Outfest 2019: “Jules of Light and Dark” Gets Lost in Its Own Complexity

As more queer cinema gets made, filmmakers are getting to tell stories that may have once seemed frustrating or misguided. When there aren’t just a handful of films each year, audiences will hopefully be more responsive to queer stories that are messy, complicated, and flawed. Representation can be a burden on artists and this shift is undeniably good.

I was thinking about this as I watched Daniel Laabs’ debut feature Jules of Light and Dark, a movie that begins with the protagonist’s girlfriend fighting her for a man. Maya and Jules are at a rave and while Maya’s intentions are unclear, it’s very clear that Jules wants to hook up with David, and very clear that David wants to hookup with Maya.

They attempt a threesome, but Maya is just too gay and she ends the encounter. At this point, it’s vague who these characters are too each other or who they are at all.

And then Maya crashes her car with Jules in the passenger seat.

Tallie Medel as Maya

What follows is a duel narrative: Maya coming to terms with the accident, Jules’ waning feelings, and a general ennui about the future. And Freddy, a middle aged gay man who finds the car wreck, trying to find connection somewhere, be it with Maya or his estranged daughter or his crush Luis or a dog he adopts on a whim.

This is a movie about lonely queers. And it’s a movie about queers who sometimes make baffling choices.

It’s hard to quantify reality. When something feels false on screen, it’s usually more about the how than the why. The choices the characters make could be justified. I’d welcome the complexity of Maya’s love triangle or Freddy’s strained relationships if Laabs had found a way to make them feel more true.

The style of the film, lyrical and meandering, is a pleasure to watch, as are all the performances, especially Tallie Medel as Maya. But there’s a difference between a movie being visual and a movie being underwritten.

There’s a lot to like about this film, especially in the most visual sequences like the rave or whenever Freddy is driving around the Texas landscape. Laabs has an accomplished style and clearly a good rapport with actors. I look forward to his future work and hope he continues to push on our expectations of how queer people behave.

But ultimately you leave Jules of Light and Dark feeling like Maya: confused, lost, and unsure of what’s next. Maybe that’s the point.

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Drew Burnett Gregory

Drew is a Brooklyn-based writer, filmmaker, and theatremaker. She is a Senior Editor at Autostraddle with a focus in film and television, sex and dating, and politics. Her writing can also be found at Bright Wall/Dark Room, Cosmopolitan UK, Refinery29, Into, them, and Knock LA. She was a 2022 Outfest Screenwriting Lab Notable Writer and a 2023 Lambda Literary Screenwriting Fellow. She is currently working on a million film and TV projects mostly about queer trans women. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Drew Burnett has written 534 articles for us.

5 Comments

  1. Hey Drew, I haven’t seen this movie (or many others, lately), but I appreciate you taking the time to do all these write-ups! One day I hope to veg out and watch everything you’ve recommended. Sorry I don’t have more to contribute.

    • Thank you! I’m really excited for all these films to come out so more people can see them! It’s been a really good festival so far.

      More to come…

      • I somehow never get into film festivals anymore, which is crazy cuz I literally live where Sundance happens and I was a film major and I LOVE watching movies! Every year I think I’ll watch more than one or two things at Sundance, but it comes and goes and I have no idea what I missed. Ugh I’m probably just getting too old to keep up with this. So thanks again for talking about the good stuff.

        • This is actually my first film festival! Before I’d only been to one or two things each year at NYFF and Bam Cinemafest.

          But I’m very happy to be seeing such a range of films at this one!

          • Yeah, everything you’ve talked about so far has been really interesting. Did you catch Circus of Books? That looked interesting – I’ve been in adult retail half my life – and Transfinite looked like something I’d enjoy, I hope you got a chance to see it so you can tell us what’s good! The animation is pretty, and that hot house with the orchids looked like a great place to read.

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