Love Lies Bleeding Lets Kristen Stewart Be Gay, Do Crime

Photo: Anna Kooris/A24/Courtesy Everett Collection

The opening scene of Love Lies Bleeding teases one kind of female fantasy: You see bulging biceps, sweat-slicked men striving for peak physical form. (“Pain is weakness leaving the body”; “The body achieves what the mind believes,” urge the motivational mantras on the walls.) But Rose Glass’s romantic thriller isn’t that kind of movie, and it’s ultimately not the beefcakes who are the eye candy but the skinny mullet-sporting lesbian sweeping up. Kristen Stewart appears as Lou, a sullen gym manager plagued by a cigarette addiction and daddy issues — the kind of scrappy mutt in need of a new home. We first encounter her shrugging off a drooling former fling named Daisy who’s followed her into a bathroom stall; it’s a meta moment for a certain kind of queer viewer, so googly-eyed over butch K.Stew they, like Daisy, would happily watch her unclog a toilet.

Love Lies Bleeding is a neo-noir and a love story, but it’s foremost a vehicle for Stewart, one of our most prolific out gay movie stars, to flaunt her final form as a “grade-A dyke,” as a lunkhead regular calls Lou. The 33-year-old actress has played queer characters before, like in 2018’s psychological drama Lizzie, but it’s one thing to be conducting a hushed affair with a repressed 19th-century ax murderer; it’s another to be licking protein shakes off an ’80s muscle mommy, sucking her toes, and thumbing through a volume of erotic short stories called Macho Sluts. (Ordered.) At the gym, Lou meets Jackie (Katy O’Brian), a spandex-clad bisexual drifter en route to Las Vegas for a bodybuilding competition; by the next day, they are U-Hauling. If the intent isn’t clear enough, the movie’s release was anticipated by a louche Rolling Stone cover of Stewart in an unbuttoned leather vest and jockstrap, the pull-quote headline reading: “I Want to Do the Gayest Thing You’ve Ever Seen in Your Life.”

The director devised the film’s premise to subvert Hollywood demand for strong female characters: “[Glass] was like, ‘Strong girl? Bodybuilding. Got it.’ Simple as that,” Stewart recounts to Rolling Stone. The concept creates opportunity for long, indulgent shots of the body, the camera savoring every inch. But lust intermingles with violence: An FBI agent drops by the gym sniffing for intel on Lou’s father, a corrupt gun-range owner (and rare-larvae harvester) at the center of a criminal underworld, and Lou’s sleazy brother-in-law JJ reveals himself as not just a scumbag but a wife-beater. Another way of reading the opening scene is as an act of foreshadowing: The main characters are about to get into a lot of shit.

Murderous gays are all the rage lately, and Love Lies Bleeding situates itself along a continuum of queer crime thrillers that mine the association between legal and sexual deviancy. One of the films it most evokes is 1996’s Bound, in which a high-femme gangster’s girlfriend named Violet switches teams (let’s go, bisexuals), scheming with her lesbian ex-con lover Corky to run away with $2 million of Mafia money. (Corky, played by a strapping Gina Gershon, happens to be a plumber.) Bound gives you good reason to root for the female killers; the men they’re double-crossing are stooges, bastards, and homophobes. “Everyone knows your kind can’t be trusted. Fucking queers, you make me sick,” Violet’s boyfriend, Caesar, snarls at Corky once he discovers their big ploy.

The lesbians are even more heroic in Ethan Coen and Tricia Cooke’s recent road-trip caper Drive-Away Dolls, also about two audacious women interfering with mobsters — this time, unwittingly at first. It’s a movie intent on proving its queer credentials: There are rainbow credit cards, make-out-circles with a woman’s soccer team, and Beanie Feldstein screaming over a wall dildo. Margaret Qualley plays a ran-through Texas sweetheart named Jamie who follows her buttoned-up bestie Marian (Geraldine Viswanathan) on a girls’ trip to Tallahassee. Ultimately, they fall in love, ruin a family-values senator’s presidential campaign, and then speed off to Massachusetts to get gay-married.

In contrast, Love Lies Bleeding is a gorier, more politically ambivalent entry into the “be gay, do crime” canon. Lou and Jackie may be resorting to their own devices under a corrupt system that turns a blind eye to male violence, but they’re not wholly sympathetic, and that’s by design: “We are constantly watching movies about women triumphing over oppressive forces because we’re somehow ethically or morally superior,” Stewart told Rolling Stone. “It’s like, ‘No, fuck that.’” Sure, JJ is a piece of shit whom Jackie brutally kills as an unsolicited gift to Lou. (Beware those whose love language is acts of service.) But Jackie is also a roided-up psychopath who, like JJ, can’t contain her own rage. More concerned with her bodybuilding competition than covering her ass for murder, she hitchhikes to Vegas and leaves Lou to the wifely duty of cleaning up the mess. You think Lou is more reasonable? Sort of, but she’s also kind of bananas: “You’re the most incredible, beautiful person I’ve met in my whole life,” the dumbass says during a tennis-court confrontation in which a gun-wielding Jackie accuses her of being a two-timer and repeatedly fires. Lou? More like delulu.

Ultimately, the lesson of Love Lies Bleeding is something you won’t find plastered on the gym wall: “Bitches be crazy.” With the movie’s truly WTF ending, Glass throws serious commentary to the wayside, conveying more simply how good pussy will make you lose your mind. All obstacles to the couple’s flourishing are suddenly vanquished in a troll twist in which Jackie hulks up and becomes supersized, swooping in to the rescue of a trapped Lou. The movie culminates in a rare homosexual happily-ever-after, the lovers driving into the sunset in Lou’s pickup truck. But not before Lou detects a faint breath in the corpse stashed in the back, finishing the deal while her baby sleeps peacefully in the passenger’s seat. Grotesque, but seeing Kristen Stewart like this will have you praying to be her next casualty.

Love Lies Bleeding Lets Kristen Stewart Be Gay, Do Crime