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From 'Barbie' to 'Joy Ride,' July's hottest releases hit the big screen

With films starring Stephanie Hsu, Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling, this month is a dream for moviegoers with a queer sensibility.
Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling in "Barbie."
Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling in "Barbie."Warner Bros.

From movies about fiery skies to an ensemble travel comedy starring Stephanie Hsu, July’s releases scream summer 2023. Joining the list of cinematic heavy hitters are some of the year’s most promising festival films, including “Kokomo City,” a gorgeous and confronting documentary about transgender sex workers, and Greta Gerwig’s immensely anticipated “Barbie,” whose competitive release date has inspired an endless array of queer-coded memes and tweets.

Because of Emmy submission timing, July has become a famously tough month for TV, and this year is no different. A few brave series, like the beloved and famously snubbed “What We Do in the Shadows,” are set to premiere. But, in general, it’s best to use the TV drought as an excuse to escape the heat and kick back in an air-conditioned theater seat.


Before George Michaels was a solo heartthrob with a thriving career, he was one half of the dreamy English pop duo Wham. Filmmaker Chris Smith, who is perhaps best known for splashy documentary projects “Tiger King” and “Fyre,” focuses on this first chapter of Michaels’ career, which began in 1982 and ended with the band’s farewell show in 1986 at London's Wembley Stadium. Most of the material for the documentary comes from the archives of Michaels and Andrew Ridgeley, the band's other founding member and, according to the documentary, the mastermind behind many of the band’s most iconic moments.

“Wham!” premiered on Netflix July 5.

'Joy Ride'

An all-star cast of Asian American creators and stars puts a fresh spin on the raucous ensemble comedy with “Joy Ride.” The feature directorial debut from “Crazy Rich Asians” writer Adele Lim stars Ashley Park as Audrey, a lawyer who enlists her best childhood friend, Lolo (Sherry Cola) — who then enlists her oddball cousin Deadeye (Sabrina Wu) — to join her on a business trip to China that’s doubling as an opportunity to find her birth mother. Once the group arrives, Audrey’s college BFF, Kat (“Everything Everywhere All at Once” star Stephanie Hsu), joins in the fun as the friends field a succession of romantic encounters, sticky situations and drug-fueled bonding moments. As well as being this summer’s answer to “Bridesmaids,” the film is a boon for LGBTQ representation, with Hsu, Cola and Wu representing for queer, bi and nonbinary performers, respectively. 

“Joy Ride” opens in U.S. theaters July 7.

'What We Do in the Shadows'

“What We Do in the Shadows,” the beloved series about a Staten Island coven of chaotic vampires, may have consistently failed to pick up Emmys over the years, but thanks to its nonstop laughs and eternally popular characters — Nandor (Kayvan Novak), Laszlo (Matt Berry), Nadja (Natasia Demetriou), Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch) and Guillermo (Harvey Guillén) — it’s still going strong after four seasons. Last season, polyamorous partners Nadja and Laszlo reunited to open a cabaret-style club, headlined by energy vampire Colin in pubescent form. And Guillermo spent most of the episodes trying to get Nandor through a bout of loneliness-related depression. But by the end, Colin had returned to his droll, adult self and Guillermo, disillusioned by years of broken promises, bribed another vampire to turn him. Based on the trailer for the new season, Guillermo may not have gotten all he bargained for — meaning that he still may be the one herding the vampires as they flit from one situational comedy moment and queered-up romance to the next.

“What We Do in the Shadows” season five premieres on Hulu July 13.


German auteur Christian Petzold delivers another indie hit with his searing feature “Afire.” The film, which stars Petzold’s new muse Paula Beer (“Undine”), centers on a young author, Leon (Thomas Schubert), who finds his dreams of a halcyon week of writing ruined when the family beach home of friend Felix (Langston Uibel) is hosting another guest: Nadja (Beer). The beautiful and easy-going seasonal worker comes along with a lover (Enno Trebs), who further irks the author when he shacks up with Felix. As the foursome live out the summer days at the seaside setting, the forest fire burning inland grows ever closer, eventually becoming a pressing threat. And in a surreal series of events, the tensions that have been brewing in the charming, white-thatched seaside abode ignite into romance and tragedy.

“Afire” opens in U.S. theaters July 14.

'Theater Camp'

An impressive cadre of cross-generational comedic actors collide in “Theater Camp,” a laugh-out-loud celebration of outsiders and amateur musical theater set at a rundown summer camp in the Adirondacks. At the camp, founded by theater matriarch Joan (Amy Sedaris), best friends Amos and Rebecca-Diane (Ben Platt and Molly Gordon, who also co-wrote) round out a group of passionate teachers who guide campers on the arts of theater, dance, music, costume design and stagecraft — in the case of the overlooked and overworked Glenn, played by the film’s break-out star and co-writer Noah Galvin. This summer, the department heads are joined by newcomers Janet (Ayo Edebiri) and Troy (Jimmy Tatro), Joan’s influencer son who has been tasked with keeping the camp afloat while she’s in a strobe-light-related coma. As the enthusiastic young actors embody their roles for the summer’s productions, these newcomers and the old guard try to keep the stage lights on and their spirits hands away from one another’s throats.

“Theater Camp” opens in U.S. theaters July 14.


Although she only helmed a few titles from behind the camera, “Little Women” director Greta Gerwig always manages to cause a stir when she announces a new project. And her new “Barbie” movie — starring Margot Robbie as the titular plastic blonde and Ryan Gosling as her “himbo” companion, Ken — is the filmmaker’s most headline-grabbing project yet. When Barbie starts struggling to keep up with her absolutely perfect image, she and Ken leave Barbie Land for a journey of self-discovery in the real world, like an outrageously proportioned Eve departing paradise with her platinum-haired Adam. Left behind in Barbie Land are all the other Barbies and Kens, campy recreations of one-off Mattel creations, who are played by Hollywood’s biggest names. (Though Kate McKinnon’s hilariously chaotic and sticker-marked version, billed as Weird Barbie, seems to be a Gerwig original.) Beyond its undeniably nostalgic appeal, the film has also earned attention for draining the world’s supply of pink paint, giving early promise that it has the kind of unrestrained aesthetic that thrills queer audiences. 

“Barbie” opens in U.S. theaters July 21.

'Kokomo City'

Director D. Smith takes an unflinching but beautiful black-and-white look of the lives of four sex workers based in Atlanta and New York City — Daniella Carter, Koko Da Doll, Liyah Mitchell and Dominique Silver — in the new documentary “Kokomo City.” The subjects' candid, intimate conversations with Smith, which make up the majority of the film, are reminiscent of scenes from Jennie Livingston’s groundbreaking 1990 documentary, “Paris Is Burning.” But, in this case, the director, who is a trans woman of color, shares a common background with her subjects. The documentary had an enthusiastic reception when it premiered at Sundance and went on to take home the audience award at the Berlin International Film Festival in February. Its impressive run was marked by tragedy shortly after, when it was announced in April that Koko Da Doll had been shot and killed in Atlanta — news that echoes in scenes in which the women talk about the difficulty of making it out of sex work alive. 

“Kokomo City” opens in U.S. theaters July 28.

In case you missed it …

'Swiping America'

While there’s no lack of reality dating shows on streaming these days, they rarely have as much heart as “Swiping America.” From the creators of the heartfelt drag makeover series “We’re Here,” the documentary-style dating show sends a group of four New Yorkers around the country to be set up with singles that the producers— according to the premise — match them with on a dating app. While finding love is the ultimate objective, the diverse but homogeneously attractive cast members quickly find that forging friendships may be the most attainable and rewarding goal.

“Swiping America” is available on Max.

'And Just Like That…'

Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), Charlotte (Kristin Davis), Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) and the other privileged women of “And Just Like That…" are back to turn it out in Manhattan’s chicest restaurants and side streets in season two. Undeterred by the debut season’s middling reviews, the creators and producers of the “Sex and the City” reboot are banking on their nostalgic fans’ willingness to tune in to see the beloved characters fumble their way through their 50s, with a new set of friends by their side. And they’re likely wise to roll the dice, because the mere mention of a possible Samantha (Kim Cattrall) return was enough to throw the internet into a tizzy on the first day of Pride Month.

“And Just Like That...” is available on Max.