LGBT Movies: Gay Deceivers

Most LGBQ people spend the first portion of our lives pretending to be straight. We do so to fit in with our family, peers, co-workers or community. To feel accepted. To feel safe. The following movies turn conventions on their head. Straight people decide, for nonsensical reasons, to pretend they’re gay.

I went in with questions. Are any of these funny today? Do any subvert stereotypes rather than enforce them? What does the protagonist, and in turn the audience, learn from these? As a gay man I know I’m not the target audience for these. They’re written for, and mostly by, straight men. But I managed to sit through nineteen of them. I’ve sorted the protagonist’s motives into four rough categories.

Spoilers ahead.

Self-Preservation

The Gay Deceivers (1969, US). Two straight friends pose as a couple to avoid the draft. Complications arise when their girlfriends come looking for them. Out actor Michael Greer pushed for rewrites to humanize his gay neighbor role. He gets the best jokes but the rest of the film is full of homophobia and misogyny. A twist ending leaves a sour aftertaste.
Cringe Level: High.

Happy, Texas (1999, US). The best film on this list. Escaped convicts are mistaken for gay pageant directors. They plan a bank heist while rehearsing the pageant and juggling multiple love interests. The choppy screenplay never builds momentum. But the cast underplays and finds the truth in their roles. William H. Macy steals scenes as a gentlemanly gay Sheriff. The lack of homophobia is refreshing.
Cringe Level: Low. 

Kicking Out Shoshana (2014, Israel). (aka The Goal.) Soccer star hits on Gal Gadot, but she’s dating a mobster! As “punishment” the mob makes him “come out” at a press conference. The film contrasts the cartoonish homophobia of his team with the gushing support of the gay press. Then shifts back to dull mobster hi-jinks. No one learns anything and Gadot’s role is thankless.
Cringe Level: Medium

Economics

The Closet (2001, France). Meek accountant pretends he’s gay to avoid a lay off. His employers keep him to avoid a discrimination lawsuit. There’s some sharp satire of corporate hypocrisy. They’ll snub him in the board room but place him on their Pride float. The third act deflates when it shifts focus to his heterosexual love life. The script could have used a few openly gay employees to weigh in on the topic.
Cringe Level: Medium.

Heads or Tails (1997, Quebec). (aka J’en Suis). A struggling antique dealer pretends he’s gay to woo wealthy collectors. This upsets his high-strung wife. The gays are campy predators and the straight people are jerks. The screenplay compensates by undressing them as often as possible. But sex farces must move quickly and this film drags.  
Cringe Level: Medium

Helicopter Mom (2014, US). A variation on the theme. Nia Vardalos submits her timid son for an LGBT scholarship and sabotages his attempts to date a female student. On the plus side the son is allowed some sexual ambiguity. He identifies his orientation as “undeclared.” On the minus side his performance is too grounded to make the mothers’ “comic” behavior seem anything but abusive. She’s deeply unpleasant.
Cringe Level: High

I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry (2007, US). Adam Sandler and Kevin James play firefighters who get married to secure a pension. Every minority is written like a clown. Every woman is written like a sex doll. Rob Schneider plays a Japanese man in the style of Mickey Rooney. The screenplay went through many rewrites. It tries to redeem the leads by making them stand up to homophobes. But the film is the worst on this list because it’s made by people with the resources to do better.
Cringe Level: Maximum

Macho (2016, Mexico). Straight fashion designer pretends to be a rude gay stereotype to aid his career. A male intern falls in love with him. Complications ensue. Tries to make a statement about sexual fluidity but is too crude to pull it off. Misogyny, rape and suicide attempts are treated as jokes and I was not having it.
Cringe Level: High

Strange Bedfellows (2004, Australia). Australia’s government offers 5 years back taxes to registered gay couples. Crocodile Dundee’s Paul Hogan asks his best friend to help him commit tax fraud. Soon they’re going to gay clubs and playing house to convince a visiting tax inspector. Not as homophobic as I feared but every “comic set piece” falls flat. Hogan can’t dance, yet keeps getting roped into musical numbers. One thing I liked: Hogan’s character has the good sense to tell his female love interest he’s bisexual.
Cringe Level: Medium.

Real Estate

At the End of the Day (2019, US). Homophobic professor goes undercover to sabotage the building of a queer youth center near his campus. When he falls for the straight woman organizing the project, he decides to pitch in. The queer characters are victims or clowns who need to be “saved” by the heterosexuals. 
Cringe Level: High

Dostana (2008, India). (aka Friendship.)  Two straight guys pretend they’re gay to secure an apartment in a women’s building. Soon they’re fighting over an oblivious female neighbor. The jokes are cringey and the romance is dull. Subplots and musical numbers pad this to an endless 141-minutes. This paved the way for better LGBT films in India.
Cringe Level: High

If You Only Knew (2000, US). Tele-psychic’s female roommate assumes he’s gay. She uses this as an excuse to cuddle and strip in front of him. At first, he just wants the affordable NY real estate. Soon he’s falling for her while rejecting the advances of her gay best friend. The film would be gross if it wasn’t so boring. It’s glacially paced and amateurishly filmed.
Cringe Level: Medium

What I Did for Love (1998, France). (aka Folle d’elle.) Gay couple wants to get rid of their couch surfing friend. They set him up with a woman who wants a gay roommate. He’ll put on a tenor voice and a mincing manner to convince her. It gets old. The gay couple is written respectfully but they’re all deceiving the leading lady. The most interesting thing about the film is that it includes a gay wedding one year before France legalized domestic partnerships and 15 years before they legalized gay marriage.
Cringe Level: Medium  

Romance

Coffee Date (2006, US). Straight guy is tricked into a blind date with a gay guy (Wilson Cruz) by his spiteful brother. He tells his brother, as a joke, that they hooked up. When his brother “outs” him he’s unable to convince anyone he’s actually straight. We get tired gay panic jokes, sexual harassment jokes and some “will they or won’t they” suspense. It’s not good but it takes more risks than most of the films on his list.   
Cringe Level: Medium

Eating Out (2004, US). Marc likes Caleb who likes Gwen. She only trusts gay men so Caleb pretends to date Marc. How far will he go? The Eating Out films are elaborate sex farces with porn level acting and surprisingly demure love scenes. They get listed under “romcoms” but the romances are shallow and easily broken off between films. They at least have the honesty to embrace the sexual experimentation missing from these other films.
Cringe Level: High. 

Freshman Orientation (2004, US). Horny misogynist plays gay to seduce an angsty sorority pledge. The opening minutes establish the tone with jokes about date rape, fat shaming and self-harm. The gay characters are bullies, clowns and predators with one nice guy to balance them out. The film wants to be unpleasant and succeeds. Interestingly it was written by a gay man.
Cringe Level: High. 

My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend (1999, US). A closeted celebrity has proposed to an oblivious woman. A straight wedding guest pretends he’s gay to dump his abusive girlfriend. The gays are evil and the women are gorgons in this vulgar screwball farce. Debbie Gibson shows up as a blackmailing tabloid photographer, but even her fans should skip this.
Cringe Level: Medium

Three to Tango (1999, US). Matthew Perry is mistaken for gay by a wealthy client (Dylan McDermott) and falls for his mistress (Neve Campbell). McDermott’s sleazy and Perry trips over things so we’re meant to root for him. A supportive gay friend (Oliver Platt) is there to offset the constant gay panic jokes. The film isn’t funny though the obnoxious soundtrack insists it’s a comedy.
Cringe Level: Medium.  

Under the Gaydar (2009, US). Teen pretends he’s gay to attract women. His homophobic parents hire a woman to seduce him. Offensive hijinks ensue. Zero budget film can’t decide how seriously to take the awful characters or the central “romance.”
Cringe Level: High

What Have We Learned?

There are more, including a sub-genre about undercover cops, but you get the gist. I’ve seen enough to chart some patterns.

Stereotypes: The dopiest guys in these films put on camp mannerisms and wear elaborate costumes. The protagonist of The Closet is advised not to change a single thing about his personality. It works. Once he’s “outed” everyone views his walk, wardrobe and behavior through a gay lens.

Female Characters: Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl features a speech about “cool girls” who rewrite their personalities to please men. This applies to the majority of the women in these films. Most quickly forgive and hook up with the lying protagonists. Oddly, Rachel Dratch is in two of these to sexually harass the leading men. There are also some nagging mothers to pad out your bingo card.

Gay Characters: The gay men are there to mentor, pine for or sexually harass the straight men. The lesbians in Freshman Orientation are self-righteous bullies. William H. Macy’s Sheriff in Happy, Texas gets the most agency and inner life.

Inspectors: Hi! I’m the gay inspector! I’m here to see if you’re really a couple or if you’re trying to commit fraud! Three films have characters like this. I wonder how you get that job. Steve Buscemi plays the gay inspector in Chuck and Larry. It’s a long way from his role in Parting Glances.

Sexuality: Seven films make references to bisexuality. Two make reference to asexuality. Three protagonists sexually experiment but decide it’s a one-time thing. Others throw a fit if they’re even asked to kiss. The straight man in Heads or Tails questions himself when a wrestling match gets him excited. He quickly represses the memory. Helicopter Mom’s teen settles on “questioning” and wins the LGBTQ+ scholarship.

Lessons Learned: Half of these men give inspirational speeches saying they’ve learned empathy from their experience. Few change their behavior enough to suggest this is true. The Gay Deceivers face the ugliest consequences of the group, losing jobs and loved ones when rumors of their sexuality spread.

Best Films: The Closet and Happy, Texas are the cleverest with the least homophobia. But once they set up their premise, they don’t know what to do with it.

These films don’t have much to say. Homophobia is bad, misunderstandings are funny, etc.  They’re aiming for easy laughs. The straight leads are pushed outside of their boundaries but the status quo, for most, is easily restored. Most don’t hate gay people, exactly. They just don’t understand them. They don’t really understand women either. Do they understand straight men? I’d love to hear which of these straight male viewers found funny. Is there a way this premise could work today? Or, should writers let it go?

You can find my film reviews on The Avocado and Letterboxd. My podcast, Rainbow Colored Glasses, can be found here.