FRAMELINE 38 LGBT FILM FESTIVAL—“ALEC MAPA: BABY DADDY,” “CUPCAKES,” “APPROPRIATE BEHAVIOR,” AND “CRAZY BITCHES”

by on June 25, 2014

Andrea James may have structured her documentary “Alec Mapa: Baby Daddy” as a faux day-in-the-life of America’s “gaysian sweetheart” and his family.  There is a waffle disaster that costs a few cool gay dad points as well as a later bedtime reading from The Hobbit.   But ultimately the heart of the film is Mapa’s award-winning comedy show.

Mapa lampoons with various degrees of venom the clichés of gay life, such as the fascination with the Tony Awards.  Also funny are his reflections on the downside of being a gay porn video judge, which involves being unable to look in quite the same way at bananas or a garage mechanic visit.

The heart of Mapa’s show (delivered with extra profanity to compensate for self-censorship at Salt Lake City Pride) concerns the challenges of raising his adopted son Zion with his partner.  The comedian displays a welcome gift for converting embarrassing incidents into humorous empathy with Joan Crawford in “Mommie Dearest.”  These incidents include disastrously allowing Zion to pig out on Thanksgiving dessert and getting the triangle stare from those who can’t comprehend that Mapa, his white partner, and the black Zion are a family.

For all these headaches, Mapa doesn’t regret adopting a child considered “undesirable” by many other adoptive parents.  Seeing the performance’s climactic slide-show of the official court adoption will bring a tear.  Photos of Mapa and his partner show their eagerness to create a better future for their new child.

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Eytan Fox’s “Cupcakes” is a sweet cinematic confection having some bitter notes added for dramatic flavor.   A sextet of Tel Aviv apartment dwellers turn from fans of the campy international Universong contest (a fictionalized Eurovision competition) to Israel’s next contest entrant thanks to an impromptu song inspired by one neighbor’s marital problems.  The group members charm as they overcome lack of romantic confidence and even traditionalism.  “Cupcakes”’ sincerity and heart redeem its genial insubstantiality and its affection for Universong’s campiness.

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               Recovering from a romantic breakup is the unpleasant part of being in love.  But what happens when professional failure and closeted behavior complicate the healing process?  That’s the premise behind Desiree Akhavan’s semi-autobiographical comedy/drama and Frameline Completion Fund recipient “Appropriate Behavior.”

20-ish Iranian-American Shirin (Akhavan) has a life resembling a bombed-out city.  The journalism graduate now teaches filmmaking to hyperactive 5-year-olds.  Her bisexuality gets hidden from her family’s eyes.   Anger at breaking up with girlfriend Maxine spurs a search for ways to make Maxine jealous.  Can Shirin rebuild her life?

Akhavan’s film title encapsulates her lead character’s confusion and embarrassment.  She’s frustrated by answers that don’t quite address such life predicaments as outing herself in a highly family-centric culture.  Racism and biphobia prevent others from seeing Shirin beyond such personal prejudices as assuming she’s an expert on Iran’s political currents.

Maxine’s relationship with Shirin is only imagined by the latter as a One True Pairing.  Flashbacks suggest their pairing’s mortar was a mix of personal whim and cheerful mutual rebellion against social proprieties.  That bond crumbles through a mix of Maxine’s simmering resentment and Shirin’s own temper.

The late Harvey Pekar would have approved of Akhavan’s painting a warts and all portrait of herself.  Her semi-autobiographical character displays embarrassing moments of gracelessness, such as her seeing her filmmaking job as confirming the supposed awfulness of her life.  Her desire for sex hides a lack of confidence about her sexual attractiveness, which leads her to miss social warning signs.  She painfully fails to pick up the “It’s over” signals being sent by Maxine’s choosing for her sexual role play character an IRS auditor.

Akhavan’s film ultimately demonstrates that likability is not a real criterion for following a character’s misadventures.  All that’s needed is an understandable humanity, which the writer/director definitely bestows on her lead character.

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               Jane Clark’s “Crazy Bitches” takes a stab at reforming the misogynist and puritanical slasher film genre by emphasizing a pro-woman, pro-sex message.  The results inflict only a shoulder wound on “Friday the 13th” and its ilk.

The mountainous and isolated Benton Estate ranch becomes a getaway spot for a group of former sorority sisters and their gay best friend.  Yet the group of women brings some very personal baggage on the trip, such as marital infidelity, lingering college-era resentments, and unrequited crushes.  Matters are worsened when BJ, the gay true crime addict, reveals the notorious blood-soaked history associated with the ranch…and signs pop up that violent history is repeating itself.

Refreshingly, the Benton Estate guests are more than just knife blade fodder.  While all of them display vanities such as prizing their intelligence or bragging about their virginity, there are real human motivations behind their egotistical acts.  Belinda (a wonderfully obnoxious Guinevere Turner) can’t admit her stardom dreams are actually delusions.  BJ, the gay best friend, regularly uses skin lightener as balm for the trauma of exposure to racist behavior.

Ironically, Clark’s characters become too likable for viewers to revel in their horrific ends.  The camera doesn’t drink in the spectacle of their demises but treats them with the regard given a bowel movement.  Agatha Christie’s famed thriller “And Then There Were None” showed one need not go full giallo to create suspense in a multiple murder story.  But at least the story should neatly tie up all its plot threads, which doesn’t happen here.

“Crazy Bitches”’ inversion of slasher genre assumptions may not be sharp enough.  But at least the performances of the aforementioned Turner, the actress who plays New Age animal loving Minnie, and Cathy DeBuono (as sporty and sex-positive Cassie) easily cut through viewer ennui.

(“Cupcakes” screens at 9:30 PM on June 28, 2014.  “Appropriate Behavior” screens at 7:00 PM on June 27, 2014.  Both screenings take place at the Castro Theater (429 Castro, SF).  “Crazy Bitches” screens at 9:30 PM at the Victoria Theatre (2961—16th Street, SF).  For further information on the films and ordering advance tickets, go to www.frameline.org .)

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