I alway cringe when I hear someone of a particular ethnic or religious or sexual orientation or racial or economic or political group begin to complain because they want to go to the movies and see ‘someone like me on the screen’. I never got this. I know what I am like. Why would I want to spend two hours looking at myself. Seems narcissistic. And besides, who would be a person like me? I would be loath to pigeon-hole myself to fit a ‘type’ for a movie.
I would often be berated for expressing this thought. Too ethnocentric or patriarchal or cis-gender-centric or classist, etc. Still, I thought I had a good point.
Until, I started thinking about the topic a little more. I was wondering if there were some genre that I just didn’t care for because I couldn’t identify with it.
I love Rashomon, Ugetsu and Seven Samurai even though I am not from medieval Japan. I love The Best Years of Our Lives even though I never lived in Small Town, U.S.A. and never experienced the difficult repatriation of soldiers after World War II. I loved these films because they rise above specificity and are genuinely human works.
But then I thought about Rom-Coms. Now there’s a genre that I cannot relate to at all. The slightness of the relationships, the implied sexism on both sides. The contrived happy endings. Nope, nothing there for me, I thought.
Then Netflix started recommending a genre that I could only called Adolescent Gay Rom-Coms. These movies are exactly like the heterosexual version except a cute girl is swapped out for another cute guy. There is still ‘meeting cute’, frustrating misunderstandings that you know will be worked out by film’s end, as well as a universe of friends and family rooting for or helping the couple in question to work it out.
The three films I watched were 4th Man Out, Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party and Handsome Devil. While not exactly following the classic Rom-Com formula, they cleaved close enough to it to give me the feeling of pleasing, unalloyed mushiness that heterosexual Rom-Coms gave their audience.
Was I pulled in because of the Gay element? Yes. Did it lull me into a kind of uncritical complacency that let me enjoy an otherwise not great movie. Yes. Did I get suckered into rooting for the thwarted lovers. Yes. Did I feel vindicated by seeing someone like me up on the screen. No. Emphatically. No.
I realized while watching these 3 films, that movies created to appeal to a target audience as being ‘for them’ necessarily are lesser entertainments. The agenda shines through and you never forget that you are being sort of had. I felt the same way when people foisted Young Adult novels on me when I was a teenager. No thank you, I am reading Dickens.
Just like The Best Years Of Our Lives has as its starting point a story about repatriating soldiers, but becomes something infinitely more universal, “Gay” films like God’s Own Country and Call Me By Your Name start out as troubled Gay love stories, but by the end are so much more.
So, will I ever watch another Gay Rom-Com? Maybe. Will I ever find one that ‘reflects me up on the screen’? Not likely.