After Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal as cowboy lovers in Brokeback Mountain, there has been no shortage of gay characters on the big screen this summer.
This weekend alone, Robin Williams plays a gay man in The Night Listener, opening in the US today, and gay characters are front and center in the limited releases Quinceanera and Shock to the System: A Donald Strachey Mystery.
In addition, the rowdy indie comedy Another Gay Movie begins the second weekend of its run, and the gay love story Vacationland opened in New York on Wednesday. Meanwhile, the indie films Little Miss Sunshine and The Groomsmen feature Steve Carell and John Leguiizamo, respectively, in major gay roles central to the plot.
“Brokeback Mountain broke down barriers that have existed for a long time,” said actor Chad Allen, the openly gay actor who stars as a gay detective in Shock to the System.
“There was a huge fear or belief that you couldn't tell a story with a gay hero and have it make money. A well-made movie with a good story trumps everything. It's not just a victory for gay rights; it's a victory for humanity.”
Brokeback, which received an Oscar nomination this year for Best Picture, did something no other same-sex love story had ever done before: It crossed over to the mainstream and grossed US$83 million domestically. The question now is when, or if, another gay film will achieve similar commercial success.
As executive director of Outfest, one of the largest gay and lesbian film festivals in the US, Stephen Gutwillig has seen the fortunes of the genre ebb and flow since he began in 1999. But he sees an upswing on the horizon.
“I'm optimistic because Brokeback Mountain is no harder to replicate than any other great movie that Hollywood has produced,” he said. “No one really knows how to do it, but they will never stop trying and will succeed every now and then. This particular film has simply broadened their definition of what a great American film can be and what a highly profitable film can be.”
Where Brokeback aimed high artistically, the raucous Gay Movie aims strictly for American Pie — type laughs. It opened in just two theaters last Friday — one in Los Angeles and one in New York — and made US$16,000 per screen.
Distributor TLA Releasing will expand Gay Movie to San Francisco, Philadelphia and Pasadena this weekend, then to 10 other cities on Aug. 11, with the hope that good word-of-mouth will lead to an even wider release.
Writer-director Todd Stevens, who made the movie for US$500,000, is hoping for box office success but isn't counting on much crossover appeal.
“I didn't even try to cross over with this film,” Stevens said. “I just went all out with the raunchiness and the gayness of it. I didn't want to hold back for the audience that I made it for.”
In contrast, the gay love story Adam & Steve, which TLA Releasing distributed earlier this summer, was not at all sexually explicit. Even the kisses between its two openly gay leading men, Craig Chester and Malcolm Gets, were rather tame compared with the Brokeback smooches.
Adam & Steve earned US$320,000 during its theatrical run. The film also co-starred indie-favorite Parker Posey and former Saturday Night Live star Chris Kattan.
“We had more of a mainstream approach for that film due to the talent involved,” said Lewis Tice of TLA Releasing. “We opened in 11 markets out of the gate, and that gamble really paid off because the first few weeks, it did gangbusters.”