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LGBTQ cinema is growing and 'Love Lies Bleeding' continues the trend


A new film tells a love story that starts in a gym in the America of the 1980s. The movie also reflects a trend in cinema that's much more 21st century. Here's NPR's Julie Depenbrock.

JULIE DEPENBROCK, BYLINE: In just the last year, we've had "Bottoms," a satire about two unpopular, queer high-schoolers who start a fight club to meet girls.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Could the ugly, untalented gays please report to the principal's office?

KAIA JORDAN GERBER: (As Brittany) Guess that's you guys.

DEPENBROCK: "Drive-Away Dolls" is another comedy. This one's about two restless friends who embark on a road trip to Tallahassee, Fla.


MARGARET QUALLEY: (As Jamie) I've had it with love. I don't believe it's relevant to the 21st-century lesbian.

DEPENBROCK: And in theaters right now, "Love Lies Bleeding."


KRISTEN STEWART: (As Lou) So, where did you appear from?

KATY O'BRIAN: (As Jackie) Oklahoma.

STEWART: (As Lou) Yeah, I've never been anywhere but here.

DEPENBROCK: Directed by Rose Glass, "Love Lies Bleeding" takes place in 1989 in the American Southwest. It's a love story between two seemingly opposite characters, Jackie, an aspiring bodybuilder played by Katy O'Brian, and Lou, a gym manager played by Kristen Stewart.


STEWART: (As Lou) Is that why you left home - Oklahomans not into muscle chicks?

O'BRIAN: (As Jackie) Yeah, not so much. No, the place I'm from, everyone's a farmer, goes to church twice a week - that kind of thing.

DEPENBROCK: The two meet and immediately become infatuated with one another. But just as quickly, things start to go wrong.

ROSE GLASS: I guess it's kind of a darkly comic romance thriller satire kind of thing?

DEPENBROCK: That's Glass, who directed and co-wrote "Love Lies Bleeding." Here's how Kristen Stewart described her character.

STEWART: I mean, she's, like, a pretty nice guy. She wants to be a good dude.

DEPENBROCK: Lou, the nice guy, works at the gym owned by her estranged father, played by a gun-wielding Ed Harris. Before Lou meets Jackie, Stewart says she's feeling stuck, like she can't escape the violence in her own DNA. But then this larger-than-life person enters the scene.

STEWART: I really was scared of Jackie and thought she was - like, the only redeeming quality is that she's really sweet. And there was something about Lou liking her that made me like Lou even more. And, like - I don't know that they know each other. I don't know that this movie necessarily is, like - was a huge proponent for love, but it is, like, fun and a bit of a fever dream, which love definitely feels like.

DEPENBROCK: Stewart was obsessed with Rose Glass's first film, "Saint Maud." She says it's a delight to see Glass be allowed to do pretty much whatever she wants and for entertainment company A24 to support that vision. Stewart says, more often, you read a script, and you wonder, how did this get financed? It's so bad.

STEWART: And then some scripts you read very rarely - like, one of which is this movie - and you're like, how did this get financed? It's so good.

DEPENBROCK: Glass says the queerness of this story wasn't something they were consciously thinking about when making the film. It was just baked in. Here's Stewart and Glass again.

STEWART: Did we ever talk about that on set, ever? No, we did not ever. Not once.


STEWART: We just functioned from a place of pure curiosity and desire and just went, like, well, I don't know. What do you think? What do you want? What do you want? Like, and we weren't going, oh, my God, isn't this so cool? 'Cause, like, what I want is so gay and queer.

GLASS: (Laughter) Yeah, exactly.

STEWART: And here we are being gay and queer, like, unapologetically. But that was...

GLASS: Yeah.

STEWART: ...Happening for sure. But it was just more of a - yeah, we weren't underlining that point yet.

DEPENBROCK: So if a film like "Love Lies Bleeding" can remain as idiosyncratic as it is and reach a wider audience, that's meaningful.

DREW BURNETT GREGORY: I don't think that the art should be sacrificed for the mainstream appeal or, you know, mainstream release, but "Love Lies Bleeding" definitely does not do that.

DEPENBROCK: That's filmmaker and critic Drew Burnett Gregory. She says movies that feature queer characters front and center have always been around, but the accessibility of those films is a more recent phenomenon.

BURNETT GREGORY: Movies that aren't as widely available - sometimes that means that they're only available to people in major cities. And there are queer people everywhere. And so to have a movie that's going to get a wider release and have a famous person in it is really huge.

DEPENBROCK: Burnett Gregory says what's meaningful about "Love Lies Bleeding" is how flawed and complicated the characters are allowed to be.

BURNETT GREGORY: I do think it's a really special film and kind of a game-changer. And I think the hope is then, like, OK, will studios be able to look at this and go, oh, OK, like, we can put money towards a project like this?

DEPENBROCK: All this reminds queer film historian Jenni Olson of a line in Vito Russo's book "The Celluloid Closet."

JENNI OLSON: In the end, what most gay people want is interesting, challenging film experiences that do not make them feel insulted or invisible.

DEPENBROCK: What's exciting, Olson says, is to feel like that's happening now - to a certain degree.

Julie Depenbrock, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Julie Depenbrock
Julie Depenbrock (she/her) is an assistant producer on Morning Edition. Previously, she worked at The Washington Post and on WAMU's Kojo Nnamdi Show. Depenbrock holds a master's in journalism with a focus in investigative reporting from the University of Maryland. Before she became a journalist, she was a first grade teacher in Rosebud, South Dakota. Depenbrock double-majored in French and English at Lafayette College. She has a particular interest in covering education, LGBTQ issues and the environment. She loves dogs, hiking, yoga and reading books for work (and pleasure).