InsideOut 2020, the annual Ontario LGBTQ+ showcase, goes online this year with highlights including Ellie & Abbie and Dating Amber.
Toronto’s annual LGBTQ+ showcase, the InsideOut Film Festival, kicked off yesterday (Oct 1) online and runs until October 11, with screenings available across Ontario. This year’s selection includes some of our festival favourites from TIFF, such as No Ordinary Man and Shiva Baby, as well as the San Francisco Frameline Film Festival, with Cowboys. We were a bit more mixed on Two of Us and Lingua Franca, which are also screening. As you plan your viewing, here’s a look at two of our festival favourites thus far.
Ellie & Abbie (& Ellie’s Dead Aunt)
Australian writer-director Monica Zanetti’s first feature is a delightful queer high school romcom with a view toward LGBTQ+ history and how it still impacts the lives of its characters in 2020. When the tall, smart, Type A Ellie (Sophie Hawkshaw) decides to ask her classmate, Abbie (Zoe Terakes) to the formal, it raises her own insecurities about romance in general, and forces her to confront her family’s past.
At first, Ellie feels like coming out is an unnecessary formality (not unlike in Australian series Please Like Me), and that being queer is no big deal in a world where gay marriage is legal and prejudice, she thinks, is nil. But that attitude and ignorance about the past gets in the way when she discovers that Abbie was outed by her classmates and faced bullying for being gay. Through visits from the ghost of her dead Aunt, who at first seems like an annoying old person to Ellie, Ellie starts to learn about the long and painful fight for queer rights that her own family was part of and harmed by.
Ultimately, the film is a light-hearted delight, with a key courting scene involving Ellie faking a detention, claiming to have littered, only to be called out by Abbie for being the one in charge of the anti-littering program at the school.
If coming out is a non-issue for Ellie, it seems insurmountable to Eddie (Fionn O’Shea of Handsome Devil and Normal People) and Amber (Lola Petticrew) in 1995 Kildare, where even being suspected of queerness is cause enough for being bullied. Eddie has spent his entire life afraid to think about what he wants and find out who he is, too busy trying to please others, if not blocking out the entire world. An early scene in which he bikes through a military training exercise with live fire, completely oblivious because he’s listening to his walkman, is an apt metaphor for the blinders he has on to all aspects of his life.
When his classmate, Amber, who is also being bullied gets the idea that they could become each other’s beards (the original film title is Beards) by pretending to date, both their lives start to change. Eddie and Amber finally have a friend in each other, a partner in crime, and someone with whom they can be authentic — while hanging out under false pretenses. The more worldly Amber, who has always planned to leave town for the big city as soon as graduates, comes into herself first. She then helps push Eddie toward moving forward, , even though he’s so afraid to admit to even himself who he is — not just that he’s gay, but that he has no interest in the military career his father dreams of for him.
Although the film is about whether or how Eddie and Amber are able to accept themselves and start living authentic lives, they’re still dealing with other problems: Amber, with her father’s recent suicide, and Eddie with his parents’ possible impending divorce. The film keeps things light with its bright colours, often matching what Eddie and Amber wear — the yellow of her coat with the yellow stripe on his jacket and the yellow of his bag — to hint at their compatibility, if not as romantic partners than as friends. Ultimately, it’s the performances that sell it and make you root for these misfits to find somewhere they feel like they fit in.