World Features

A Thought For Valentine’s Day 2019: Where Are The Lesbian Rom-coms?

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Lesbian relationships and romance are not as screwed up as cis-hetero ones. We don’t do pink on Wednesdays, or have the time for mind-games or the stomach for embarrassing grand gestures. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have some silly, feel-good movies with a lesbian couple no?

I’m not a big movie buff. I feel it would be ingenuous if I didn’t start with this disclaimer. I have never written a movie review in my life, even on Facebook (I think), because I’m the person who enjoys pretty much every movie; if I’ve spent money and time watching something, I better feel entertained, no? I don’t know anything about ‘world cinema’, and given a choice between a mindless, high school-type rom-com with a 100 per cent chance of a predictable ending, and a critical film that, I don’t know, explores human emotions and struggles or whatever, I would always choose the sappy rom-com that can be watched while texting friends and copy editing simultaneously. I know, I know, it’s very problematic and all.

Sonam Kapoor and Rajkummar Rao in Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga. Pic: midday.com

Five years ago, I would have been in denial about the kind of movies I liked. But now that I’ve embraced the mindless-movie-loving-person that I am, I go down rabbit-holes of the Internet once in a while, looking for absolutely silly movies that are impossible to remember just five hours later. And so, I went on one of my searches this week, after I watched Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga – which was pitched as a lesbian film, but is really just a half-decent ally film. It’s about how a cis straight rich man saves the day by making the family of a lesbian woman accept her. There really wasn’t much romance on screen, and I don’t think many adult queer people saw themselves or their partners on there. However, for a Bollywood film (and really, my standards are set quite low for them), this was not bad at all – at least there were no cringy dialogues about daughter-is-really-son or some such.

Anyway, back to my Internet search: my browser history this week is filled with “The 20 Best LGBTQ Movies of the 21st Century”, “10 best gay films on Netflix”, “feel good queer movies”, “best queer rom-coms”,  “movies like Handsome Devil”…and when I was tired of looking at movies filled with cis white gay men, “14 Feel-Good Summery Lesbian Movies for Summer Lesbianing.”

But it’s really difficult to find some mindless pseudo-inspirational high school not-really-drama if you’re looking for tips on lesbianing. There is no hot dykes version of Mean Girls, no lipstick lesbian going 10 Things I Hate About You. No one has made a She’s Just Not That Into You for single lesbians, no How to Lose a Femme in 10 Days for bois.

There are some films that are almost there, though. I watched But I’m a Cheerleader!, a film from 1999, because I thought it was going to be some laughter riot. Except, it’s a satirical film about a conversion camp, where two baby lesbians fall in love with each other. Considering how we’re seeing conversion camps of a different kind in India these days, ‘True Directions’ in the film, a ‘therapy camp’ that tries to convert the campers to heterosexuality, does seem like a cakewalk. The violence of a heteronormative world telling young people they can either ‘become straight’ or be left out to fend for themselves is couched in hot-pink and hot-blue costumes and sets. Unlike in the real world, the young queer people who don’t manage to ‘graduate’ from the camp manage to somehow land on their feet without too many bruises.

However, Megan and Graham – played by Natasha Lyonne and Clea Duvall – make for quite a cute couple in the film. Natasha Lyonne’s Nicky in Orange Is The New Black is one of the most fun lesbian characters I’ve seen on screen, and one could imagine Megan in But I’m A Cheerleader! to be a younger version of Nicky, not yet sassy enough but definitely on the way there.

Of course, after watching Cheerleader, I went down another Internet rabbit-hole, and realised that the two lead characters got together to play a couple once again, in the 2016 film The Intervention, directed by Clea Duvall herself. The Intervention is really not a ‘queer film’ – it’s about a bunch of complicated adults and their relationships. The main plot revolves around a group of friends trying to hold a ‘marriage intervention’ for their friends who are forever bickering in a loveless marriage, and the ending is quite problematic, forced, and illogical for two of the four couples – both cis-hetero.

But although I don’t see myself on the screen in either Jessie (Clea Duvall) or Sarah (Natasha Lyonne), their chemistry in the film is quite sweet. They’re not perfect, they have their issues, they’re not ‘queer icons’ out to save the world, but they’re sweet and cute and have normal sex, and there is some aspirational value to their relationship.

The fact that Clea Duvall herself is queer means the relationship in the film is not portrayed in a sensational way – except for one slightly over-the-top scene where the couple get into a fight, Jessie pushes Sarah into a river, falls in herself, and the two then chase each other around the summer house they’re staying at. To make their partner jealous, the extended comedy track has the two of them taking turns to kiss two other people – and while I may sound a wee bit hypocritical here considering the whole premise of this piece, I am a little tired of this oh-let’s-do-outrageous-things-to-make-them-jealous trope. Real people’s relationships are more three dimensional than that! Personally, I’m the kind of idiot who shares photos of people I find cute with my girlfriend, not to make her jealous, but so we can admire the cuteness together. It’s one of the best things about being in a long term, adult relationship – feeling secure enough.

Anyway.

A still from G.B.F.

The queer films that I did manage to watch that had that mindless-high school vibe were G.B.F. and Love, Simon.

G.B.F. – short for ‘Gay Best Friend’ – was satisfyingly irritating, like a (good) bad high school film should be, and I rolled my eyes sufficiently at the ending. It’s got mean girls, a group of friends who are close (because they say they’re close), a bunch of parents so understanding and liberal it doesn’t feel like Trump’s America, or the America that led up to Trump, and a high school with zero out gay kids. It has best friends falling in love, best friends fighting, best friends being toxic…basically, all the (bad) good stuff.

Love, Simon, again, was problematic enough, with the self-serving protagonist getting a free pass in the end despite all the shit he did through the film. Everything is easy, there are no struggles for the cis white protagonist so he has to create some for himself, and there is a sort of unexpected ending. Like, not too unexpected, of course. The titular character, Simon, is gay and ‘in the closet’, and finds love with an anonymous person on the Internet. But he messes up his friends’ relationships so that his ‘secret’ doesn’t get out – although he has a super liberal family and a tight group of friends, none of whom is homophobic. Simon is an asshole, but we’re supposed to love him anyway because he’s the hero. Basically, a cis white man in a Hollywood film, minus the straight.

On Valentine’s Day though, my search is still on for that good-bad romantic comedy about a lesbian couple, may be with a nice love triangle, a crie montage with a great song in the background, and protagonists who feel real enough that we can laugh with them, and not just at them.

Pic credit: IMDB

*****

Ragamalika is a journalist with The News Minute. She usually doesn’t write but makes people rewrite. A lot.  Twitter: @rgmlk

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