For the sake of the readers, and their own critical integrity, it's important that newspaper film critics review a movie first as a work of art, and then perhaps assess the political or cultural or moral messages within. A critic can love a film's message and hate its execution, or vice versa. But in Friday's Weekend section of the Washington Post, the critical reaction to two message films -- one vaguely pro-life, and one dramatically pro-gay -- seemed to be based strongly on political criteria. "Bella," the pro-life film, was panned as an "endless" fiasco, and the pro-gay film was "moving...superbly thought out."
When you know, practically from the beginning, what's going to happen at the end of a movie, what do you do with your time in between? Offer to buy everyone in the theater popcorn while you sit this thing out? Check cellphone messages? Catch up on lost sleep?
We opted to just watch "Bella," a Mexican movie in which the outcome is never in doubt, the scenes are endless -- sorry, we meant poetic-- and the false beard on the central character's face looks as though it could use a little extra gum.
Directed and co-written by Alejandro Gomez Monteverde, "Bella" centers on Jose (Eduardo Verasetegui), a promising soccer star whose career is permanently stalled when his car claims the life of a child who dashed into the road. Traumatized (and bearded) by this terrible event, Jose becomes the head chef at his brother Eduardo's Mexican restaurant in New York. But when Eduardo (Ramon Rodriguez) fires Nina (Tammy Blanchard), a pregnant employee, Jose impulsively walks out of the kitchen to console her.
One conversation segues into what seems to be eternal walking and talking between Jose and Nina, as she discusses her desire to abort her child and Jose experiences fragmentary flashbacks of his initial trauma.
Anybody need any help with where this is going?
Monteverde busies himself with creating a world of texture and characters around Jose and Nina. We observe the hustle and bustle and the good-natured workers of Jose's restaurant kitchen. And we meet Jose's family, to whom he introduces Nina. But as the film amiably observes the passage of time, we can only think about the clock.
"For the Bible Tells Me So" is a brisk, entertaining and even moving exploration of the sometimes frayed intersection where Christianity meets homosexuality. Basically the film, from director Daniel G. Karslake, argues that homosexuality is a natural genetic condition and, as such, should be accepted as normal by all. But it's never strident or chest-thumping, and its methodology is superbly thought out.
It follows a number of evangelical families, each with a child who is gay. It watches as child and parent struggle with this issue until each realizes that it doesn't have to be an issue at all and that love will conquer all. So families shatter but then magically reassemble, stronger for the trauma.
The movie also takes time to make the case that the Bible's injunctions against homosexuality should be taken in context along with a lot of other biblical injunctions, such as the one that calls for death for committing adultery or the condemnation of planting two kinds of seed in the same field.
Perhaps this is Hunter's way of strolling away from the office heat over his Michael Moore bashing. But couldn't Thomson's criticism be applied to the gay film? Christian families in a liberal film struggle with a gay family member, and they all reconcile and agree the Bible's outdated. Where is the surprise, the dramatic tension in that? At least the New York Times panned the film's artlessness, even as it endorsed its identity politics:
Filmgoers and critics who are mainly interested in aesthetics will have little tolerance for this secular sermon. Viewers who got this particular memo long ago will likely deem it condescending, a word embodied by this movie’s most unfortunate sequence, a smart-alecky animated short in which a gay man, a lesbian and a booming Voice of God (Don LaFontaine) disabuse a homophobe of his ignorance. The dummy’s name? Christian.
But there is no denying that the film, however inelegant, fills a need. The inevitable DVD should be packaged in a plain cardboard sleeve, so that viewers can carry it in their pockets and, if confronted by a homophobe, hand it over and say, “Watch this, then get back to me.”