I enjoy romcoms. Even the terrible ones. But most same-sex romances are filled with angst. Here are some rocky romances I watched in 2020.
Appropriate Behavior (2015, US). Desiree Akhavan rebuilds her life after a bad breakup. Her mumblecore comedy appeals but I struggled through some painful scenes of social awkwardness.
Broken Sky (2006, US). A nearly silent film about a male couple who grows tired of each other and slooowly breaks up. Does not justify its indulgent 140-minute running time.
Dam (2015, Norway). Two men go hiking. They start flirty but grow hostile as their personalities clash. The actors lack the nuance to carry the nearly silent film. An ambiguous ending makes the film’s message unclear.
Dreaming Like Louis (2019, French Short Film). Man has violent, erotic dreams about his chilly, distant lover. Skillfully juggles multiple tones.
The First (2020, US). Web Series. Two men fall in love, discover they’re both bottoms, and then have a lot of passive aggressive arguments. Each threatens to leave if the other won’t top. It grows insufferable.
Keep the Lights On (2012, US). Unhealthy relationship between a film-maker and a lawyer with a drug problem. We watch familiar addiction film tropes and wait for the drippy protagonist to let go.
Kept Boy (2017, US). Aging stud is abandoned by his sugar daddy. The novel was funny and cruel. The film is just sad. The pathetic protagonist lacks the Marilyn Monroe charm that would have kept him in jewelry for so long.
Paths (2017, Germany). Two nondescript men drift apart when their son leaves for college. We flashback through their mundane relationship. It’s clear there was never much chemistry. A cold color scheme and gloomy soundtrack tell us where this is going. I was bored long before then.
Benjamin (2018, UK). Simon Amstell’s semi-autobiographical dramedy. Colin Morgan plays a neurotic filmmaker who sabotages his relationships. You’ve heard this story before but Morgan’s a tense, unpredictable presence. He gets how a person who has been hurt can be oblivious to their own cruelty. Somewhat Recommended
Capital Games (2013, US). Rival executives fall in lust at a wilderness retreat. The amateur acting, camp dialogue and softcore love scenes push this near so-bad-it’s-good territory.
Getting Go: The Go Doc Project (2013, US). Shaky cam mumblecore romance. Student lusts for Go-go Dancer and coaxes him into making a “documentary” about the NY club scene. The actors have natural chemistry but the script doesn’t give them much depth till the third act. Instead we get endless montages and (again) a softcore love scene.
Happy Endings Sleepover (2019, Denmark). Bumbling CIA operative falls for a suspicious Danish hunk. The spy mission ends midway through, robbing the finale of conflict. The klunky English dialogue plays like fan fiction run through Google translate. “I know I can trust this beautiful man. But can he trust me?”
Role / Play (2010, US). Romance between an outed soap star and a divorced gay marriage activist. They have post-coital chats about the way queer media can reduce its celebrities to role models, martyrs and villains. It’s a niche topic but an interesting one.
Tattoo (2013, Brazil). Slow burning romance between an earnest soldier and a wild cabaret owner. Dull musical numbers take up half the run time. I wanted a Liza Minnelli type to wake things up.
A Reunion (2014, US). Obnoxious man-child goes on a road trip with his closeted ex-boyfriend. He wants to rekindle the flame so he drops nonstop innuendos. It grows monotonous. There’s one heartbreaking line from the closet case: “I’ve basically resigned to the fact that I’m not going to be as happy as most of my friends.” The film could have used more moments of insight.
Arizona Sky (2008, US). Angry workaholic reconnects with his rural teen crush. Amateurish and glacially paced. But there are some moments of camp.
Cibrail (The Visitor) (2011, Germany). Cop falls for his girlfriend’s bland gay cousin. He’ll spend most of the film brooding so you’d best enjoy the Berlin scenery. Not to be confused with Free Fall, the gay German cop movie from 2013.
Dog Tags (2008, US). A soldier and a drifter go on a trip to find the soldier’s birth father. Will friendship lead to romance? Angsty, aimless and oppressively gloomy.
Free Fall (2013, Germany). Married cop has an affair with a fellow policeman. Sadder than Cibrail but more personality. His wife is pregnant which makes his actions less sympathetic.
Just Say Love (2009, US). Filmed stage play. Closeted man picks up a stranger in the park. It grows into a romance. The dialogue is klunky but the actors have chemistry. Though the actors can’t convincingly cry for anything. One sobbing fit is embarrassingly bad.
The Lost Coast (2008, US). The lead is engaged to a woman but hooked up with a guy in high-school. The men re-connect at a party and make awkward small talk. Their moping tried my patience but the intense finale almost redeems it.
Pit Stop (2013, US). We follow the lives of two closeted, blue-collar Texans. They make awkward small talk with co-workers and exes. The film’s Chekhovian-pace rewards patience. Recommended
The Trip (2002, US). Ten-year romance between a closeted conservative and an out activist. Careens between camp comedy, weepy melodrama and some Gregg Araki style darkness. The likeable leads handle the tonal whiplash despite some terrible wigs. Weird but memorable.
Adam & Steve (2005, US). Two gents have a disastrous first date. They reunite years later and make dull small talk. Parker Posey and Chris Kattan try to provide comic relief but the writing is dismal.
An Angel Named Billy (2007, US). Workaholic hires a teenager to look after his ailing father. A sketchy romance ensues. The script is lumpy and the klunky dialogue draws unintended laughs.
Best Day Ever (2014, US). Gay man gets dumped on his 50th birthday and starts dating again. Rambling two person conversations have the feel of a play rehearsal.
Luster (2002, US). Low budget indie about a scrawny poet looking for love. The first half suggests a romcom as he juggles three suitors. Then subplots about sexual assault and suicide turn it into a different film entirely. Plenty of eye candy but the weak acting and grim second half put me off.
Lovebirds (2008, Philippines). Brassy mother tries to stop her son from sleeping with his new boyfriend. Amateur farce leaves too much air between the laughs.
More Than Only (2017, US). Wild college student courts a sensible nurse. The first half is a broad romcom. Then an abusive father shows up to shift the gears. The second half is a treacly melodrama. The earnest amateur actors are likable but too old for their roles.
Experimenting and Questioning
The Happy Sad (2014, US). Hipster m/f couple breaks up. They experiment with bisexuality and moan about their feelings. More sad than happy.
Humpday (2009, US). Two straight guys dare each other to create a sex tape for an amateur porn festival. They play gay chicken as they talk about their mid-life crises. The script plays things safe but the actors are likable.
Just One Time (1998, US). Fireman asks his fiance for a threesome. She calls his bluff saying she’ll touch a woman if he’ll touch a man. The short film ended there. The full length lets him squirm and mope for a while, ultimately shaming him for asking in the first place. Doesn’t bode well for the relationship, but at least the gay neighbor gets paired off with a proper boyfriend at the end.
Matthias and Maxime (2019, Quebec). Two “straight” guys kiss for a student film, then stop speaking to each other. Can they reconcile? Xavier Dolan creates powerful scenes about male intimacy and loneliness. But I never learned enough about the friendship to understand what was lost. The film ends abruptly and feels unfinished. Somewhat Recommended
Vapors (1965, US). Short film about two men who meet in a bathhouse. One is secure in his homosexuality. The other is a misogynist. He’s angry with his wife and looking to experiment. The men are angsty but a chorus of snarky bathhouse patrons provide comic relief. An interesting historical curiosity. Director Andy Milligan made his debut here and would go on to a long career in horror and “exploitation” cinema.
August (2011, US). Man cheats on his partner with his ex (Looking’s Murray Bartlett). The film never tells us enough about the gents to invest. They’re just blandly handsome.
Boy Meets Girl (2014, US). Trans actress Michelle Hendley plays a clothing designer who finds herself courted by a cis woman and a cis man. The poster makes it clear who she’ll choose but the script keeps everyone interesting. Two local bigots provide conflict, and there’s a lot of Trans 101 chats, but the film avoids the triggers that soured the romances Different for Girls and Romeos for me. Recommended
From Zero to I Love You (2019, US). Yuppie cheats on his wife with a man. The film finds him more sympathetic than I did. He and his deluded boyfriend got on my nerves.
In the Grayscale (2015, Chile). He’s married to a woman but falling for a man so he broods and broods and broods. The lead actor is interesting but I’ve seen this story before. The screenplay refuses to gain momentum.
Leather (2013, US). An angsty young man is torn between a posh city twink and a rough country hunk. Campy romance features terrible acting, overwrought dialogue, hand puppets and generous eye candy.
The Men Next Door (2012, US). Father and son fall for their handsome neighbor in this mediocre sex farce. The first half is about nudity and sitcom hijinks. The second half is about whiny angst. The amateur actors can’t make the tonal shift work.
Redwoods (2009, US). David Lewis makes rural gay romances. Here an unhappy man has an affair when his husband and son are away. Indie gay movie king Michael Montgomery plays his rugged love interest. The dialogue gets precious but the silent moments between the men ache with longing.
Sebastian (2017, Canada). Flaky artist sleeps with his bland boyfriend’s bland cousin. We’re supposed to believe they fall in love but the dialogue’s too shallow to invest in them. Features a lively cameo from Katya.
Wasp (2015, UK). Rich snob considers leaving his sunny boyfriend for an angsty woman. Tries to build erotic tension. But the shallow characters aren’t worth investing in.
Brotherly Love (2017, US). Catholic Brother falls for hunky landscaper. Will he give up his vow of chastity? It’s never clear why the whiny protagonist joined the church in the first place. There’s no genuine conflict.
The Falls Trilogy (2012-2016). Gay Mormons hook up on their mission. One leaves the church while the other dives deeper into the closet. The second film pulls them apart while the third brings them back together. The pacing is glacial but the film making improves with each entry.
Rock Haven (2016, US). Closeted Christian teen meets a handsome rebel. Heavy breathing ensues. Well-meaning indie has eye candy but few surprises. The portrayal of the Christian characters lacks nuance.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019, France). Artist is commissioned to paint a portrait of a reluctant bride. The director puts the audience in the role of artist, allowed to focus a female gaze on an earlobe, a lock of hair, as the veiled bride gradually reveals more of her face and her soul. When the romance begins we can predict the end. It’s the journey that takes surprising detours. Recommended.
Weekend (2011, UK). Andrew Haigh’s classic about two men, an introvert and an extrovert, who meet in a bar and spend the weekend together. It has aged well. The dialogue’s less subtle than I remembered but the actors are gentle and nuanced. Recommended.
Back Soon (2007, US). Straight guy falls for a man who reminds him of his late wife. Is he bi? Is it grief? Or is there a supernatural explanation? Rob Williams is committed to producing independent gay films. He writes interesting stories but he struggles with tone. The mumblecore leads are self-serious to the point of camp. In contrast the obnoxious sitcom friends aren’t remotely funny.
Beatific Vision (2008, US). Mischievous ghost plays matchmaker for his living friends. Cute premise is undone by hopelessly green actors. They make the film painful to sit through.
Steel (2015, US). Closeted news anchor has a nervous breakdown. A handsome stranger appears to offer sex and therapy. The stranger’s identity is heavily foreshadowed adding a layer of camp to the softcore fantasy.
And Then Came Summer (2000, US). Teen boys fall in love over summer vacation. Sitcom relatives, overwrought monologues and an obnoxious score drain the good will the romance builds.
Be Mine (2009, US). Amateur romcom. Mopey college student pines for a bad boy. He’s helped by a bossy ex-girlfriend and a mugging, sassy black friend. One joke made me laugh. The rest did not.
Bloom Into You (2018, Japan). Anime series. Yuu, an insecure teen, finds herself courted by Touko, the high-strung Student Council president. They’re complex characters and I was invested in their personal growth. I was less convinced by the one-side romance. Yuu reads as asexual and Touko likes to get physical without consent. The English Dub is serviceable. Touko’s actress is strong but some smaller roles are miscast. One teenage boy sounds like a middle-aged chain smoker.
Dating Amber (2020, Ireland). A closeted boy and girl date each other to dispel gay rumors. The first act suggests a subversive comedy. But it transforms into cliched coming out drama. Splitting the leads into parallel storylines results in both arcs feeling rushed.
Gameboys (2020, Philippines). BL web series about two gamers who fall in love over video chat. Some tropes annoy me. The gents tend to overact and fight over nothing. But I like how they’ve incorporated the lockdown into the plot. One of the first COVID romcoms. Recommended
Hello, Stranger (2020, Philippines). Nerd and Jock do a class project over Zoom and fall in love. They’re more grounded than the gents in Gameboys but the plot has less conflict. The nerd’s feelings are clear from the start, though he fights them. The jock’s arc is a little more confusing.
Princess Cyd (2017, US). Teen spends the summer with her aunt and explores her sexuality. Defies coming of age tropes by having the lead refuse to grow, or develop a personality. The adults do interesting things in the background while the lead remains (mostly) unaware.
Summer of 85 (2020, France). An unstable teen is arrested after the death of his manipulative boyfriend. We flash back to their tragic Mr. Ripley-esque romance. The sour story is hard to watch despite sensitive actors and gorgeous visuals.
Boyfriends (1996, UK). Generic entry in the “Mean gays at a party” genre. Three gay couples visit a seaside house. The monogamous men pine after their promiscuous dates. They lack personalities beyond that.
Mr. Right (2009, UK). Three dysfunctional gay couples go on sitcom adventures. Juggles so many characters that it doesn’t find a plot till midway. Has the look and tone of an amateur web series.
Something Like Summer (2017, US). Jay Bell’s novel is adapted into a mediocre musical. We race through 20 years in the life of an obnoxious singer and his tragic boyfriends. The film crams in so many events that nothing registers.
Staircase (1969, UK). Rex Harrison and Richard Burton play a squabbling couple. The actors seem afraid to show any warmth, digging into the cruelty and making the film relentlessly bleak.
Turtle Hill, Brooklyn (2013, US). Squabbling couple throws a birthday party where ugly truths are unearthed. I had no investment in the awful gents staying together so it was just a matter of how high things would escalate. Feels like a mediocre play.