Two gay-themed films open in the ATL this week, one a quiet, absorbing drama about how a friendship changes perhaps forever over the course of an evening and the other an enthralling narrative feature about an LGBTQ icon.

 

A coming of age story with a twist that debuted at the Toronto Film Festival last fall, “Giant Little Ones” explores the relationship between Franky (Josh Wiggins) and Ballas (Darren Mann), who are 17-year-old best friends who find their lives changed after a discreet sexual encounter after a birthday celebration. It was important for director and writer Keith Behrman to keep a sense of ambiguity about the exact events of the night. “That was always really important to me. That’s the main point of the film – you don’t have to define yourself. I wanted to embrace the ambiguity,” he says.

 

The crux of the film is how Franky reacts to those around him – and Ballas – when he unexpectedly becomes an outcast. “There’s a lot of familiarity and affection between them,” says Behrman. “When this incident happens it takes them both by surprise. They struggle in their own way with what happens. Ultimately it’s a story of love and friendship and identity.”

 

The characters are not based on anyone the director knew, although he admits he shaped “Giant Little Ones” on his own frustrations on how men are supposed to behave and the binary definitions imposed on people.

 

Maria Bello stars as Franky’s mother and Kyle McLachlan appears as Franky’s gay father, with whom he has a tricky relationship. Franky also has a trans friend and a gay teammate. Besides wanting to give the audience the space to make their own conclusions, director Behrman also wanted to make sure all of his characters were well-rounded and not stereotypes.

 

Directed by Ondi Timoner, “Mapplethorpe” looks at the life of noted and groundbreaking photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, played here by Matt Smith of “Doctor Who” and “The Crown.” One of its producers is openly gay Nate Dushku, who worked on the film with his sister Eliza. It’s been a long time bringing the feature to life, over a decade, and Dushku wanted to make sure the film properly honored its subject.

 

“As we researched him, it always seemed like there was a skew toward him – it had to be portrayed that he was a deviant person. We uncovered there was a real human behind the name. It was important that we moved the story from a one-note portrayal to who he really was. He was a son, a brother, a lover, an icon for artists and gay artists.”

 

The film charts Mapplethorpe’s friendship with Patty Smith as well as the ‘80s when the artist explored his sexuality but also developed AIDS and passed away at a relatively young age.

 

In his short time as a photographer, Dushku says he kept on working. “He sped up and never slowed down. I fell in love with him in some way. There are people who dress like him or like to have sex like him and I don’t see them as bad people at all.”

 

The film wouldn’t work with Smith’s warts-and-all portrayal of the title character – and Dushku praises the actor for being a consummate pro and not being afraid of the darker aspects of the character.

 

Showing Times

“Giant Little Ones”

Opens March 15 at the UA Tara

Various showtimes

 

“Mapplethorpe”

Opens March 15 at the Landmark

Midtown Art Cinema

Various showtimes

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