A portrait of life for gay and lesbian youth in Tulsa, Jannik Splidsboel’s Misfits explores homophobia and identity in the Bible Belt.
Dreams Of A Lifeby Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Filmed over five years, Jannik Splidsboel’s Misfits is centred round the Open Arms Youth Project, a drop-in for gay and lesbian teenagers in Tulsa, the buckle on American’s Bible Belt. With over 1000 churches, the city is rife with Christian homophobia, as witnessed in the opening sequence in which a pride march is dogged by placards quoting Leviticus. And if the three teenagers we follow, Larissa, Benny and”D” are misfits, it says more about the environment they live in than their sexual orientation. Quietly though, a revolution is happening in Tulsa as teenagers come out to each other and their families, opening slowly the minds of their loved ones. This is Benny’s story who, in a moving and tearful scene, discusses his coming out with his family for the first time since. His brother’s anger dissipates and we follow their intimate and honest conversations in cars as Gage picks Benny up from work or takes him on a driving lesson, but still Benny suffers panic attacks. Then there’s “D”, abused by his mother and attacked on the street, now putting his life back together after years of therapy with a birth certificate and a bike. And Larissa, thrown out by her mother, but getting her anger under control, living with her girlfriend and graduating high school. There are some interesting and thought provoking ideas in Splidsboel’s documentary – Larissa’s experimentation with her identity, sometimes in make-up and wig, at others with a painted beard. Or Benny’s sense of entitlement, his feeling that he doesn’t belong, transformed into a yearning for a life of luxury. And while there is some playing up for the camera and some scenes that feel manipulated, taking Benny’s family bowling for example, Misfits‘ biggest problem is its narrative arc, which veers away from its original premise of young people coming to terms with their sexuality into a straighter story of growing up – Benny’s dreams of moving to Dallas, Larissa’s graduation and even D’s girlfriend. An intimate and beautiful portrait of a dazed and confused generation, Misfits loses its way in sweet dreams of youth.
Misfits is now showing at the 65th Berlin Film Festival