LGBT Movies: More Romcoms

The 2019 film Isn’t It Romantic follows Rebel Wilson as she attempts to escape a cliched romantic comedy. One of those clichés is a gay best friend “who’s setting gay rights back, like, 100 years.” The gay best friend rose to power in the 90’s. After years of playing monsters and victims the gay characters got to be lovable and tell jokes. Few had love lives of their own. Luckily independent cinema would change that.

Last week I reviewed a collection of m/m romcoms. This week I look at some artists with unique approaches to the formula. The following reviews contain mild spoilers.

J. C. Calciano

Which one’s the “plain” one?

I make movies about people, love, relationships and community…. I make them to speak to everyone who has ever been single and wanted to find someone special to love. ~ J.C. Calciano

J.C. Calciano’s work has been compared to the Doris Day’s romcoms of the 1950’s. Pretty people are placed in absurd situations in a stylized version of Los Angeles. The protagonists are ambivalent about sex, gawking at the handsome men around them while judging them for their promiscuity.

Is It Just Me? (2010). Modern day Cyranno woos a guy over the phone, accidentally sends him his hot roommates’ photo, and then is too self-loathing to own up to the ruse. The protagonist’s gloom smothers the comedy. The films’ few charms come from David Loren as the naïve Texan love interest. D

eCupid (2011). A bored executive dumps his sensible boyfriend. A hostile dating app sets him up on exhausting dates with young hunks. Soon he’s desperate to win his ex back. Cute premise but another mopey lead. If he tried to enjoy himself, then became overwhelmed, there’d be stakes and a character arc. Instead he hates his suitors from the start. D

The 10 Year Plan (2014). Promiscuous hunk plays matchmaker for his marriage-minded (and mildly unhinged) best friend. But were they perfect for each other all along? Amateur mumblecore actors don’t merge well with the broad comic script. I kept waiting for them to have “real talk” about their pathologies. Still their dynamic worked for me. The actors captured the feel of people who accept each others foibles in a way no one else will. I found this the most successful of Calciano’s films. C-

Comparisons: The 10 Year Plan has the most laughs and the happiest protagonists.  eCupid and Is it Just Me are dull though eCupid gains points for eye candy and a bonkers celebrity cameo.

Marco Berger

Hawaii
Is he or isn’t he? ~ Hawaii

I was told, when talking about “Plan B” that love stories are old-fashioned. That is a lie. If you don’t agree, I invite you to walk down the street holding hands with a same-sex partner, and check what happens. ~ Marco Berger

Writer/director Marco Berger focuses on men paralyzed by their macho culture. The comedy comes from the absurdity of settings where male intimacy is common but homosexuality is mocked. The men can lounge together half naked but cannot speak of their desires. Each film is a slooow tease. You’ll either love the sexual tension or bristle at the slow pace.

Plan B (2009). Leading man tries to win back his ex. He befriends her new boyfriend in an attempt to sabotage the relationship… but friendship gives way to confused attraction. Soon he’s unsure who he wants. The actors have charm but we don’t learn enough about the characters to know if they could sustain a relationship. The themes of Berger’s later films can be easily traced back to here. C+

Hawaii (2013). Martin, a sexy drifter, takes a landscaping job for his wealthy childhood friend Eugenio. The audience sees Martin through Eugenio’s leering eyes, and that’s not always a comfortable place to be. His clumsy seduction attempts are a mix of cringe comedy and workplace harassment. The minimal dialogue and lack of supporting characters keep the film tightly focused on an erotic dance which might all be in Eugenio’s head. B-

Taekwondo (2016). 9 guys hang out at a vacation house. The straight ones run around naked and talk about women. The gay ones listen and silently cruise each other. Will the new guy hook up with the host? A few less houseguests would have allowed the indistinct characters to develop. Still it’s important that the non-straight ones feel outnumbered. C+

Comparisons: Of the three Hawaii’s the sexiest and Taekwondo’s the funniest. Plan B has the most plot.

Berger put tension to a different use in the thriller Absent (2011) (aka Ausente) about a high school athlete who sexually harasses a closeted teacher. The longing stares and fraught silences take on a different significance with an ominous soundtrack. Less successful, in my opinion, was his short film anthology Sexual Tension: Volatile (2012) The five skits put male friends together in sexually tense scenarios but end without resolution.

Matthew Montgomery

Matthew Montgomery headshot
Smolder Matthew! Smolder!

I’m clearly a fan of the gay movie industry. ~ Matthew Montgomery

Matthew Montgomery made his feature debut in 2003’s campy romance Gone But Not Forgotten. He went on to star in a series of low budget gay films. His approachably handsome looks allowed him to be cast as both cynics and romantics. Scripts are mediocre and production values are awful, but if you’re searching for bad gay romcoms these fit the bill.

Long-Term Relationship (2006). Montgomery’s liberal playboy, Glenn, answers the personal ad of Adam, a timid conservative. They hit it off despite their differences. A jealous roommate provides some third act conflict. Beyond that there’s very little plot. Just a chance to see the handsome men banter and occasionally strip. They’re cute but boring. D

Finding Mr. Wright (2011). Montgomery’s workaholic manager drags an alcoholic starlet to rehab (Eating Out’s Rebekah Kochan). There he’s courted by a hunky life coach (David Shae, Scrooge & Marley’s hot Bob Cratchit). Shae is engaging but Montgomery’s grouchy role is a damp squib. The comedy goes to the starlet and her entourage. A sequence involving a spiked drink is triggery but the rest of the film is mostly harmless. D

I Want to Get Married (2011). Montgomery’s nerdy ad executive falls for a sweet gay rights activist. When a conservative politician hires his firm to promote Prop. 8 he’ll have to make a choice. Matthew’s layering every Jerry Lewis tic he can onto his bizarre character but none of it is remotely funny. Subplots involving his estranged parents, a mysterious lounge singer and some caricatured Chinese restaurateurs push the run time to an interminable 112 minutes. The worst film on this list. F

Comparisons: Finding Mr. Wright is the funniest with the best paced script of the three. Long-Term Relationship is the most sincere and has the most eye candy. I Want to Get Married is an ambitious dud.

Musicals

Photo Flash:  First Look at BOY MEETS BOY at Jermyn Street Theatre
Boy Meets Boy at the Jermyn Street Theater in 2012

The musical Boy Meets Boy premiered off Broadway in 1975. A frumpy English aristocrat falls for a dashing American reporter. One makeover and several misunderstandings lead them to romantic finale. The show was set in a fantasy version of the 30’s where gay men could legally marry and dance like Fred and Ginger with no one batting an eye. The production ran 2 years then faded into obscurity.

LGBT+ romcoms are surprisingly rare in musical theater. For every La Cage Aux Folles or The Prom there are more musicals that relegate their LGBT+ characters to a subplot or kill them off before the final curtain.

The following films attempt to change that.

Were the World Mine (2008). A gay teen uses Shakespeare’s love potion to make his tormentors fall in love with each other. The joyful title number promises romance and rebellion. Instead the film drowns in under-cooked subplots, gay stereotypes and a surprisingly dour tone. A heartbreaking missed opportunity. C

The Big Gay Musical (2009). The film alternates between a gay themed musical and the offstage drama of the leading men. The writers think musicals are inherently silly but haven’t written actual jokes. The director keeps undressing his actors but pulls the camera above their waists like a skittish chaperone. The result is bland when it should have been spicy. You’re better off watching Broadway Bares. D

Waiting in the Wings (2014). A nerdy actor auditions for a Broadway musical. A clerical error gets him cast in a strip show. There he overcomes his inhibitions and falls for a fellow stripper.  The film isn’t currently available for streaming but I caught the sequel at a festival.

Still Waiting in the Wings (2018). The leading man is now a singing waiter being sabotaged by a jealous rival. Writer/star Jeffrey Johns mugs for days but flubs every punchline. The songs are bland and the whole thing feels tired. D-

Sex Farces

Andre Kaminski
Bi-curious magic in Sex Up 2.

Romcoms build to a kiss… or a wedding. Sex farces build to the loss of virginity. Three franchises have put a gay spin on the genre. They are rarely sexy.

The early Eating Out films (2004-2011) focus on incompatible orientations. A straight woman wants a gay man who wants a straight man and so forth. Later films remove the straight men and tangle up the gay couples. Each story builds to a “seduction scene” where the characters schemes fall apart. Similarly the films themselves are better at ideas than execution. The acting is porn quality but the camera shies away from the actual sex.

The Another Gay Movie films (2006-2008) follow four gay men who want to get laid. The prudish writers punish them for their attempts with a series of gross out gags. The second film is particularly unpleasant with scenes of vomit, blood and open sores. I’m too squeamish to appreciate whatever these are trying to accomplish.

Less known are the Sex Up films (2003-2005). The original German title, Jungs haben’s auch nicht leicht, translates roughly to “Boys don’t have it easy.” A group of male friends find a phallic plant that produces an aphrodisiac. They use it to court young women but some end falling for each other. The willingness to balance out the gay, straight and bi characters’ stories puts a novel spin on an otherwise unremarkable series. The gay make out scenes are hotter than anything in Eating Out or Another Gay Movie, because the characters are actually allowed to enjoy themselves.

Now for a few one offs:

Issues 101 (2002) Two brothers (one out, one closeted) fall for the same frat pledge. I covered it in a previous article. There’s about 10 minutes of softcore porn and a cameo from Kelly Clarkson (!?). The rest of the movie is a waste of time. C+ for eye candy. F for the story.

Longhorns (2011). Another sex farce on a college campus. A young Texan identifies as straight but fools around with his fellow frat boys. When he develops feelings for an openly gay student he panics. Low budget but with a heart. The leading man is adorable and there’s genuine affection between him and his love interest. The frat boys are dopey but when one figures out the Texan likes men his reaction is kinder than expected. C-

Short Films and Web Series

Lovely Little Losers a
Balthazar and Pedro. They are indeed lovely.

Each of these stories fits the romcom genre. I covered several more romantic shorts in a previous article.

Daddyhunt (2016-). BJ Gruber’s young hunk falls for an older “daddy” in his apartment building. Gruber’s insecurity and the daddy’s jealous ex cause some conflict. The ex is so cartoonishly evil that the leads seem foolish for trusting him. Beyond that everything’s bland. Gruber has more fun in the web series The Queens Project. C-

Don’t Suck (2018-). Socially awkward southern boy movies to New York to become a performer. Luckily he’s got supportive friends to help him out of cringey situations. There’s not much plot but a love triangle is formed with a flaky ex and a promising new date. C

Lovely Little Losers (2015). Shakespeare’s Love’s Labor’s Lost set in a college apartment. Brash Peter and mellow Balthazar are in love but personal hang ups, and a lack of privacy, prevent them from having an honest conversation. Their unhinged housemates set a curfew and a no dating rule. Soon everyone in the apartment grows resentful and passive aggressive. It gets crueler than anything in Shakespeare’s flimsy comedy. There’s fun to be had but the toxic moments nearly overpower it. C+

Something New (2017). Ben Baur played a confident hunk in the web series Hunting Season. He’s less convincing here as an insecure neurotic. He goes on a series of bad dates after a break up but doesn’t realize that he already has an admirer. Your enjoyment will depend on your tolerance for cringe comedy. C

The Rest

Some I couldn’t find. Some I couldn’t finish.

  • 10 Attitudes (2001). Insecure bear is dumped. His friends try to find him a new boyfriend.
  • 29th and Gay (2005). Insecure bear is pursued by a fantasy hunk.
  • Adam & Steve (2005). Adam and Steve reunite years after a terrible first date.
  • Angels of Sex (2012). University student falls for a woman and a man and tries holding on to them both. Throuples on film tend to be angsty. Here’s a rare happy example.
  • Big Gay Love (2013). Another insecure bear is pursued by a fantasy hunk.
  • I Think I Do  (1998). Awkward leading man brings a new boyfriend to a friends’ wedding. There he meets his old college crush… who no longer identifies as straight.

For more reviews of gay romcoms check out:

This week Billy Eichner announced he would write and star in a gay romantic comedy for Universal pictures. It will be directed by Nicholas Stoller and produced by Judd Apatow. Journalists have claimed this will be the first adult gay romcom from a major studio… if it makes it to production. And no, Venom doesn’t count. Neither does Chasing Amy.

Last week the film Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga premiered in India. It’s been billed as Bollywood’s first lesbian romcom. Reviews suggest the film spends a lot of time on the straight guy who falls in love with the lesbian. Still her girlfriend gets screen time. The gay lead in 2016’s Kapoor and Sons had to settle for long distance phone calls with his boyfriend in London.

Have you seen any of the films on this list? Any favorites?  Read more reviews of LGBTQ+ media here.