Queer films — and minority films in general — tend to fall into two categories: either they tell stories that are particular to the homosexual community and homosexual relationships, or they tell common stories to a community that doesn’t usually see itself represented on mainstream cinema. For queer film the latter category is becoming more and more prominent, which is an important and welcome shift. But Yossi seems to be an unusual case: a story that could easily be told about either a straight or a gay relationship, but one that seems difficult if not impossible to produce as a mainstream film about a heterosexual man.
The story follows 2002’s Yossi & Jagger, and it has occasional difficulties standing alone. If you don’t see that movie first, you should know that ten years ago Yossi Gutmann (Ohad Knoller) had a covert homosexual relationship during his military service in the mountains near Lebanon, which ended when his lover was killed in an operation that went sour.
Yossi is now a cardiologist, and he has come to better terms with his sexuality by now, but he’s still closeted and alone. A nurse tries to flirt with him, and a chauvinistic colleague (Lior Ashkenazi) tries to get him laid, but Yossi spends his nights in a darkened apartment, eating leftover takeout, and joylessly masturbating to internet porn. But when he’s forced to take a vacation, he meets a young member of a very different military than the one he served in (Oz Zehavi).
Where Yossi & Jagger was about Yossi coming to terms with his sexuality at all, Yossi is about coming to terms with himself. Indeed, the gay community doesn’t seem to offer many role models to schlubby, overweight guys in their mid-thirties; the story seems perfect for John Waters to adapt and present to his American audience of “minorities who can’t even fit in with their own minorities”. The porn Yossi watches is dominated by young men with zero body fat, and online hookup sites aren’t a lot better. It’s not exactly a surprise that Yossi has some serious difficulties with the idea that anyone could be attracted to him in the first place.
And that’s what makes Yossi so interesting: it’s not that there aren’t a lot of lonely, schlubby, overweight straight guys in their mid-thirties to mid-forties, and it’s hardly the case that contemporary culture doesn’t lead to body image issues for them. But it seems that the whole concept of a straight man suffering from socially-crippling insecurities about his appearance has been neatly excised. Sure, there are schlubby male leads in romantic/comedic roles — Seth Rogen fits the bill nicely — but the stories they’re in are never about their self-image issues as such. Even Patton Oswalt’s phenomenal performance in Young Adult wasn’t really about dealing with his character’s issues; he just had them while Charlize Theron’s character had her breakdown.
There absolutely is a pernicious male beauty standard in our culture, but since the very idea of caring about appearance is perceived as effeminate it ends up that we’re far more comfortable telling these stories about gay men than straight ones. Yossi takes queer cinema beyond the realm of adapting common stories to homosexual contexts, and uses its position to tell an important story that mainstream cinema seems unable to tell itself.
Worth It: yes.
Bechdel Test: fail.