“Misfits” documents LGBT teens in the Buckle of the Bible Belt

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Tulsa, Oklahoma has picked up quite the nickname for itself–Buckle of the Bible Belt. Unsurprisingly, life feels pretty constrictive for LGBT teens there. With a population of about 400,000, the city is home to 2,000 churches and only one LGBT youth center. The OpenArms Youth Project welcomes teens ages 14 to 20, and three of them are the subjects of a new documentary called Misfits.

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The film follows Benny (19), “D” (16), and Larissa (17) over a period of two years. These three are coming out in a very religious society and there are a lot of growing pains involved, and not only on their part. Family support, or the lack thereof in many cases, is a big component of the movie.

Take our baby gay Larissa. She left home and subsequently moved in with her girlfriend, but not because of your typical rebellious teenager reasons. Larissa’s stepdad is a homophobe, and he has incredible influence over her mom. We never meet her parents, as opposed to “D,” who does have his dad in his life, and Benny, who today has the support of both his parents and his brother.

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Larissa’s an angry young woman, and it makes total sense. Her family situation aside, she’s already experienced the kind of loss no one her age should have to deal with. Two years prior to shooting the movie, one of the few friends she had committed suicide. He was a gay teen as well.

In many ways, the youth center is the only support system these teenagers have. It’s where they can go for education and employment advice. It’s where they can often grab a meal. It’s where they can contribute to discussions around intolerance, instead of hearing they should leave that to the adults. What’s more, it’s where they get to socialize with other LGBT teens and just have fun.

Larissa’s girlfriend goes with her to some of the center’s discussions and events. They can safely interact as a couple there. As things go with young love, I don’t know if these two will last, but they sure are cute together! Larissa’s a lot less angry around her girlfriend, and the courage they show holding hands and kissing in public really has me pulling for them.

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Misfits excels at showing teenagers in a way scripted cinema will never be able to. “D,” Benny, Larissa, and all the other teens featured in the movie are just so obviously and plainly teenagers. You have to wonder what they’ll think of their “performances” in 10 years’ time.

Now I feel compelled to point out that I can see how, based on this review alone, some people would categorize Misfits as an educational tool, or even as a perfect fit for one of those MTV specials. I’m not saying it can’t be, but this is a carefully crafted film that deserves your attention shot by shot. Quite frankly, I’m not used to such creative camerawork and editing from a documentary. A pleasant surprise indeed.

Ultimately, Misfits is moving because it’s so real. You won’t be able to help feeling invested in these teens’ stories, whether you see yourself in them or not. But I think you probably will. After all, we’re all misfits in one way or another.

Misfits is playing at the GAZE International LGBT Film Festival in Dublin on August 3. Visit the film’s Facebook page for upcoming distribution news and to find out if it will be playing at a film festival near you.