Spoiler Alert: the Hero Dies

Our relationship was over before it began.

I’ve read another memoir. Maybe it reads easier when you don’t know the person writing it, or the recent ones just were written entertainingly and well. I’m guessing the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Michael Ausiello is an entertainment writer, and this story is about how his partner dies. With a title like this there’s little surprise to the ending of his story, but Ausiello manages to write it in such a way that you start to doubt that title – the man knows what works to keep your reader compelled, after all. So there’s chapters about the highs and lows of their relationship, the beginnings and (almost) break ups. He writes himself down while his partner is plucked from the heavens, even when he’s being quite terrible.

It’s a story very close to someone; and to recognise that these people are(/were) really alive makes it sometimes terribly uncomfortable. Should the reader be around of another round of bad news or self-doubt? Is it not too close, to follow someone’s mourning on this level?

Because Spoiler Alert is about love and loss and other four letter words, but also very much about Michael Ausiello.

Spoiler Alert: the Hero Dies; a memoir of love, loss and other four letter words, Michael Ausiello, Atria Books 2017

She-Ra

65 x 24 min.

Yes, I know, I’m surprised as well. This animated TV-show definitely took me a while to warm up to, and during the first two season (there’s five of them) I wouldn’t even have considered writing a blog about it. Somewhere near the end of season two, and/or the start of season three, it grabbed me. It grabbed me good.

She-RaBefore starting this show, I knew little about the previous incarnations of it and therefore didn’t feel the need to complain about how She-Ra isn’t a full-grown woman this time, nor about the lack of butt and boob shots (in an animated show, yes I know). It also means that I didn’t have any connection to it, and had to invest some time and energy to feel the connection.

She-Ra is fantasy, people with magic, bad guys that want to take it, colourful stuff, talking horses, but also teenagers, queer love, building your own family and views on power and the (ab)use of it. Especially when watching several episodes in a row you might notice some repetition, but as someone who skipped a few (there’s a character I could barely handle) I can say that you can still follow the main plot without confusion.

It’s also fun and bright and there’s so much heart in it, even though the shows of it sometimes made me feel a bit outside of the target audience/too old. Oh, and the animation is nice, instead of that try-hard, ugly as possible “adult” animation we have to suffer all too often.

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, Netflix 2018

Rafiki

83 min.

Eindelijk. Rafiki heeft Rafiki omdat het het Swahili-woord voor ‘vriend’ is en homoseksuele koppels vaak als vrienden moeten leven om niet (geweldadig) uit de samenleving verwijderd te worden.

Rafiki film posterDus geen relatie tot de Lion King.

Deze film was voor verschillende festivals uitgekozen en ik kon bijna meer de frustratie herinneren van het te missen in Rotterdam dan wat het verhaal ook al weer was.

Het verhaal is simpel. Twee jonge mensen bevrienden elkaar en worden verliefd op elkaar, maar omdat het allebei vrouwen zijn, zijn er heel veel mensen die dit helemaal gruwelijk vinden.

Daarin ligt ook mijn enige frustratie: wanneer krijgen lesbiennes eens een luchtig niemandalletje (schrijf je dat zo?) van een film waarin het alleen om kalverliefde gaat? Als films met heteroseksuele romances net zo’n hoog percentage van geweld zou hebben, zou de politiek er waarschijnlijk vragen over stellen. Enfin.

Rafiki was het wachten waard door de twee hoofdrolspelers, en door de boodschap waar het mee eindigt.

Rafiki, Shortcut Films 2018

The Half of It

105 min.

And that’s how you do a coming-of-age, finding-your-way film for teenagers in a way that isn’t bubblegum colours, dubious voice-overs and an aggressive soundtrack.

half of it posterThat might make The Half of It dull for some people. Protagonist Ellie goes through life in the shadows and not in the Everyone Notices The Wallflower-way but really: in the background of everything. Her fellow pupils only notice her because of her essay writing skills, and one of them decides to use those skills for a more romantic endeavour. ‘Romantic’, as this is a teenage story and Cyrano de Bergerac-ing a relationship is never a good idea.

But that’s what happens, and Ellie is confronted with things that hang out with her in those self-chosen shadows. Do I make it sound too much like a horror film like this? I swear it isn’t!

Although looking at the poster.. that’s a bad poster.

Anyway, focus. The Half of It is a film for the children of immigrants, the half-orphans, those who have ever been confused with their identity, and those that didn’t view high school as the highest point of their life’s experience. It’s sweet in a cool way.

Worry it’s all too teenager for you? Watch Saving Face by the same director.

The Half of It, Netflix 2020

This Is How It Always Is

But first, Roo was born.

“This sounds like it’s going to hurt. I’m so excited!” Me, after almost two months of disappearing books.

There’s a lot of book clubs connected to this one, and the summary has definitely housewife-novel potential. A happy woman with a house full of boys only to realise – dum dum dum – that her youngest doesn’t want to be a boy. Maybe.

But instead you get what Ducks, Newburyport tried to be. The inner life of a frantic mum who tries and fails to keep all balls up in the air.
Because how do you take care of five children, your job and your husband even with ignoring your own needs and fears?

This Is How It Always Is sets you to thinking about gender and how we view it, how different societies look at the subject differently.

And it definitely shows what the life of a mother entails, how kids and their lives are on one’s mind all-the-time.

It left me staring into the distance after finishing it, considering everything.

This Is How It Always Is, Laurie Frankel, Flat Iron Books 2017

Elisa & Marcela

118 min.

De film is in zwart/wit, en straks moet ik daar nog een aparte categorie voor maken. Er zijn tenslotte vast wel mensen die daar een film op afkeuren.

Elisa Marcela filmEnfin. Om het nog meer niche te maken: het is een verhaal gebaseerd op feiten en de hoofdrolspeelsters zijn twee lesbiennes waarvan eentje zich als man verkleed om zo toch samen te kunnen leven. En de film is grotendeels in Spaans (met een heel klein beetje Portugees). Ga er maar aan staan.

Is dit allemaal de moeite waard? Als je op zoek bent naar iets anders-dan-anders, met aandacht voor cinematografie en tussendoor ook nog een vrouwelijke regisseur steunen: ja. Het is een mooie, zachte film die gelukkig niet een zacht filtertje over homofobie en hysterie schuift.

En, voor hen die daar altijd hard op zoek naar zijn: er is nog een happy ending voor de vrouwen ook.

Elisa & Marcela, Netflix 2019

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

Let me begin again.

Golly gosh, how to explain this? It’s a memoir, it’s a fever dream, it’s an obituary – maybe? And did I like all of it, any of it, only the parts that I read at night? It was, in a way, beautiful, though. A kind of experience hard to put into words.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is one of those titles that seem to be singing around in ‘Serious Reader’ circles for a while. It’s not loud enough to feel like it’s been hyped, nor is a celebrity book club attached, but there is the vibe of “Haven’t you read it yet?” around it. To me, anyway.

Ocean Vuong wrote poetry before, and it shows in his descriptions, his look on life, how it feels like he weighed every word before putting it down. It’s in juxtaposition with the subjects he writes down: the suffering of his grandmother and mother, the lack of family, being an immigrant child, being the only different one while growing up. All of it feels absolutely anchor-less.

Can you have an opinion about something that runs through your mind like sand through your hands? I’m sure you can, but I’m just going to stick with ‘an experience’ and a weird feeling of honour that Vuong allowed you in.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Ocean Vuong, Penguin Random House 2019

These Witches Don’t Burn

They say there’s a fine line between love and hate.

Queer teenage witches! And it shows, in this YA, littering the story with some bad decisions and Very Emotional Moments. Because: teenagers.

Main character Hannah is a real witch, living in Salem, and trying to keep her and her family’s magic a secret from those that are ordinary humans. It gets harder when attacks start to happen, her ex-girlfriend attempts to get her back while at the same time moving on with someone else, a cute new girl arrives and her coven puts down the law on magic use. Basically ordinary teenage life, indeed.

It might be testament to Isabel Sterling’s writing that sometimes it’s all very teenager, making everyone and their decisions a bit too annoying and young for this reader. This is balanced out by Hannah’s sweet thoughts and emotions about her sexuality and crush(es), and honestly – hasn’t anyone had their Teenage Moments.

As is my usual complaint; more world building would have been welcome, but for those that are always on the look out for more queer YA: These Witches Don’t Burn is a proper one.

These Witches Don’t Burn, Isabel Sterling, Penguin Random House 2019

Once & Future

Ari was hiding out in the Middle Ages.

This is a retelling of the King Arthur myth, but a lot more queer for everyone involved. It’s also a Young Adult novel, and Arthur in this case is a teenage girl (and this isn’t the only thing that’s flipped). Just in case you thought you couldn’t be surprised by that myth any more.

Capetta and McCarthy keep up the tempo, until they suddenly don’t. The evil overlords, dubious witch and wizard, the romances and family-relationships are so abruptly put on hold that I almost felt like I shouldn’t bother with the rest of the short novel. But before all that you get an entertainment park-like novel with a lot of roller-coasters and themed exhibitions.

This combined with the gender-flip, the amount of queer characters without it being turned into a fuss and/or characterisation, makes Once & Future appealing to both the fantasy/sci-fi crowd as those that will vacuum up everything related to the King Arthur myth.

Once & Future, Amy Rose Capetta & Cori McCarthy, Little, Brown, and Company 2019

Duckbutter

93 min.

Vraag ik nu echt om zoveel als ik eens een film wil zien waarin het lesbische/biseksuele stel lief en vrolijk is en een happy ending krijgt? Er zijn duizenden, zo niet miljoenen romantische comedies met een heteroseksueel stel, maar bij vrouwen die van vrouwen Duck-Butter-posterhouden … moet het schijnbaar altijd weer experimenteel, onaangenaam en bloot.

In Duckbutter (zoek het maar niet op), ontmoeten twee vrouwen elkaar en besluiten een nacht samen door te brengen zonder beloftes en verwachtingen, en met veel seks. De ene is een muzikante en toont al trekjes die drama beloven, maar waarom eens niet ruimte voor een karakter dat high highs en low lows heeft en geen witte man is?

Het ‘vrije liefde’ deel van het experiment slaat dan al gauw om in beschuldigingen en verwachtingen, onderbroken door veel naakt en gescheld. Geen van de karakters hebben enige gunfactor, maar vraag is vooral waarom ze het zichzelf zo aandoen.

Zo wordt Duckbutter een demonstratie van (zelf)vernietiging en mag je je er daarna afvragen of er wel liefhebbende, blije lesbische/biseksuele stellen bestaan. Veel te weinig op film, in ieder geval.

Duckbutter,