LOVE LIES BLEEDING Is a Beautifully Messy Triumph of a Queer Love Story

In queer circles, it’s a bit of a joke that many women-led movies with queer romances have a sort of fragile tragedy that clings to them. Often period pieces in nature, these works involve a lot of longing (but very little touching). They also include highly feminine protagonists who pine delicately and artfully engage with the tragedy of their lots in life. Of course, there’s a place for and importance to those kinds of movies. But like the rainbow that represents them, queer folk exist in many ways. Thus, they deserve more than one kind of movie to represent them. And that’s exactly what Love Lies Bleeding slams down on the table. With a fist, a gun, and a true depiction of the loves and lives of queer people, Love Lies Bleeding breaks through queer lady-shaped movie tropes and brings something delightfully messy and brutally real to our screens.

love lies bleeding review Jac and Lou

We first meet Kristen Stewart’s character, Lou, with her hand shoved down a full-to-the-brim clogged toilet. And while utterly gross, the sequence sets the tone for the movie to come. No sighing and swooning here, folks. Lou is also not even a bit interested in hiding her queerness, which makes for a refreshing change of pace.

Stewart’s character is an oddball happily rocking her messy shag cut and cut-off sleeves and “don’t talk to me if you’re a straight man” glare. It’s hard to quantify how well this movie delivers queerness without getting into what, on the page, feels like labeling the ways in which queer people exist. But suffice it to say Lou is queer. She wears it openly without having to talk about it too much. There’s also a delightful androgyny to her, which we don’t often see in our queer features. In short, Love Lies Bleeding is a movie that really transcends the notions of gender binary to offer us something deeper.

love lies bleeding Jackie working out

Lou and Jackie (played by Katy O’Brian) find one another quickly in the movie. While Lou offers us one kind of queer feminity, Jackie (or, notably, Jack) blows in with a whole other kind. Long montages of muscley arms and veins popping are usually reserved for hunky men in the movies. But hunky women are finally having their day. Katy O’Brian’s Jack is simply stunning. She knows it, and so does Lou. Love Lies Bleeding sets up their introduction with a long scene of Lou checking out Jackie and her rippling back muscles. This, again, should not be such a novelty, but unfortunately still is when it comes to queer films.

Much of the early parts of Love Lies Bleeding play like a pure romance movie. Jackie and Lou fall into bed after making eye contact. (As queer ladies deserve to do/can you blame them?) They then move in together at once, and while the days away working, kissing (among other things), and training for Jackie’s ultimate goal in life, winning a bodybuilding pageant in Las Vegas. But, of course, nothing good can last and dark specters lurk in the corners. For Lou, a troubled past haunts her, which revolves around her father and a strong love for her sister, who won’t leave her increasingly abusive husband. For Jackie, it’s a growing addiction to steroids which turn her spark and strength into something crueler and angry.

love lies bleeding Lou covered in blood

As the movie unfolds, it mixes gritty reality with surrealistic dreams to draw viewers into a suspenseful plot that involves murder, madness, and bashed skulls. At moments, the music and cinematography take us to an ethereal place, the movie casting its leads as goddesses. And then at others it descends into a realm so harrowingly real, it’s painful, a place full of blood and injustice. The duality of the two feelings, two very real queer experiences, blend seamlessly and never feel jarring. Instead, they take the audience on a journey that balances gritty and transcendent. Love Lies Bleeding is so brilliant because it once elevates our heroines into something mythic, goddess-like in nature. Then it also makes sure to show us their desperate fight for survival. (And then the amount of time they spend lying around in sweatpants.)

love lies bleeding review Lou and Jackie

The movie also maintains a wonderfully dark humor throughout. Both Lou and Jack make huge messes of their relationship, themselves, and everyone around them in their attempts to find their way out of the beds they make. But hey, the path of true love never did run smooth.

love lies bleeding review Lou's dad

In addition to the above, the movie avoids the cardinal sin of a production with queer characters: having the main queer characters be the only ones who are queer. It also side-steps focusing on other well-worn queer tropes, coming out and homophobia. But it does offer a hat-tip to the excellent notion of found family and cleverly highlights some of the toxicity straight couples can bring to life. Not to mention, it has a truly stellar cast. In addition to Stewart and O’Brian, who shine, the film includes an excellent performance by Ed Harris as Lou’s sly villainous father. It also perfectly captures a certain time and place in 1980s New Mexico.

love lies bleeding review Jack at the competition

Love Lies Bleeding is a triumph. As a queer person watching, I cried several times, just out of the sheer happiness of seeing such a wealth and breadth of queerness on display. The joy that the movie took in uplifting what some might deem “non-normative” truly moved me. There’s a scene (that does not resolve as planned, but nevertheless) where O’Brian’s Jack is on the screen, fully captivating in her gorgeous, muscly body, standing in the limelight, proud, brilliant. And it touched me so deeply. Because that is beauty, the kind that should be applauded but so rarely is in our society. Love Lies Bleeding elevates a queer tale not by focusing on queerness, but by understanding that queerness is simply a part of certain characters, embedded into them and the decisions they make in subtle but powerful ways. And through this understanding, it created a set of endearingly flawed characters making their way through the tribulations of life and reaching for the beauty of their truest selves.

Love Lies Bleeding Rating:

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