A lesbian reviews SA’s first gay rom-com, No Hiding Here

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This review is about No Hiding Here, the first gay rom-com to be created on our shores, but this reviewer feels the need to start by clarifying a few things, as these may almost certainly have had a hand in her opinion of this film.

First, I’m no Barry Ronge. Although I am homosexual, I belong to the lesbian variety, counting me among the least most knowledgeable about the complex nature of male sexuality of any kind – a fact I am often reminded of when speaking to my male friends, most of whom are gay. Look, lesbians do things a little differently – as most of my male friends, most of whom are gay, gaspingly attest to after conversations with me.

In the spirit of not hiding, I’d also like to openly declare that romantic comedies are perhaps my least-favourite genre of film. If this points to a misplaced sense that romance is not to be trivialised, and should be accompanied by gut-wrenching emotional struggle if it’s worth the effort, I squarely place the blame for this perception on the producers of just about every lesbian love story I’ve seen portrayed on the big screen. Oh, the drama of it all!

For the creators of No Hiding Here, on the other hand, avoiding the typical themes associated with films that depict LGBTQI+ stories (the queer trauma, the difficulties of coming out, the “bury your gays” trope, etc.) was a central focus when making the film.

Speaking to Scaffold, the writer and director of No Hiding Here, Gabe Gabriel, emphasised that the movie was meant to evoke warm and fuzzy feelings, instead of making the pain of queer people the story’s driving force.

“While the relative myriad of queer stories that centre queer trauma are often necessary and important and cathartic, we felt it vital to position queer joy front and centre in No Hiding Here instead for the sake of both queers and non-queers who watch it. We wanted to send the message that we are not only our inherent queer trauma. We also have complicated jobs and favourite shoes and eat breakfast and love music and fall in love and get our hearts broken and make mistakes and sing in the shower,” Gabriel said.

Don’t get the wrong idea, though – the main character in No Hiding Here, drama teacher Sam (played by Earl Gregory) has a life is full of theatrics. The first obstacle Sam faces in the film makes its appearance after just five minutes, when he comes to the stark realisation that he and long-time partner Benji might not, in fact be the “prom king and prom king of Barrydale” after all.

Things really start hitting the fan when a technical glitch sees Sam accidentally projecting gay porn onto the school stage during a performance by a prominent and popular musician, Caleb Ferreira (David Viviers). This, despite Sam’s promise to the intimidating Principal Pauling (played by doyenne of the theatre, Antoinette Kellerman), that the event would be “very much above the jockstrap”. Caleb has long been rumoured to be gay, and he confirms this to some learners and to Sam after smashing his phone in a fit of rage upon realising the immediate social media fallout of the incident.

Utilising a mascot costume, the kids manage to help smuggle Caleb from the school to Sam’s place to lay low. Soon-to-be ex Benji is the first of many people to knock on Sam’s door, but promptly leaves when Sam acts out in protest of Caleb’s assumption that he is “a pushover”.

Indeed, Caleb has many insights about Sam, and vice versa, and an intense conversation about a number of issues ensues. By this point, the viewer definitely gets the impression that there is something brewing between the drama teacher and the A-list celebrity he detests – but there will still be plenty of spectacle before we find out whether this unlikely match is to come into play.

Being a rom-com, viewers can expect hijinks of the highest order. No Hiding Here has loads to keep fans of romantic comedies entertained – among other things, an impromptu musical number in Sam’s kitchen with another teacher, Esthie, and some of the learners they teach, no less!

Now, I must say that, from the perspective of an Afrikaans model C school-educated person, the relationship between Sam, Esthie, and their learners feels a little too cosy to me. “This conversation is crossing way too many boundaries,” Sam says at one stage, to which Molly, one of the matrics he teaches, replies that he should “stop shaming my sexuality, sir” – a sentiment that is echoed by the rest of the group before they all head out to a burlesque show.

Call me old-fashioned (dare I say, puritanical?) but I can hardly imagine 18-year-old me sitting in a high school teacher’s home while they sip on wine and openly discuss their sex life.

I also found some of the action-packed plot a little hard to believe. Then again, isn’t the willing suspension of disbelief part and parcel of any romantic comedy worth its salt? As a less-than-seasoned viewer of rom-coms, I honestly couldn’t say.

But if you’re looking to unwind with a local gay film that was purposely created by a cast and crew made up mostly of LGBTQI+ people, check out No Hiding Here on Showmax. Without a doubt, local queer cinema is alive and well, and this reviewer is waiting with baited breath for a lesbian rom-com to warm her cold heart and convert her, once and for all.

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