Review: 'Sublime' a Gentle Gay Coming-of-age Movie
Timothy Rawles READ TIME: 3 MIN.
In its inaugural American film release, Cinephobia has chosen the award-winning musical gay coming-of-age drama "Sublime," set in Bueno Aires.
One thing about movies like this – dealing with gay male teen sexuality – is they must, of course, address the protagonist's hormonal desire to experience carnal knowledge for the first time. Normally, as cinematic history would dictate, it's a man lusting after a woman. "Sublime" begins in much the same way.
Here, 16-year-old Manuel, or "Manu," is alone with his apprehensive girlfriend, Azul, who has given him consent but remains frightened and wants to wait. That's fine with Manu, who isn't eager to take the plunge, either.
That's because Manu (Martin Miller) is developing feelings for his presumably straight best friend, Felipe (Teo Inama Chiabrando), who is handsome, charismatic, and seemingly confident. As their chemistry builds so too do Manu's feelings, especially after he has a romantic dream about Felipe he can't shake.
What Disney's "Luca" tried to hide about its gay storyline is explored fully in "Sublime." In fact, Manu looks a bit like Luca himself. He's got an overbite, curly hair, and rosy cheeks. The location is similar, too: The coastal region of Argentina.
Miller is perfectly cast. He's pensive, shy, and decent. His quiet yearning for Felipe feels genuine to any of us who have ever had a crush in our teens. He's got it bad for Felipe, which keeps the audience guessing, "Will they or won't they?" It should be noted that the entire cast looks like the ages they are portraying.
It might be a cultural thing for Manu to be so secretive about his feelings. No one is bullied in the movie, and there isn't a single homophobic undercurrent. It's purely a psychological journey about a young man dealing with his feelings for another man, and wondering whether they will be reciprocated if he acts on them. Although emotional maturity is involved, let's face it: We want to know if the two boys are going to seal the deal.
Unlike "Call Me by Your Name," another slow burn coming-of-age drama, our hero isn't being manipulated by anything but his heart, which steadily chips away at his mental health.
"Sublime" is nothing new as far as its storytelling. One teenager, under the influence of cluttered feelings, likes another secretly. The conflict is the discomfort of having to sit with those feelings.
However, what makes this movie work is the strength of its actors. Miller doesn't have a lot to say, but that's okay. Not only does it save us from reading subtitles, but it gives us a chance to connect with him emotionally, just through his facial expressions. Every pensive thought, every spark of joy, and every personal triumph is displayed. I'm not sure if Miller is gay in real life, but he is so good it never feels forced.
Teo Inama Chiabrando as Felipe, the focus of Manu's desire, is also terrific. Conversely, he has a lot more lines. His character isn't as well written as Miller's; he's really just an object of affection, and deservedly so: Manu has good taste in men. Chiabrando struggles a bit with emotional range, but again, this isn't really his story.
This movie also has a great soundtrack of un-prerecorded songs.
In the end, "Sublime" lacks any grand gestures or fist-pounding messages about gay or bisexual pubescence that an American one might have. There isn't anything at risk (Manu's parents are progressive and accepting). The movie swims through its narrative very smoothly, pausing only to focus on Manu's realizations, which he addresses very maturely – perhaps too maturely.
It is a sweet movie from beginning to end. Despite its title, It doesn't break new ground, and that's one of its best qualities. It is just about a closeted teenage boy stuck in the "friend zone" by his straight best friend, who may or may not be hiding something himself.
"Sublime" is now available across North America on DVD, cable and digital VOD, including Prime Video, Apple TV, Google Play and Vudu. Spanish with English subtitles.