Culture Club

What to Watch: Aretha sings again, drama boys in love, and Outfest 2021 at home

Dramarama

Whatever your entertainment needs, we got your back (and hopefully your mind) with Queerty’s weekly “Culture Club” column with some of the highlights of new releases, streaming shows, classics worth revisiting, and what to drink while you watch.

The Step-Out: Respect

The long-awaited, much-anticipated biopic of grand diva Aretha Franklin finally arrives, starring another grand diva, Jennifer Hudson. Respect traces Aretha’s life growing up as the daughter of an outspoken preacher to the iconic recording artist we all know and love today. Director Liesl Tommy and writer Tracey Scott Wilson frame her story as one of an artist discovering her own voice, using music to recover from childhood sexual abuse, a violent marriage and struggles with alcohol. That leads to some frustrating early scenes, as Aretha comes off maddeningly passive.

Then again, maybe that’s the point. As Aretha begins to find her voice—and as Hudson lets out her own thundering belt—Respect ignites the screen. Hudson does her best work since Dreamgirls, anchored by a terrific supporting cast and Ms. Franklin’s song catalog. Marlon Wayans, as Aretha’s first husband Ted White, also gives one of his best performances, reminding viewers that for all his silly comedies, he’s also a fine dramatic actor. Audra McDonald also shines in the role of Aretha’s mother, Barbara; a climactic scene between she and Hudson shattered us, and will likely generate awards buzz for both actresses. Told with love, featuring memorable performances and a rocking soundtrack, we came away feeling inspired and with a newfound—ahem—respect for Ms. Franklin. We have a feeling you will too.

In theatres August 13.

The Festive: Outfest 2021

The world-famous LGBTQ film festival returns to Los Angeles, and even with in-person events this year. Fortunately for cinephiles far-scattered, the festival will also offer a virtual option this year, allowing anyone to stream the fest selections from home. This year’s highlights include Boulevard!, the new documentary from director Jeffrey Schwarz (Tab Hunter Confidential); Gemmel & Tim, a documentary on Gemmel Moore and Tim Dean, the victims of double murderer Ed Buck; Baloney, a chronicle of the all-male burlesque revue; Bridesman, Grindr’s first crack at a digital series; All Boys Aren’t Blue, an adaptation of George Matthew Johnson’s memoir starring Dyllón Burnside; and Boy Culture, director Alan Brocka’s new sequel series to his cult film starring Darryl Stephens. Whether viewed from home or in person, this year’s festival boasts the strongest lineup in recent memory, a treasure trove of polished stories speaking to the queer experience.

Kicks off in person and online August 13. Viewers can stream the festival from home via the Outfest website.

The Throwback: Dramarama

Not to be confused with the 80s band of the same name, we fell in love with this high school dramedy from director Jonathan Wysocki. Dramarama chronicles a group of theatre kids on the verge of becoming theatre adults in 1994. For Gene (Nick Pugliese), that means finally coming out as gay to his friends and confessing a crush on his handsome bud Oscar (Nico Greetham). But Gene isn’t the only one with an explosive secret, and it soon becomes clear that the friendships within Gene’s circle may not even last the night.

Dramarama pays tender homage to all things high school theatre-related, and to the wacky friendships that developed therein. An excellent cast gives moving and authentic performances all around, led by the Pugliese. For any queer kids who sought theatre as a refuge, or for anyone haunted by childhood’s end as embodied by high school graduation, Dramarama is a must-see. It also heralds Wysocki as a thoughtful director to watch: if his future films feature characters this vivid and complex, he may one day emerge as a great, American auteur.

In theatres in Los Angeles and virtual cinemas August 13.

The Catch: Nine Perfect Strangers

Anyone suffering from White Lotus withdrawal and needing a fix should look no further than Nine Perfect Strangers, the very weird new series from Hulu. Nicole Kidman leads an all-star cast that also includes Luke Evans, Melissa McCarthy, Regina Hall, Michael Shannon and Bobby Cannavale. The plot: nine strangers (go figure) arrive at a luxury wellness resort in hopes of exorcising past trauma. A mysterious Russian woman named Masha (Kidman) oversees the whole affair which also involves daily blood tests, dietary control and administering hallucinogenics to the resort guests. Needless to say, there’s something far more nefarious afoot.

Similar to The White Lotus, Nine Perfect Strangers wants to needle contemporary, moneyed quick-fix culture. Unlike the characters in that series—all of whom seemed to create problems for themselves—the characters here all suffer very real, very devastating life woes. Rather than a comedic tone, Nine Perfect Strangers also reaches for a suspense-thriller vibe, at times with mixed results. When the plot gains momentum in later episodes the show also takes on new life. We recommend it for the outstanding cast, all of whom bring characteristic polish to their work, the lush production values, and for the twisted plot—when the show finally gets around to it.

Streams on Hulu August 18.

The Good Cause: Love in Action Telethon

Jane Lynch hosts this Los Angeles-based telethon aimed at aiding LGBTQ people affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Celebrity guests this year include Jane Fonda, Adam Lambert, Lily Tomlin, Martin Sheen, Sam Waterston and Manila Luzon, all of whom will perform in the name of fundraising for the Los Angeles LGBT Center. With queer people—particularly older and people of color—disproportionately affected by COVID, we can’t help but advocate for a little love.

Airs on KTLA and streams on the KTLA app August 14.

The Jam: Sarah Barrios “Thank God You Introduced Me to Your Sister”

Singer Sarah Barrios drops the new video to her pop-punk anthem this week, all about falling hard for the sister of a doofus friend. Barrios’ vocal timbre recalls that of a more aggressive Billie Elish, albeit an authentically queer one. She also channels classic Avril Levigne with her shredding guitar and taunting lyrics. Whereas Avril rebelled against parents and school rules though, Barrios revolts against heteronormativity and gender stereotypes. It’s a tune both refreshing and fun for anyone who has ever seduced a friend’s sister…or brother, as the case may be.

Streams on YouTube.

The Sip: Crimson Stranger

via Shutterstock

In honor of the release of Nine Perfect Strangers, we’ve selected the Crimson Stranger as this week’s libation. While typically a Halloween cocktail, the mix of berries, mint and vodka also feel summery enough for us. Also, the characters in Nine Perfect Strangers give a lot of blood in the show, so it somehow feels fitting.

  • 12 fresh blackberries
  • 10 fresh mint leaves
  • 3 ounces vodka 
  • 1 cup cranberry juice

Crush berries & mint in a glass. Add juice and vodka. Stir and serve.