Queerly Ever After is a bi-monthly column where I take a look at LGBT+ films that gave their characters a romantic happily-ever-after. There will be spoilers.
In the Brazilian film The Way He Looks, written and directed by Daniel Ribeiro, Leo (Ghilherme Lobo) is a blind teenage boy who feels stifled by his parents’ overprotectiveness. Bullied at school by most of his peers for his difference, his only friend is Giovana (Tess Amorim). The two have been best friends since childhood and as they’ve grown up, Giovana has hinted that she may be interested in more than friendship with Leo, however, he has never picked up on these hints, nor is he interested in her in that way. One day, new kid Gabriel (Fabio Audi) shows up and becomes quick friends with Leo and Giovana, but especially Leo. As the boys grow closer, Giovana feels more and more sidelined, and Leo begins to fall for Gabriel. The movie was based on Ribeiro‘s 2010 short film I Don’t Want to Go Back Alone, which starred the same actors in the roles of Leo, Giovana, and Gabriel.
One of the major plot points is that both Leo and Giovana have yet to experience their first kiss. Giovana wants to get it over with, she just wants someone to kiss her, and she wouldn’t be too upset if that someone were Leo. When Gabriel shows up, she would be happy to kiss him as well, and she does try at a party, though he rebuffs her advances. Leo wants his first kiss to be something special, but he doesn’t think anyone will ever like him in that way. Things all come to a head one night at a party thrown by classmate Karina (Isabela Guasco), who also has a crush on Gabriel. During the party, the kids decide to play spin the bottle. When it is popular, pretty girl Marta’s (Bárbara Pereira) turn to spin the bottle, bully Fabio (Pedro Carvalho) stops the bottle in front of Leo. However, Fabio has no intention for Leo to kiss Marta, instead, he picks up Karina’s dog Pudding and intends to have Leo unknowingly kiss the dog.
Giovana and Gabriel walk into the room just as Leo is about to lock lips with the pup and Giovana drags Leo out of the party. Of course, he had no idea that he was not going to be kissing Marta but a dog, so he only thinks that Giovana is jealous and trying to control him. After she walks off in a huff, Gabriel comes outside and tries to get Leo to leave the party. Still not knowing what was actually about to happen, Leo believes that Gabriel also doesn’t want him to have his first kiss. Then, Gabriel kisses Leo and runs off, leaving Leo both confused and happy.
This doesn’t make them a couple just yet. Gabriel has no idea if Leo feels the same way for him, so instead of owning up to kissing him at the party, Gabriel feigns having been too drunk to remember what happened, so Leo doesn’t mention it. During a weekend-long school camping trip, Leo becomes convinced that Gabriel is actually interested in Karina because he spends much of the trip hanging out with her. It is also on this trip that Leo admits to Giovana he has feelings for Gabriel. After the trip, Gabriel goes over to Leo’s house and admits that Karina tried to hook up with him, but he is interested in someone else, someone he has kissed but is unsure if this person returns his feelings. Leo replies by kissing Gabriel.
Kids Can Be Cruel
Before I started writing this column, I read Vito Russo‘s The Celluloid Closet: Homosexuality in the Movies. The book, which was later adapted into a documentary, was a comprehensive look at queer and queer coded (mostly American) films spanning the silent era to the mid-1980s. One thing that stuck out to me while reading the book, and in regards to this movie, is that Russo identified a common trope in movies of the 1980s, where the male lead would not be as macho or aggressively heterosexual as the other men in the movie, and thus would be bullied for his perceived homosexuality. As Russo wrote on page 258 in regards to the 1984 movie No Small Affair:
“The gay-baiting dialogue in No Small Affair is given to a fool who is eventually humiliated by our hero when (Jon) Cryer romances Demi Moore, a sophisticated older woman. This means nothing because the fool is proven wrong, crushed by the fact that Cryer is really straight. If Cryer had been gay, would he have deserved all that abuse? Probably so. When a character is gay, it is the hero who makes the f*g jokes. We like the hero. When the character in question is straight, the bigots are simply proven wrong. We still like the hero. The hero is always straight and the straight guys are always our friends. The gay character always loses.”
The Way He Looks takes this old trope and flips it on its head at the end of the movie. Throughout the film, Leo is bullied by the other boys in his class. At first, they bully him for his blindness, and the loud typewriter he has to use in class. Their bullying takes another turn when Gabriel shows up and gets close to Leo. As Leo and Gabriel grow closer, the other boys take note and tease them about their supposed romantic relationship. Now, if we were talking about No Small Affair, Leo would prove all those other boys wrong by then seducing Marta, who is considered the prettiest girl in school. Instead, he proves them wrong, by proving them right.
At the end of the movie, after Leo and Gabriel have officially become a couple, though only Giovana knows that for sure, the three are walking home at the end of the school day, Leo with his hand holding onto Gabriel’s upper arm for support, when the other boys, led by Fabio, begin to taunt them again. It is then that Leo moves his hand from Gabriel’s upper arm and they defiantly clasp hands and continue to walk home. This act, causes the other boys to turn on Fabio for his rudeness, to them, it was all fun and games when they were pestering two presumed straight guys with a very close friendship, but once it was confirmed that their relationship was romantic, such teasing was no longer ok. Now obviously, the teasing still wasn’t ok even before they confirmed their relationship status, and the movie never presents it as such, but it is an interesting flip of an old trope.
In Conclusion: The Way He Looks
The Way He Looks is a poignant coming-of-age movie with an incredibly sweet romance between Leo and Gabriel at its core. Ribeiro was able to take his award-winning short film, which you should also watch, and adapt it into a longer story while keeping the heart of the short.
The Way He Looks came out on October 24, 2014 in the UK and November 7, 2014 in the USA. For all other release dates, see here.
Watch The Way He Looks
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