During an episode of “Will and Grace” – titled “Fagmalion Part Three: Bye Bye Beardy” – Will tells Karen’s cousin, Barry (who has been given a makeover), “Barry, it’s okay that you didn’t like The Broken Hearts Club or Kiss Me, Guido. I’ll tell you a little secret we like to keep in the community: Gay movies suck. But until the laws change, we’re still obligated to see them.” Though Will’s overarching argument is toward all gay movies, the target of my attack is aimed at the “Queer Rom-Com.”
The Rom-Com is a genre that has persisted since the screwball comedies of the 30s and 40s, but has since run its generic cycle from classicism (in which it firmly established its generic elements and traits) to postmodern parody (self-aware films that pastiche/mock/parody the elements of their predecessors). The “Queer Rom-Com” takes the aforementioned genre and infuses it with a queer coupling. Since there are very few films that use transgender characters as romantic leads, and a large majority of films (that I have seen) dealing with bisexuality are problematic, my argument will focus on gay and lesbian Rom-Coms.
In transposing queer elements from subtext (which yields camp readings) to text, the Queer Rom-Coms become stagnant and contrived iterations that merely ape its heterosexual predecessors and queer contemporaries, with little to no room for improvement. These films suffer from the When Harry Met Sally… syndrome, in that they use the same repetitive narrative devices of types, archetypes, stereotypes, and endings. Their main focus is examining the conflicts of sexuality, usually ending with a heteronormative climax (albeit in a queer context) in which the two queer characters get their “happily ever after.” To my mind, the more appealing films are those guilty pleasures that may be fun and campy, but are still lackluster in their execution. These include such titles as Christopher Ashley’s Jeffrey (1995), Simon Shore’s Get Real (1998), and Jamie Babbit’s But I’m A Cheerleader (1999). The aforementioned films (amongst other titles) opened the floodgates to a legacy of carbon copies – such as Julie Davis’ All Over the Guy (2001), C. Jay Cox’s Latter Days (2003), Craig Chester’s Adam and Steve (2005), and the infamous Eating Out series (2004-2011) – that merely offer queer puns and shirtless beefcakes with their already predictable stories.
Adding to the clichéd elements of the Rom-Com, queer filmmakers inject their stories forced camp and graphic sexuality in order to target a specific demographic (these films usually play at queer film festivals, smaller scale theaters, and on Netflix streaming). The problem then becomes that the filmmakers are adding plasticity (through a forced camp sensibility that arises from bad acting, poor production values, and endless double entendres) into an already predictable and artificial genre.
It isn’t until the Queer Rom-Com can avoid its generalized characters and predictable narratives that it can begin to transcend the confines of its genre (Andrew Haigh’s Weekend – although not a Rom-Com – shows promise for this trend of normalizing sexuality). Once the Queer Rom-Com stops focusing on the endless heaps of artificiality, it can truly open up the potential for the subversive power of melodrama and actually create a meaningful film. Until then, the Netflix section of “Gay and Lesbian Romances/Comedies” will contain titles with similar pictures, similar plots, and similar low ratings.