’s], and though she made it with trepidation, Thompson said she believes ‘the film would not be the same without it.’ Still, the moment she had to stand stark naked in front of a mirror with a serene, accepting look on her face, as the scene called for, was the most difficult thing she’s ever done.”
HAZEL: The scene itself was very different from most other nude scenes in media because it felt very neutral. It was not included for any erotic purpose and it doesn’t come off “male Gazey” if you will. Instead, it reads as a moment of acceptance and non-judgment of one’s body. The movie overall takes a nonjudgmental tone, and allows the characters to develop, be themselves, make mistakes and even grow.
CATHY: Very artistic. Despite the cringiness at first, I was struck by the way this film is so thoughtful in its representation of a more mature woman and a male sex worker working together. I would rate the film overall a four out of five for its Movie Score and a five out of five for its incluvie score.
HAZEL: I agree with that. Overall, given the thoughtful writing, direction and acting, as well as the film being a great piece of representation for women with Thompson’s performance, and McCormack’s delicate depiction as a multiracial sex worker, I would rate the film a four point five out of five for its movie score, and a five out of five for its Incluvie Score. Good Luck to You Leo Grande is currently available to be streamed on Hulu.
HAZEL: Our featured highlight for the month of June is Fire Island. A romantic comedy written by and starring Joel Kim Booster and directed by Andrew Ahn. The film follows a group of gay friends going on their annual summer trip to Fire Island, a town in New York with rich LGBT history, and some rich LGBT individuals. The crew is led by Noah, played by Booster, and Howie played by Bowen Yang.
CATHY: Fire Island is a modern, gay Asian retelling of Pride and Prejudice. I found it really fun seeing Noah play the Elizabeth Benett character and Howie being like the sister character. I love Will, a well off stoic-type man played by Conrad Ricamora, playing the Darcy sort of character. Beyond the adaptation element, the film addresses anti-Asian racism with finesse, amongst both straight and gay communities - using both realism and humor. Like how Noah and Howie looked at each other and spat in the customers drink after being rudely summoned with a “hey Jackie Chan.” Gross I know, but ok for a comedy.
HAZEL: It is clear that a lot of care was taken in showing how being Asian intersects with being gay for the characters in the story. Andrew Ahn, the director, notes in an interview with Salon that “the film is making an observation that there are certain things we can't perform our way out of, and one of those things is race. You can't perform a different race. As gay Asian Americans, this is something that we can't escape, and I think that's where we feel we don't have control.”
CATHY: That’s kind of a strange way to put it. I guess they mean you can’t really be “in the closet” so to speak as Asian. And being out about it. Being Asian should be a source of pride.
HAZEL: Very true. And bringing it back to how this affected the filmmaking process, he explains that “To a certain extent, these characters feel the helplessness of it.” It was important for Ahn to explore how one can “find energy and power instead of letting society take it away from you.
CATHY: There is also a scene early on where the distasteful quote “No fats, no femmes, no Asians.” is spoken. This is actually something that has been known to be said in gay spaces in the past and even, online today. When asked about if this discrimination within the gay community has gotten any better with time in an interview with Out Traveler, Booster explains that, in a way, this discriminatory attitude has mostly just been hidden from view, and he believes “We would all be better off…if we [would] interrogate those preferences a little bit more, and see where they’re coming from.” This is why having a film like Fire Island that has a diverse leading cast of gay men, and starring gay asian men is so important to equality even within the gay community.
HAZEL: Let’s also not forget about Margret Cho who plays the gay friend groups sort of lesbian mom. Speaking of, I do want to note that there was some criticism early on that the film didn’t pass the Bechdel test, which is a strange take given that the film is explicitly focused on a largely gay male community, but Alison Bechdel herself came in and tweeted “Okay, I just added a corollary to the Bechdel test: Two men talking to each other about the female protagonist of an Alice Munro story in a screenplay structured on a Jane Austen novel = pass. #FireIsland #BechdelTest.”
CATHY: That’s hilarious. Overall, I really enjoyed this movie, and I also love, as Melissa Gould notes in her article on Incluvie, that “it is written, directed, and acted by LGBTQ+ actors.” that this film is a great piece for representation and officially passes the Bechdel test. It gets a five out of five on the Incluvie scale, and for its movie score, I give it a four out of five.
HAZEL: I completely agree with that. I would also score the movie a five out of five for its Incluvie score, and for its Movie Score, given that it is a sweet romantic comedy that hits all of the expected beats, I give it a solid four point five out of five. Fire Island is currently available to be streamed on Hulu. That’s our show for the month of June, thanks so much for listening, and be sure to join us next time for more, Incluvie Movie Highlights.
CATHY: This episode was hosted and executive produced by me, Cathy Yee, and co-hosted, produced, and edited by Hazel Bolivar.You can visit Incluvie.com to see the incluvie score for a movie, and read reviews focused on diversity and identity in media. You can also follow us on instagram and twitter, or support us on patreon @incluvie, that’s I-N-C-L-U-V-I-E.