“I want a gay thing about gay adults who are relatively well-adjusted and aren’t dying, that is wistful, hopeful, fun.” ~ Richard Lawson, Chief critic for Vanity Fair.
LGBT+ characters have had it rough on film. We tend to die via murder, suicide or AIDS related illness. AIDS awareness is vital but so are happy endings. We need to be reminded that we have a chance at love and happiness. Last week I reviewed positive GBQ+ films featuring teen male protagonists. Today I’m featuring films about GBQ+ adults who survive their stories.
The following reviews contain mild spoilers.
Stories in which the protagonist overcomes adversity and wins the heart of another man.
The 10 Year Plan (2014). Promiscuous hunk plays matchmaker for his marriage-minded (and mildly unhinged) best friend. But were they meant for each other all along? This movie is stupid and amateurish but I kind of loved it. You’ll notice the secret crush is a recurring theme in gay romcoms. C
Eastsiders (2015-2017). Netflix series. When Thom has an affair his uptight partner, Cal, must decide whether to leave him or forgive. The logistics of threesomes and open relationships are negotiated in a messy, heartfelt manner. Season two meanders but it all pays off in a spectacular season three. A
Esteros (2016). Scientist ditches his girlfriend to spend a weekend with his childhood male friend. Lots of gorgeous scenery and subtextual conversation as the two reconnect. The fantasy that your schoolboy crush will eventually come back for you is a dangerous one, but very sweetly told here. B
Gods Own Country (2016). Depressed Yorkshire farmer finds a companion, and more, in a Romanian field hand. Starts out grimmer than grim but with a hint of black comedy. Grows painfully beautiful even as you see it pulling the strings. Ailing parents and the family farm are the external obstacles but the leading man’s violent repression is the internal. A bit of Taming of the Shrew. A bit of Pygmalion. A
Gone But Not Forgotten (2003). Lonely forest ranger rescues a handsome stranger. The stranger has amnesia. They bang. The $5 budget, amateur cast and silly plot transform this melodrama into unintentional comedy. Features a surprisingly hot love scene set to an unfortunate original song. It’s not good but I’ll give it a C for Camp.
Paris 05:59: Théo & Hugo (2016). They meet at an orgy, face a crisis and then walk through the streets of pre-dawn Paris. It’s both distracting and liberating to watch established actors engaging in joyous unsimulated sex. Once the conversation begins they realize they just might fall in love. It’s been compared to Weekend but becomes its own romantic creation. A
Shelter (2007). Zach raises his nephew and endures his emotionally abusive sister. When he meets his Prince Charming he sees a chance to break free… but will he have to leave his nephew behind? The parenting aspect adds a twist to this Cinderella tale but I fast forwarded through most of it. The love interest is bland and the sister is too one dimensionally unpleasant. Still it has a happy ending so it belongs on this list. C
Other examples: Big Eden. Jeffrey. Maurice. My Beautiful Launderette. Trick. Yuri!!! On Ice.
Stories in which love does not prevail. The protagonist must learn to let go and move on.
I Am Happiness on Earth (2014) (aka Yo soy la felicidad de este mundo) Depressed film director leaves his boyfriend for a hustler, then regrets it. We get no context for his behavior. Lots of skin but the pacing is glacial. D
I Am Michael. (2015) Biopic of Michael Glatze; a man who flipped from gay activist to anti-gay pastor after a health scare. James Franco’s dour performance makes it unclear why people follow him. He glares at his male and female lovers like he’s about to murder them. D
I got more insight into Glatze’s mindset from the short documentary Michael Lost and Found (2017). Glatze consents to a short, guarded interview with his ex; Benjie Nycum. Glatze has left anti-gay preaching behind but is still desperately seeking an identity. C
Kiss The Bride (2007). Philipp Kramer’s ex-boyfriend is getting married… to Tori Spelling! Can he stop the wedding? Or does he need to let go? This sloppy comedy has a melancholy theme: The sense of guilt you can feel if you escaped your small town but left someone behind. The leading men look great, and disrobe frequently, but are uncomfortable with screwball banter. Tori Spelling’s talking in a baby doll voice that belongs in a different film. Steve Sandvoss of Latter Days makes a cameo in one of his last films before he left Hollywood. D
Lazy Eye (2016). Depressed graphic designer Dean (Lucas Near-Verbrugghe) gets a visit from his flaky ex Alex (Aaron Costa Ganis) in the L.A. hills. The bulk of the film is an extended conversation as the men determine whether to seek closure or rekindle the flames. The actors have terrific chemistry. A
Like You Mean It (2015) Kiss the Bride’s Phillip Kramer let his depression sabotage his relationship, then made a film about it. Kramer is willing to show himself at his worst but his seething becomes monotonous. A grim cautionary tale. C
Loev (2016). Two estranged friends take a road trip to Mumbai. They had to film in secret due to India’s criminalization of homosexuality. The first hour is a charming character study as the leads flirt and banter. Things turn ugly with an act of violence that will sour the film for some. Grade B with a trigger warning.
People You May Know (2016). Sean Maher loves his sketchy online boyfriend but has knocked up his ex-girlfriend. Maher’s aged well since Firefly but he can’t save a lumpy screenplay full of subplots and tears. The comic relief friend says most of his scenes were cut for time. Some comedy could have helped. C
Those People (2015). ”I’m dating a controlling pianist but in love with my unstable childhood friend! Who do I choose?” We know the childhood friend is a jerk but it will take the inert leading man 90 minutes to reach a decision. Intentionally frustrating. C
Other examples: A Very Natural Thing. Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss. Call Me By Your Name. The Falls. Free Fall. Keep the Lights On. Weekend.
Stories in which the protagonist and their loved ones must overcome their flaws to help each other grow. Romance is secondary to the plot.
4th Man Out (2015). When their friend comes out a group of straight bros play matchmaker. One begins to worry that the gay friend has a crush on him. There are some moments of warmth hidden between the gay panic jokes. C
Dear White People S1 (2017). Netflix series. When a frat house throws a “black face party” the leaders of the black student groups debate how to respond. Each episode follows a different character. Ep 2 focuses on Lionel Higgins, a student journalist, who finds the courage to come out and expose the scandal. Smart writing and a fantastic ensemble cast. Expanded from a film. A
Juste Une Question D’Amour (2000). (aka Just a Question of Love). Young Laurent maintains a double life for his conservative parents. His pretend “girlfriend” and his intense boyfriend are tired of the charade. The actor’s charm and good looks nearly make up for the fact that Laurent is a self-loathing jerk. The boyfriend and fathers are jerks too, leaving the “girlfriend” and mothers to do the emotional work. Ends happily but there’s much angst along the way. C
Other People (2016). Sad writer returns to his estranged family when his mother (Molly Shannon) is diagnosed with cancer. The central family conflict is thinly sketched. More interesting is the support he receives from other gay men including an out and proud teen (J.J. Totah), a supportive ex-boyfriend (Zach Woods) and a friend familiar with loss (John Early). A cast full of comedians get to show their dramatic chops. B
Summer Time (2016) (aka L’estate addosso) American male couple teaches straight Italian tourists a lesson in tolerance. Initial tensions suggest there’ll be a fight (or an orgy) but soon everyone is gushing about the power of friendship. Grade C for condescending.
Other examples: Bedrooms and Hallways. The Broken Hearts Club. Ideal Home. La Cage Aux Folles. Priscilla Queen of the Desert. The Sum of Us. The Wedding Banquet. Whatever This Is (web series).
Mystery and Horror
Genre films in which the protagonist’s sexuality flavors, but does not necessarily drive, the plot. At least one GBQ+ character survives these stories though they may still be in danger when the credits roll.
Bright Night (2014) (aka Nachthelle). Troubled woman visits her ex and his new boyfriend. The new boyfriend is aggressively hostile for reasons at first unclear. Meanwhile a secret from her past is slowly driving her mad. Surreal moments suggest the film may turn into Mulholland Drive but it never commits. Lots of twists but no payoff. C
Cthulu (2007). A gay twist on H.P. Lovecraft’s Shadow Over Innsmouth. A gay man visits his creepy hometown for a funeral. He assumes the locals are homophobic. He’s not wrong, but there’s more going on. The acting is hammy but the premise is smart. C
Drown (2015). Gay lifeguard (Jack Matthews) is stalked by a closeted rival (Dean Francis). Turns into an uneasy mix of horror and pornography. Harry Cook does lovely work as the baffled straight friend stuck in between them. C for plot. A for eye candy.
On the Other Hand, Death (2008). Detective Donald Strachey (Chad Allen) investigates a hate crime with the help of his loving partner (Sebastian Spence). The mystery is boilerplate but the adorable leads have chemistry for days. Margot Kidder chews the scenery as a lesbian school teacher standing up to local bigots. One of four TV films based on the Strachey Novels. B.
Other recommendations: Instinct. King Cobra. London Spy. Stranger by the Lake. Tom at the Farm. You’re Killing Me.
Short Films & Web Series
A search on Youtube for “gay short films” will bring up a lot of tragedies. Here are some of the more interesting stories.
Love You Thank You (2017). Short Film. When his ex invites him to an art show Lance splits in two to debate with himself. We see memories of the relationship from multiple perspectives. A clever premise and a powerful ending. B
The Outs (2012-2016). Web series. Two ex-partners maintain a friendship while starting new relationships. The “messy” one cleans up his act while the uptight one falls apart. A clever twist on romcom formulas. A for season one. B for season two.
Passengers (2015). A deaf rideshare driver endures curious and condescending passengers until a handsome deaf stranger hops into his car. The chemistry between Joshua Castille and Miles Barbee is infectious. B
Ronny & I (2013). Short film. Two friends film a road trip on their phones. When the bi(?) one confesses his love the straight(?) one considers his options. Plenty of short films on YouTube give the straight-crush premise a sad ending. Here we get a mix of heartfelt bromance and sexy wish fulfillment. B
Safe & Sound (2015). Short film. Gay yuppie couple hosts a family dinner. They have an announcement to make and not everyone at the table will take it well. Writer/director Alejandro Ibarra packs laughter, tears and surprises into 20 minutes. B
Sign (2017). Short film. A hearing man falls for a deaf man but has trouble integrating into deaf culture. My only quibble is that the hearing man gets all the agency. His partner is left waiting for him to get it together. B
What are your thoughts on the films above? Who would you add to the list?
Who are some of your favorite “happy” male couples in media? Who are the “happy” singles?
Are any of these characters “role models?” Does it matter?
Who are some of your favorite female and trans characters in LGBT+ media?