Film: March 2010 Archives

Submitted by first-year SoonKyu Park

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a movie called Outing Riley, directed by Pete Jones. It came highly recommended by friends and by Netflix, and it was exciting to see a LGBTQ movie set in Chicago.

The movie is about Riley, a forty-something gay architect who lives in Chicago, and his struggles to come out to his Irish-Catholic family. Although the plot may seem predictable, Riley stands out from other gay men in the movies. He is completely at home with himself and with his sexuality. He has already come out to his friends and colleagues and is in a long-term relationship with his partner. He is not like the two cowboys in Brokeback Mountain and isn't flamboyant like Truman Capote in Capote. Instead, Riley looks, talks, and acts like an average Joe living in Chicago, just another guy obsessed with the Cubs and the Bears.

Many of the movie's differences can be attributed to the setting. Riley doesn't live in 1960s Wyoming or 1940s New York, where homophobia was still widespread, but rather in twenty-first-century Chicago. Outing Riley is a portrayal of a modern gay man who is rarely seen in mainstream media.

What made the movie especially memorable is the way it portrays Chicago. At the beginning of the movie, Riley introduces himself: "I've always imagined my life as a movie. The problem with my imagined movie is, it might be boring. I'd add helicopters. Helicopters make everything exciting. But nobody's going to believe I have helicopters....If I were a guy from L.A. or New York, well, maybe. But I'm just a guy from Chicago." To Riley, Chicago is a different type of city than L.A. or New York. But as the country's third largest city, Chicago has skyscrapers and is a major financial center, home to the Chicago Stock Exchange, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, the Chicago Board of Trade, and its own professional sports teams.

So how is Chicago different from the other two? The director's answer seems to be that Chicago is more American than its two bigger sister cities. He believes that Chicagoans live "straight from the blueprint." They are born, go to school, get a job, get married, and have babies. Then they move to the suburbs, grow old, and die. If L.A. and New York are cities at the forefront of fashion and popular culture, then Chicago is the city of the average Joe.

When I think of New York, I imagine youngsters in chic clothes carrying "it bags." In contrast, Chicago reminds me of people in Levi's and sweatshirts. If I were to compare the two cities to alcoholic drinks, New York would be a martini and Chicago would be a local beer. New York is the city of Marc Jacobs and Donna Karan, and Chicago that of the Gap and Levi's. Such generalizations simplify things too much, and there are of course average Joes living in New York and fashionistas in Chicago. After all, Chicago also offers a rich cultural experience with its many immigrant neighborhoods such as Pilsen, Little Village, Chinatown, Little Italy, and the Ukrainian Village. And yet Chicago manages to maintain its identity, making the city a wonderful mixture of American and international culture.

Overall, the movie is delightful, filled with humorous episodes of Riley and his quirky brothers. The largely unknown cast shines, and the script is witty yet poignant. The film also takes you to numerous Chicago landmarks, including the Navy Pier, the Buckingham Fountain, the Lakeview neighborhood, and the lakeshore. I highly recommend the movie to anyone who interested in the city of Chicago or in LBGTQ culture--or both.