The Movie Waffler New to VOD - BLUE JEAN | The Movie Waffler


lesbian PE teacher's secret sexuality is threatened by a troubled pupil.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Georgia Oakley

Starring: Rosy McEwen, Lydia Page, Lucy Halliday, Kerrie Hayes, Stacy Abalogun

blue jean poster

Twitter comments on a video featuring a non-binary popstar getting up to the sort of hijinks which have been an integral aspect of pop music iconography since Elvis swung his hips: "vile and evil," "a freak... fucking weirdo," "it's disgusting." Headlines concerning LGBTQ+ presence in schools: "[it] risks safety," "blame 'woke' culture for influencing impressionable teens," "dozens of teachers on the front line of a culture war voicing their concerns over children changing gender." Not archival rhetoric from the dark ages; the above missives were published over the last year, some this very week. The video is that Sam Smith one, and you can guess which paper the headlines were from (I certainly won't be linking them). Dunno about you, but I've noticed a steady re-emergence of this sort of thing; angry heteronormative voices, clutching pearls in one hand while shaking a fist with the other. I’m unsure if this unpleasantry is distinctly against the gays or the trans (the dissenters lump them together, after all), or if it's just another facet of the modern way of hating everything and everyone, including oneself, and looking for something to pin it on (one tweet vis-à-vis Sam Smith came from renowned fan of pop music and the most opportunist of all would-be provocateurs Jordan "B" Peterson, putting his hips out leaping on the band wagon and thus necessitating more lovely opioids: sit back down, grandad). Won't anyone think of the children?!

blue jean review

Mind you, in the nineties it was even worse. Due to Section 28 1988-2003, the "promotion of homosexuality" was outlawed in classrooms. In rabid homophobic hysteria, "promotion" essentially translated to even mentioning being gay, the gays, Kylie Minogue, etc. Gayness was verboten. As well as reinforcing stigmatisation of the LGBTQ+ community, Section 28 forced ordinary and everyday people to live a lie, and emergent gay kids to possibly deny who they were and self-loath. It was a fucking disgrace. And the straights wonder why Pride is such a big deal. Let's not forget what happens when blind bigotry and heart-breaking stupidity is exploited by sensationalist media and self-serving agendas, yeah? Georgia Oakley (who was born the year Section 28 was founded) certainly hasn't. Her debut cinema feature centres on a lesbian PE teacher in a small town with small minds at the end of the eighties. In work Jean (Rosy McEwen), coded as gay from the off with her amazing hair and pet cat, distances herself from colleagues and is subject to sneery comments from her students (that's the thing about laws against homosexuality: they legitimise hatred). It's not all bad, though, as outside of school Jean has a partner and a solid group of mates, who meet, almost nightly it seems, in a local gay bar (perhaps a minor consolation of the absolute nonsense gays in the past went through was the bonding, familial sensation of being in a gang). Thus, Jean manages to keep things on a fairly even keel... until one of her students reaches out for support in the clumsy way that kids do, especially when their coming to terms with who they are is being suffocated by meaninglessly cruel social and political contexts.

Blue Jean engenders an atmosphere of fraught, wearied paranoia. As Jean stoically continues in her job, the film drops in real life news footage of politicos discussing the impending legislation, and the "right to be gay." You wonder, as always with homophobia, what people were/are scared of. Even putting aside it "mattering," as if a teacher could influence a kid's sexuality (I have tangential experience of the sector, and believe me, it's enough of a challenge to get kids to pick up a pen, let alone alter their entire being). Still, mid-teen pupil Lois (Lucy Halliday) attempts to get close to Jean. She turns up at the gay bar and expects Jean's support when she kicks against the bullying pricks in the classroom, yet the teacher keeps a distance. As all kids should be, Lois is idealistic and angry, but also naturally injudicious: as, after all, for Jean, with a home and a cat, her entire livelihood is on the line.

blue jean review

Oakley films with a conspicuously female gaze, where lesbian sex is celebrated, and female flesh is illicitly charged. There are a couple of group shower scenes in Blue Jean that would make Brian DePalma drop his walking stick, although here the depiction of nudity is not voyeuristic, but pertains to danger, emphasising the outsider perception that for Jean the nakedness of her charges may not be neutrally received (we see the same tedious argument now, but this time concerning trans people and changing rooms, etczzz). Further to the immersive positioning, Blue Jean often has a feeling of repression, of disinclination: that mid-week sensation of the weekend's fun fading, and the next one still days away. We all live for the weekend but imagine if Saturday night was the only point in the week you could be yourself. The in-between times would drag.

But as Lois' behaviour intensifies perhaps Jean longs for less interesting days... What is refreshing and vital about Oakley's representations is the absence of Holy Gays. Jean, conflicted and arguably unsupportive towards Lois, is flawed. Her GF Viv (Kerrie Hayes) is a bit of a pain, too - a butch lesbian styled and seemingly coached by Millie Tant, she browbeats Jean about responsibility to the cause, and her fundamental ignorance of Jean's position is underlined when she rings her work landline for a chat (you just don't, do you?). Jean's life is further contextualised by that of her sister's bland heterosexual existence of nightmare kid and magnolia painted suburban walls. Is there a sense of playing to the gallery with the abject presentation of Lisa's conformity: the awkward small talk at the kid's birthday party, the inherent alienation of such situations which desperately contrast the furtive bonhomie of the gay bar, the rigid roles certain straight people are doomed to enact? Bless 'em. No wonder some of them are so furious all the time.

blue jean review

In a pleasing synchronicity with this quarter's other big LGBTQ+ release, M3GAN, in one scene our heroine reads Alice's Adventures in Wonderland to a child. The implication is clear: Jean is in a surreal world where the rules are often unfairly mercurial, and it's up to her to negotiate its potential traps and pitfalls. Except, for Alice the experience was as a dream, while Jean lives a nightmare. It's one you'd hope we would have woken up from after all these years, alas the pernicious narratives of recent times make the suggestions of Blue Jean as pressing as they ever were.

Blue Jean is on UK/ROI VOD now.

2023 movie reviews