Boy meets Boy,
Boy loses Boy,
but Boy gets Boy in the end!
~ Boy Meets Boy, the Musical.
1995’s Jeffrey follows the romantic comedy formula. Jeffrey meets Steve. Jeffrey loses Steve. Jeffrey wins Steve back. A supporting cast of clowns provide jokes and advice. The AIDS epidemic provides the conflict. Steve is HIV positive and Jeffrey is afraid of watching him die. Writer Paul Rudnick dared to find the joy and laughter of a NY romance set in the middle of the AIDS epidemic. The play was brave and the fact that it was adapted into an all-star film is amazing.
Jeffrey opened the door for a flood of independent gay romantic comedies. This month I’ll look at romcoms with adult male protagonists who are alive and coupled when the credits roll. This excludes teen romcoms (Love, Simon, Beautiful Thing) and bittersweet romantic dramas (God’s Own Country, Weekend).
The following reviews contain mild spoilers.
Trigger warning for biphobia in multiple films.
What’s your romantic fantasy? Do you want to chase or be chased? Do you fall for a stranger or grow feelings for a friend? I like an active protagonist with interests beyond romance. The protagonists in these next four films have career goals, personal goals and agency. The lads in the fifth film, Trick, are a little wishy washy but the picture earns marks for a scene stealing antagonist.
My grades can be stingy. None of these films are sitting on the A shelf with Carol and Call Me By Your Name. Still fans of the genre should check them out.
Fashion Victims (2007) (aka Reine Geschmacksache). German farce. Arrogant salesman drags his surly son along on a disastrous business trip. When the son falls for a hot rival salesman he’ll have to decide whether to abandon dad or save him from himself. The first half is devoted to dads’ cringey Willy Loman tragicomedy. I had to force myself through it. Things pick up when the sons’ sexy romcom plot takes over. The son is a likeable character who grows from his experiences in ways his father refuses to. His love interest could have been a jerk but he balances his shark-like business practices with a genuine affection. B for the sons’ half. C- for the fathers’ half.
Just Friends (2018) (aka Gewoon Vrienden). Low key romance between a Dutch lad and a Syrian lad. They each have disapproving mothers they must contend with. The conflict is flimsy but the leads have chemistry and charm. I appreciated a scene where the Dutch lad beats up some homophobes in a diner, to the Syrian lads’ horror. We get the wish fulfilment and the ugly reality of a long-held fantasy. C+
Like It Is (1998). The first 30 minutes are a sweet romance between a skittish boxer (baby faced Steve Bell) and a struggling music producer (Ian Rose). Things get tedious when Rose’s campy employers (Roger Daltrey and Dani Behr) arrive and try to break the couple up. The m/m love scenes are frank for 1998 but so are the gruesome boxing matches. Bell’s performance is special and carries the film.
B for the first 30 minutes. C for the rest.
Award: Favorite Protagonist
Romeos (2011). Lukas, an insecure trans man, woos a cocky cis man with the help of his lesbian best friend. It’s fun to watch Lukas gain confidence but he endures some triggery bullying along the way. They lose points for casting a cis actor in the role. B-
Trick (1999). Timid composer falls for a confident gogo dancer. They spend the evening looking for a place to have sex while friends, roommates and jealous exes get in the way. This film has a cult following but I never loved it. The composer is a wimp and dancer is boring with his clothes on. Coco Peru’s show-stopping monologue makes the rest of the script pale in comparison. The creators are trying to produce a sequel.
B for Coco. C for the rest.
Award: Favorite Antagonist.
A likeable protagonist gains confidence over the course of the film, stepping up to earn the respect of their hearts’ desire. The protagonists of these next films prefer to wallow in self-pity or indulge in unhealthy neuroses. They end up with underwritten fantasy hunks who love them for all their adorkable shortcomings. These are the kind of movies where you look at the clock and go “There’s still an hour left of this?”
24 Nights (1999). 24 y/o stoner writes Santa for a boyfriend. When a handsome new co-worker arrives (David Burtka) he begins to stalk him. The film acknowledges this is creepy. The leading man grows up a little but never enough to be sympathetic. The pace is slack and the cinematography amateurish but the supporting cast provides some laughs. Broadway’s Mary Louise Wilson (Grey Gardens) gets the best material. (“I have to drink to make you bearable.”) D+
Alex and Leo (2010) (aka Alex und der Löwe). Stoic Leo pursues the emotional Alex at a series of parties. Alex’s toxic friends provide comic relief. Alex is a mopey Eeyore but he’s right to shy from Leo’s aggressive behavior. The film is well made and well cast but the party structure gets repetitive. Also, I couldn’t get behind a romance where one man keeps saying “no” and the other keeps refusing to hear it. D+
Before the Fall (2016). A gay Pride and Prejudice. Bennett’s a self-righteous attorney. Darcy’s a closeted mechanic with a tragic backstory. We get Austen’s class driven plot but not her sense of fun. The amateur actors mumble their lines. They hike through forests over somber piano music. I didn’t expect Clueless but some comedy, and sexual tension, would have made this dull film work a lot better. On the plus side Bennet “moves heaven and earth” to win Darcy’s court case, raising the stakes in the final scenes. D
Award: Biggest “Grand Gesture” from a Protagonist.
Broadway Damage (1997). A love triangle forms between a nerdy songwriter, a naïve actor, and a cynical rocker. They go on sitcom adventures but never develop distinct personalities. The actor in the middle of the triangle does nothing to earn the adoration the other two feel for him. A subplot for their narcissistic gal pal stretches the slight story to an endless 110 minutes. A romantic scene near the end shows what the leading men could have done with a tighter script. D+
Award: Least Effort from the Protagonist.
East Side Story (2006). When Diego is outed his closeted boyfriend and bigoted co-workers reject him. He falls for a white neighbor, Wesley, with a racist boyfriend, causing trouble for all around him. Diego’s gorgeous but he’s another of these whiny, sad sack protagonists that suck all joy out of a room. He treats Wesley badly, and whines that he doesn’t drop his current boyfriend fast enough. (“You went south of the border, sampled the menu, and now you’re back to comfort food.”) The “comedy” comes from their bigoted colleagues and from Diego’s shallow aunt’s attempts to seduce the closeted ex. I ended the film disliking all the characters. D
Hold Your Peace (2011). Sour lawyer brings a fake date for his whiny ex-boyfriends’ wedding. The lawyer and his ex are bitter people who insult everyone around them. They clearly deserve each other. The fake date is the only man having fun till the guests start to bully him for his femininity. Midway through the film ratchets up the cruelty. It’s deeply unpleasant yet still expects us to root for the central romance. D
Award: Worst Love Interest
John Apple Jack (2013). John’s a spoiled playboy till he falls for his sisters’ earnest fiancé, Jack. Several bad gay movie tropes are present: slow pace, poor cinematography, unpleasant characters and an obnoxious soundtrack. Every good joke is undercut by cringey ones about sexual harassment, casual violence and ethnic stereotypes. The worst is John’s ex, Marco Chow, who behaves like Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. F
Award: Most Culturally Insensitive.
Love Or Whatever (2012). Cory’s a whiny therapist with a motor mouth. When his buff boyfriend has a fling with a female patient he melts down. A hunky pizza boy catches him ugly crying and decides this screechy man child is the guy for him. Then the cheating ex comes back, putting our awful protagonist in the center of a love triangle with two men he shows absolutely no respect for. The hunks are pretty and the snarky lesbian sister earns a few laughs. It’s also rare for being pro dating app in a genre that tends to frown on them. D
Award: Worst Protagonist, narrowly beating out the protagonist of…
The Love Patient (2011). Ad exec fakes cancer to win his ex-boyfriend’s sympathy. The film punishes him for his lies but never attempts to redeem him. Instead it surrounds him with an awful people in a stylized fantasy world. The ex is dating a cheating bisexual stereotype who shows his true colors in time to wrap up the plot. It needed to be a lot funnier to justify the distasteful premise. Sadly the jokes just aren’t there. Instead we get a culturally insensitive “healing ritual” and a whimsical jazz soundtrack. D
Mambo Italiano (2003). Italian family disapproves of their sons’ homosexuality. They sabotage his relationship with a closeted police officer. The son remains a pushover through most of it. The “comedy” comes from the families’ rude behavior and cringey Italian stereotypes. It’s based on a stage play and every actor is playing to the back balcony. Mamma mia! D
The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Greene (2005). Narcissistic Ethan (Camp’s Daniel Letterle) insults his dates and complains to his wacky friends. He’s holding a torch for his ex, who’s about to get married. Everyone’s pretty but not particularly funny. The frantic pace and pushy performances make the film stressful to watch. It’s based on a comic strip and might have done better as a web series. D
Shut Up and Kiss Me (2010). Ben, a socially awkward fitness trainer, falls for Grey, a handsome interior designer. On their first date Grey warns him that he’s not monogamous. Ben shrugs it off but throws a judgey fit every time Grey sleeps with someone else. Should he learn to accept Grey on his terms or should they part? Another one of those zero budget flicks made with a digital camera and a dream. The actors are comfortable clothed and unclothed, but the script is dull and lacks nuance. One bit I appreciated: Grey’s phone rings on a date and he doesn’t answer it. He turns it off like a civilized person. Now who’s judgey? Me. About phones. D
What Happens Next (2011). Retired executive starts chatting with a young man in the dog park. He’s astonished when he realizes he’s falling in love. A late life sexual awakening is an interesting topic but the screenplay lets it down. The exec seems to have no knowledge of bisexuality… or the internet… and the repetitive conversations grow dull. It’s nice to see Wendie Malick as his uptight sister but she’s stuck with jokes like ‘only G.A.Y. people wear baseball caps.’ A scene of femme shaming adds icing to the stale cake. D
Part of the reason why most explicitly gay movies have a reputation for being kind of lame is that most movies are kind of lame. ~ Rantasmo.
These films are comfort food. If you’re looking for a gay romcom they’ll do.
All Over the Guy (2001). Eli’s neurotic and passive aggressive. Tom’s an alcoholic tsundere. Their snarky straight friends set them up on a date and it goes badly. They’re the only significant gay characters in this movie so they’ll keep going on bad dates and having ugly fights till the movie decides they’re a couple. Some cute banter, very little plot, and a romance I wasn’t invested in. C
Analysis Paralysis (2018). We’re inside the head of a man with severe anxiety disorder. He’s trying to stumble through a date without revealing his condition. Scenes rewind as he pictures worst case scenarios for every decision. We start with the wackiness dialed to 11. There’s nowhere to build to. Just when I was getting bored the movie calmed down and dug a little deeper into its premise. The film making is unpolished but it’s a labor of love. I’d recommend it to fans of the show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. C
Award: Most Eye Candy.
Bedrooms and Hallways (1998). “Gay” Leo seduces “straight” Brenden at a men’s wilderness retreat only to be “turned straight” himself by Brenden’s ex-girlfriend. The binary language is obnoxious, but the sexual fluidity is progressive for 1998. Leo’s snarky gay roommate gets a romance subplot and the best jokes. The charming cast flesh out their shallow roles but none of Leo’s potential pairings are developed enough to invest in. Some hasty edits suggest a longer film was left on the cutting room floor. C
Big Eden (2000). Self-loathing artist returns home to care for his ailing grandfather. He’s soon pining for his high school crush and ignoring the attentions of a pathologically shy store clerk. He expects homophobia but the condescending Hallmark townsfolk are eager to play match maker. The idyllic rural setting makes the film stand out. The mopey central couple and languid pace bring it down. White Collar’s Tim DeKay brings some beefcake and mystery as the former high school heartthrob filled with regrets and confusion. He provides this dull movie with its most powerful and heartbreaking scenes. C
Different for Girls (1996). Rupert Graves’s hunk reunites with a school mate who has since come out as a trans woman, Kim. They start to date, though Graves is conflicted about his attraction. Things get dark when they are assaulted by police officers. Love eventually conquers all but the plot puts Kim through a lot of trauma and gives Graves most of the agency. C
A Four Letter Word (2007). Luke, an aging party boy, considers settling down while his monogamous friends consider breaking up. A little of Luke’s potty mouth goes a long way but I admire the scripts’ refusal to domesticate him. Still this is one of those films where the characters spend their days insulting each other. It makes them unpleasant company. C-
Four More Years (2010). Swedish politicians in love. Closeted Liberal Chairman falls for an out Social Democrat (a lovable Eric Ericson). The actors are adorable but the film has no conflict. The Chairman is terrified of being outed but learns he’s so low on the food chain that no one cares when he dates openly. I’m not sure if this is satire or an honest reflection of Sweden’s politics circa 2010. Either way it feels like a waste of a good premise. Loses points for some casual bi-phobic jokes. C-
Award: Favorite Love Interest
The Perfect Wedding (2011). Budget gay romcom. Paul and Roy broke up. Roy brings Gavin to a family wedding as a pretend boyfriend. Gavin falls for Paul. How are they going to spare Roy’s feelings? Slow moving, with amateur actors, but its heart is in the right place. Most films would make one of the men a jerk so we didn’t care if he got hurt. This one tries to keep all three likeable (though I was Team Roy). C-
Shake It (All About) (2001) (aka En kort en lang). Hannibal’s Mads Mikkelsen plays a cad who sees a married woman behind his boyfriends back. The boyfriend and his gay friends are comic stereotypes while the woman is a sensible ingénue. Mikkelsen’s character is a jerk but when he ultimately decides which lover to commit to he makes some heartwarming romcom gestures to win them back. A treat for Mikkelsen fans but never as funny as it wants to be. C
The films above feature
- 2 trans protagonists (played by cis actors).
- 4 lesbian best friends.
- 8 bisexual men who cheat on their partners. A tiresome trope.
- 4 recovering alcoholics afraid to date.
- 4 sets of disapproving friends.
- 6 sets of disapproving parents.
- 13 initially closeted protagonists.
- 15 love triangles.
- 1 romantic serenade.
- 2 climactic races to the airport.
- 3 characters who use their culinary skills to impress a love interest.
- 4 weddings broken up before someone can marry the wrong person.
Have you seen any of the films on this list? Any favorites? Next week I’ll look at the romcoms of Marco Berger, JC Calciano, Matthew Montgomery and more. Read more reviews of LGBT media here.