The Way He Looks is a liberating delightful experience that just shines with the enjoyable levity of innocent teenage love.
So, the other day I was watching Rowan Ellis, one of my favorite digital influencers and hoster of a youtube channel that focuses a lot on queer media and representation. And in times of covid-19 pandemic, she felt the need to make a list full of heartwarming movies to soothe our already stressed out and near-the-edge turbulent minds. If you are interested in the topic and want to check it out, the full list is available on her video: comforting lgbtq+ movies for difficult times.
But what I found really curious is that the first video on her list is surprisingly “The way he looks'', an appraised Brazilian low-budget coming-of-age indie movie from 2014, remarkably well received by critics and audiences, with a proud record of 91% certified fresh on rotten tomatoes. I must say I just find it extraordinarily odd that it managed to surpass the language barrier and reach British audiences. The story is based on a short film about a blind gay teenager boy falling in love for his school classmate. And the movie grew so much in popularity that it managed to get a big screen version. Also, it is paramount that I share with you that the short film is currently available on youtube for free and it notably has subtitles in multiple languages, English included.
Paraphrasing Avril Lavigne, he is just a boy, and… he is also just a boy, can I make it any more obvious? The movie tells the story of Leo, a blind boy that befriends a newcomer classmate called Gabriel, and he starts developing platonic feelings towards his newfound buddy. It is also about Giovana, who is secretly in love with Leo, and she’s been his best friend for a while now. Needless to say, some faint love triangle is formed, and while she feels madly jealous of the two little birds love affair, Leo is ironically also feeling a semi-paranoiac fear that he may lose both of his friends, and panics imagining she may be dating his dream boy.
Storytelling-wise, the long movie version benefits wildly from extra screen time, expanding a lot from the source material, deepening its exploration of characters’ feelings, greatly developing their personal growth and further exploring their relationships.
I must say I kind of dislike the English title tremendously, since it is way too misleading.Translating from Portuguese the title of the short film literally means “Today, I don’t want to come back home alone”, and the feature-length movie name freely translates to “Today I want to come back home alone”. Those titles give nice hints about the themes explored by the narrative. It playfully eludes the protagonist’s action of going back home from school. While the first one suggests it is a story about pairing up, and deals with teenage angst, fear of rejection and finding love. The second one broadens that by doubling down on an independence quest, with emphasis on growing up from infancy to adolescence as a blind person and achieving some new level of autonomy. So it is both about dealing with recent acquired needs while overcoming obstacles common to LGBTQIA+ and people with disabilities experiences, trying to be your own person and not relying on overprotective friends and family. But it is also about not feeling castaway and undeserving of romantic relationships.
Even though this sounds like a typical gloomy burdensome journey that is hurtful just to watch and may leave you gloomy, I must say in all caps it certainly is not. The movie is actually a smooth enjoyable ride. It doesn’t dig deeper on harder themes of exclusion and does not create a heavy unbearable atmosphere. It may show some small scenes where the main character is slightly bullied and laughed upon, but that isn’t a constant occurrence nor a traumatic event. Instead it focuses a lot on how the protagonist's best friend and his new crush are trying so hard to create a safe and supportive environment. Maybe the only problem with that is that, in order to avoid a more somber tonality, it is just unbelievable at times, and not realistic at all. Characters show a great level of almost instant acceptance and conflict jumps too quickly to conclusion with very few drama. But hey, it is an escapist movie. Let's just sit, watch it, forget about our terrible closeted high-school experiences and painful coming out. Some people are just lucky.
Some issues concerning representation seem really well handled. One of my favorite moments is when Leo is having a wet dream about Gabriel, consolidating his undoubted interest towards his beloved and dispersing his doubts about his own sexuality. And, contrary to what one may expect, it is actually very touching - no pun intended, with some nice artistic choices creatively explored. I mean, it is an herculean task to translate a blind dream to an audiovisual media that relies a lot on showing, but it feels just right. It is also very sweet to see how Leo falls for Gabriel in a very sensitive manner. Most narratives just rely on good-looking actors, and the rest should follow its “natural” course without much question. But this time, aromas, skin contact, curly hair texture, soft voice, kind gestures all play a major part in the cast's attractiveness. It is unusual and a refreshing touch.
Finally, if you like this movie, I should also suggest “In a Heartbeat”. It is a short animation that went viral awhile ago. I just look at these three movies and can’t imagine anything but the “same energy”. It is also free and available on youtube. For me, it is uplifting to live in an era where teenagers can see themselves represented on the media and are able to feel confident, proud, and not ashamed anymore. Representation matters, and I strongly hope to see more films like this one.
So, what do you think about this movie? Have you watched it? Would you recommend it? And what movies made to your personal list? Leave some soothing invigorating suggestions on the comments section down below and help us have a cheerful quarantine!