Outfest Now: ‘Family Matters’ Shorts Review

By Ben Blau

Outfest Now,” a virtual cinema streaming platform hosted by the LGBTQIA+ film festival Outfest, features an important curated selection of shorts entitled “Family Matters.” The films in this collection highlight how familial pressures can be among the most devastating and damaging experiences a person can have, especially when a family is mostly concerned with being seen by others as “keeping up” with so-called “normal” expectations for their social and economic status, within the bounds of a given cultural or historical context. This is depicted in various ways, ranging from the very serious and solemn, to the hysterically funny within this collection.

Two of my favorite films within the collection are “Alone with People” (Directed by Drew Van Steenbergen, Screenplay by Quinn Marcus, LFC Productions, 2014); and “Devi: Goddess” (written, directed and produced by Karishma Dube, 2017). The “Family Matters” collection depicts the coming out experience in a wide variety of circumstances, and viewers are likely to find characters with whom they can identify. The coming out experience is sometimes voluntary, sometimes involuntary, sometimes bold, and sometimes terrifying. The two films I’ve reviewed depict two contrasting scenarios, but they do have one thing in common. Both lead characters fear the repercussions of disclosing their sexuality to their parents, though within the bounds of vastly different cultures.

“Alone with People”

*spoiler alert*

It seems unfair to reduce the lead actor and screenplay writer Quinn Marcus’ debut “Alone with People” to a mere film review. Marcus has been in the public eye since she made her first appearances on an MTV reality show (Girl Code, MTV Production Development, 2014). As such, one might be tempted to be dismissive of a serious film offering penned by one such individual, but that would be, in my opinion, to entirely miss the point. While the film is normally cited as a “comedy” in popular film press, it is more complicated that this: the film is a comedic depiction of a tragic reality in Western, assimilated culture (see Fig. 1).

“Alone with People” is a fair depiction of one type of coming out experience and, unless one is only watching the movie to enjoy it as lighthearted entertainment, one could potentially miss the point. On the other hand, there are potentially millions of American teens that can identify with Andie’s circumstances, and who would feel more strongly represented by vicariously drawing strength from the way Andie (played by Marcus) keeps herself together despite the absurd failures of those who think they’re “doing what’s best” for her.

Fig. 1: Promotional Photograph, “Alone with People” (LFC Productions, 2014)

“Alone” doesn’t explicitly make use of traditional comedic filmmaking, apart from its relative lightheartedness (on the very surface level), and the single example of “breaking of the fourth wall”, when the awkwardly charming lead character Andie speaks directly to the camera during the opening scene, during which she is unwelcomely kissed by a boy while on a perfunctory date. The awkwardness has a touch of comedic exaggeration, but is meant to help set the mise-en-scene for the remainder of the film, which portrays an upper middle-class girl’s experience of being gay at age 15, closeted, and in the (already difficult) throes of adolescence and high school.

This film is not a comedy, but rather a dramatic commentary on what true loneliness is like, and the unintentional damage parents can inflict upon their children. Some of its quirky absurdity could possibly be mistaken for “comedy”, if not an astute viewer’s insight into how the very device of highlighting situational absurdity can be a much more sophisticated mode for drawing important or serious issues to the forefront of an audience’s consciousness. In this case, Andie experiences a profound sense of being alone. Existential loneliness is very damaging to one’s physical and emotional well-being (Hawkly, et al).

Andie’s gayness is not meant to be ambiguous to herself, nor to the audience, for she announces as much plainly near the beginning of the film. The audience members, however, are the only ones who are privy to this secret, which she feels she must keep from the rest of the world at this time. A student colleague of mine once used the term “audience surrogate” to describe how a character such as Andie skillfully gains an ally on the part of the audience, and I agree (Plackowski). Quinn Marcus (as Andie) captures our empathy again and again throughout the film with her terrific acting and innate charisma. 

In an early scene, we see her at home alone, having secretly rented a copy of Season One of The L Word (Dufferin Gate Productions, Coast Mountain Films Posse, Showtime Networks, MGM Television, 2004), a lesbian-centric contemporary cable dramady series, on DVD. She absentmindedly leaves the delivery box on the floor in front of the sofa and begins to eagerly settle in to watch. Almost before it starts, her family barges in the front door, having arrived home from somewhere earlier than expected. Andie has to feel the horror of being nearly exposed, and not on her own terms. She carefully and inconspicuously finagles the DVD’s shipping box underneath the sofa with her foot, while playing off to her sister, mother and father (“Tess”, played by Brittany Halls, “Mom”, played by Leigh Higginbotham and “Dad”, played by Mike Schatz, respectively) that she’s just passively watching television. She urges them to quickly change the channel, as if to signal that she doesn’t care what’s “on”. Even though this scene can come across as cute situational comedy, the reality of the point behind it is gut-wrenching and tragic.

Soon, Andie finds a therapist, Sharon (played by Stacey Melich). Andie has to get her secret off her chest. While weeping on the therapist’s couch, she admits that she cannot even bring herself to say out loud what’s on her mind without crying. Eventually, in tears, she painfully states, “I’m gay.” Sharon then dispassionately asks her, “Do you not want to be gay?” to which Andie replies, “No, I do want to be gay — like, I don’t care… I AM gay!” This, in my opinion, is a crucial detail not to miss — not just for Andie, but for any person’s sexuality in general; for there is no rational need to assign an external qualification for anyone’s sexuality.

The therapist then goes on to make the ethically-questionable decision to relay an anecdote of how she dated a girl when she was younger, but is now happily married to a man, and that they have children. This is an irresponsible risk for a therapist to take, especially as depicted by Sharon, having only met Andie literally moments before. Therapist self-disclosure itself is considered a controversial and potentially damaging practice. (Berg, Henrik et al.)

Within the family, Andie first comes out to her father, who has just picked her up from her therapy session for a ride home. The intimacy and vulnerability of her confession is highlighted by the over-the-shoulder shots of their conversation from the vantage point of a disembodied observer in the back seat, which can represent the conscience of the audience. Emboldened by her new perceived “allies” (Sharon and her anecdote), she musters the courage to divulge her secret to him. He responds in a superficially-caring, but naïve way. Even during his subsequent scenes in the film, his acceptance comes across in a way that seems self-placating, and thus ultimately dismissive, never truly acknowledging what Andie must be experiencing in a way that seems genuinely caring and empathetic.

Tess displays stereotypical teen immaturity, and is openly mean to Andie when she discloses her secret to her, which further depicts the alienation one can be made to feel, even by those that should be closest to them. Andie literally begs Tess to accompany her to a therapy session, which she reluctantly accepts under her childish protest. Her mom comes across as blatantly hostile and even leers as Andie with disapproval and disgust when Andie tells her that she’s gay (see Fig 2).

Fig. 2: Tess’s (Brittany Halls) dismissive reaction to Andie’s (Quinn Marcus) coming out in “Alone with People” (LFC Productions, 2014)

“Alone with People” culminates with a “group therapy session” in Sharon’s office. Both parents are present, as is Tess, albeit reluctantly (and, judging by her facial expression, resentfully). The shot composition depicts the entire family crammed on the therapy couch, each person looking like it’s the last place in the world they’d want to be. Mom openly shoots daggers at Andie by showing affection and pride only for Tess. The scene mostly consists of awkward silence. Dad feebly attempts to break the ice by making a few perfunctory comments about “not having a problem with it,” while Mom hastens the ending of the session by reminding everyone (loudly) that the therapist gets paid by the hour, which implies that it serves no purpose for them to be there in the first place. The ending of the film depicts everyone leaving the premises in the family car, with everything being “all wrapped up” as far as they’re concerned (each one in various forms of denial), and a close-up of Andie’s gutted face glaring out from the open backseat window (see Fig. 3) She is as alone as ever, which is now compounded by the naive abandonment of her own family just when she needed them the most (Carol 3).

Fig. 3: Andie’s (Quinn Marcus) disappointment in “Alone with People” (LFC Productions, 2014)

“Devi: Goddess

*spoiler alert*

While “Devi: Goddess” also depicts a closeted young lesbian who is fearful of familial repercussions, it is through the lens of an entirely different culture – that of the enduring Hindu caste system set in early 21st Century India. Most of the film is spoken in English, suggesting that it is meant for at least some degree of international accessibility. There are no comedic elements to this film, appropriately, as its realistically-depicted elements add depth to our understanding of the fear that young, sexually-closeted adolescents must experience throughout the world, specifically in regard to what their immediate family members may think, say or do as a result of finding out before the individual is prepared. The process of coming out should be on one’s own terms, if it happens at all, in my opinion. 

“Devi” opens in medias res with a somewhat disorienting scene of a woman engaged in the heat of a verbal and physical brawl on the streets of what is later established to be modern New Delhi, India. She has just been called some derogatory names for a lesbian by what appears to be a hoard of angry and violent homophobes, and the outrage on both sides has become violent (see Fig. 4).


Fig. 4: Homophobic violence in in New Dehli, India in “Devi: Goddess” (Karishma Dube, 2017)

The young woman’s name is later revealed to be Tara (Aditi Vasudev), the daughter of an upper-caste family in New Delhi. She has suffered a visible injury to her face as a result of the confrontation (see Fig. 5), which is the first of many subjective embarrassments to her conservative mother, Lata (Tanvi Azmi), who is in denial of Tara’s homosexuality. The visible laceration on her face is thus a double-layered badge of shame to her family.

Fig. 5: Tara’s (Aditi Vasudev) injury displayed on the title screen of “Devi: Goddess” (Karishma Dube, 2017)

Homosexuality is not illegal in India, although its legalization is a fairly recent development (BBC News, 2019). A cursory Internet search about gayness in India will even return numerous “gay travel guides” in New Delhi, in particular, where the events of “Devi” take place. One ancient and arguably outdated tradition in India (from a Western perspective) is its enduring caste system, which stratifies many individuals into a hierarchical lifestyle of servitude and subjugation based on the mythology and interpretation of Hindu scripture. In the film, we are reminded of this by occasional traditional Hindu music cues with authentic instrumentation. These make occasional but important appearances throughout the film, to vicariously place us into that geography, that time period, and to reinforce the fact that we are observers from a completely different culture. In “Devi,” Tara’s mother is of a high enough social caste to have gained the servitude of the eponymous character, Devi (Priyanka Bose), a housemaid and caretaker for Tara and their family.

While Devi, as a servant to the family, would doubtfully have ever initiated a romantic or sexual experience with Tara, she obviously cares for her deeply. We don’t know if Devi has romantic feelings for Tara, or women in general, until a pivotal scene in the film. One night, after being reprimanded by her mother for her perceived “degenerate” behavior, Tara seeks comfort in the only way that seems natural for her. She makes her way, late at night, to the sleeping quarters of Devi, where the two connect on a level they never have before. After some intimate talk, they get into bed together, and as they comfort one another, there is a close up shot of Devi turning to face Tara, as if they are about to engage in a passionate kiss. We, the audience, are deprived of ever knowing whether or not this or anything else of a sexual or romantic nature has actually occurred, as there is a somewhat jarring edit of the two of them, still asleep, in bed together the following morning. They are facing away from one another, and the shot from above shows disheveled bedding, suggesting that they may have made love, or possibly spent the night talking, cuddling, and comforting one another. The reason this is ambiguous is due to a subsequent event in the film, when Tara appears to “test” whether or not Devi will reciprocate a kiss.  

This happens the next evening, at a soiree being hosted by Tara’s family, Devi is in the kitchen, and working in her role as the family’s servant. During an opportune moment, Tara excuses herself from the table and discreetly enters the kitchen where Devi is preparing the next course of service. Initially, Tara boldly approaches Devi and kisses her passionately for a moment. Not knowing if her romantic gesture was welcome, she then pulls away, as if to test whether or not the feeling is going to be reciprocated by Devi, who in turn embraces Tara and imparts an even more passionate kiss.

Just as this is happening, a guest opens the kitchen door to inform Devi that Lata has broken a glass. The unnamed woman is obviously taken aback by what she has witnessed, and the implication is that she is going to tell Lata about it. This is apparently true, for the next major shot in the film is that of Lata reprimanding them both for their vile behavior in her eyes. Devi pleads with Lata, expressing how much she cares for Tara, and both are in tears. Devi’s fate is in peril, as she will likely lose her employment, her home, and her love (Tara). Perhaps her caste will also be diminished. Caste and victimization are strongly correlated in India (“India”). Their mutual pleading with Lata is emotionally on par with pleading for one’s life, and the acting on the part of all three characters is superb.

This scene is never resolved, as the next shot is of Lata and Tara being served breakfast the next morning by someone other than Devi. The assumption is that Devi has been let go, and that Tara has tragically succumbed to the will of her overbearing mother. We don’t, however, know for sure, thus rendering the ending to be ambiguous in that sense. In my imagination, Tara and Devi will somehow get to be together after the film ends. Ambiguous endings are my favorite, for this very reason. They invite the viewer to “write” their own ending. In so doing, one must examine what they believe, which requires a sincere internal instinct to be honest with one’s self. I’m rooting for Tara and Devi, and hope that you will feel the same when you watch this film.

Works Cited

Berg, Henrik, et al. “Therapist self-disclosure and the problem of shared-decision making.” Journal of evaluation in clinical practice, vol. 26, no. 2, 2020, pp. 397-402. doi:10.1111/jep.13289.

Caroll, Melissa. Lonely Affects and Queer Sexualities: A Politics of Loneliness in Contemporary Western Culture, McMaster University, 2013, Doctoral Thesis.

Hawkley, Louise C, and John T Cacioppo. Loneliness Matters: A Theoretical and Empirical Review of Consequences and Mechanisms, Annals of Behavioral Medicine : a Publication of the Society of Behavioral Medicine, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Oct. 2010.

“India: Hate Crime by Identity of Victims.” Statista Research Department, 22 Nov. 2021, https://www.statista.com/statistics/980033/identity-of-hate-crime-victims-india/

“Outfest Now: The Mission-Driven LGBTQIA+ Streaming Platform.” Outfest, 7 Dec. 2021, https://www.outfest.org/outfestnow/

Plackowski, Kyler. Peer Review of “Outfest: Original Film Reviews.” Received by Ben Blau, 13 Dec. 2021

Rosney, Daniel. “LGBT in India: What It’s like Six Months after Gay Sex Was Decriminalised.” BBC News, BBC, 6 Mar. 2019, https://www.bbc.com/news/newsbeat-47454768

LTU Academic Honor Code Declaration: I have neither given nor received unauthorized aid in completing this work, nor have I presented someone else’s work as my own.


One thought on “Outfest Now: ‘Family Matters’ Shorts Review

  1. I found this piece to be very well put together with a close analysis involving explicit detail that brought the paper to life. You bring up examples that you briefly brought up during class lectures that seemed to help add depth. I’m triggered to explore Out Fest not and see what all the hype is about since it was a great experience for you!


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