Boshemia columnist Alex Nolan is on a quest to find the perfect gay romcom.
I love classic romcoms. Give me every iteration of Julia Roberts, Jennifer Lopez, Drew Barrymore and Kate Hudson you can and I’ll still eat it up. Those films are great because they make you feel good. Queer romances, however, tend to be on the depressing side. Someone dies or goes through something horrific, and while there’s a place for these stories, it can be a slog. So where are the fun light-hearted flicks? Do they exist? I’m gonna take a dive into Netflix/my catalogue of ancient DVDs and see whether I can dig up a good old gay movie that’s gonna make you smile.
But, I’m a Cheerleader (1999)
Starring a young Natasha Lyonne, this film is about seventeen year old Cheerleader, Megan, being sent to a “reparative therapy” camp to cure her of her interest in Melissa Etheridge, vegetarianism and attraction to women.
I had high hopes for this one, and you know what? It’s not bad! It’s not great either, but it has a lot to say. There’s some prevalent notes about the deconstruction of gender roles – when the campers are instructed to complete gender-conforming tasks they are largely unsuccessful. I think that’s what I like about this film – it sets out to deconstruct heteronormative society and does so quite successfully. But the surrounding elements I found less successful.
The two leads in Clea DuVall and Lyonne have great chemistry, but we only get to see flashes of it. The likeable characters don’t get enough screen time and the comedic notes don’t quite reach high enough. RuPaul as ex-gay Mike has some of the film’s funnier moments because of how ridiculous his character is, but I found a lot of the “gay jokes” tired and overdone, even if they’re supposedly reaching for satirical. If I was watching it in the nineties, I think I’d find the film far funnier and far more revolutionary. As is, it’s okay. I chuckled a few times and I enjoyed what it was trying to say. But it’s not the queer romcom I’m looking for.
All Over the Guy (2001)
This one starts with a pretty classic romcom setup: Eli (Dan Bucatinsky) and Tom (Richard Ruccolo) are set up on a blind date by their two friends (Sasha Alexander and Adam Goldberg) that want to date each other. Eli and Tom have an awful date and immediately decide that they hate each other, but are constantly thrown together by circumstance and the two eventually enter into a rocky relationship.
I must say, I rather enjoyed this one. It’s light-hearted, but still takes itself seriously enough to open discussion on alcoholism and the over-sexualisation of gay culture. The writing is witty but doesn’t rely on clichés. I found myself laughing at the asides and one-liners more than once. The actors too are, for the most part, believable and likeable.
Where the film falls is the lack of chemistry between its leads. There are some faltering moments of passion, but the actors rarely seem to throw themselves into these moments, which is disappointing. It undermines what is otherwise a great watch. This one was close to being what I was looking for, and possibly could have been with different actors in the leading roles.
Alex Strangelove (2018)
A coming of age story about Alex Truelove (Daniel Doheny), as he comes to terms with his sexuality and how that changes his relationship with girlfriend Claire (Madeline Weinstein). Much of the film is built around Alex’s anxiety over pressure to sleep with Claire, and his budding feelings for new friend Elliot (Antonio Marziale).
This film was lovely, it nestled into my evening beautifully and I came away feeling warm and content. The cast are all relatively unknown actors, but each shines and seems to relax into the roles very naturally. Doheny and Marziale have instant chemistry when they’re on screen together, down the small gestures and longing looks. Though the film leans on the teen comedy formula at times, this helps keep it light, the theme of self-acceptance is woven neatly into the narrative and not thrown up haphazardly.
However, I feel that the film needed some more time spent on Alex coming to terms with his queer identity – the narrative trips over itself a little towards the climax and feels just slightly rushed. One less scene exploring Alex and Claire’s relationship, and one more with his and Elliot’s would have been just right. Still, out of the three films I picked, this one came closest to what I was looking for. It’s lighthearted and fun, and overall a classic teen movie. It’s not exactly what I was looking for, because the story is more Alex’s self-discovery than a romantic one, but still a recommended watch.
All in all, these were three very watchable films. Not bad, but not likely to be anyone’s favourite in the way of Pretty Woman or Bridget Jones’s Diary. So The Gay RomcomTM is still proving elusive. Maybe it just hasn’t been made yet, or maybe my search was too narrow. Rest assured, I will search until I find the right one. Or I’ll write my own and pitch it loudly outside any/all studio headquarters.