So, it’s the day after Thanksgiving and your staring at your family as they try to decide what to do. You suggest going to see Milk and they agree. Awesome! After the show, they look at you and go, “I didn’t know this ever happened! I want to know more about this homosexuality thing!”
What do you do then?
Queerty’s suggestion? Run, don’t walk to the nearest video store and pick up a copy of The Wedding Banquet.
It’s the perfect companion piece to Milk. Where Harvey Milk’s story is written on the public stage, the characters in The Wedding Banquet, a gay couple named Wai-Tung Gao (Winston Chao) and Simon (Mitchell Lichtenstein) live private lives. Both feature happy, successful gay people fighting for acceptance, but while Harvey’s fighting at City Hall, Wai-Tung and Simon are winning the battle around the kitchen table.
Directed by a pre-Brokeback Ang Lee, the film’s first half is a comedy, with Wai-Tung and Simon living together in adorable homo bliss, while Wai-Tung fends off his parents advances to get married by making impossible demands of the dating service they’ve hired for him. To appease his parents, he decides to have a marriage of convenience with one of his tenants, an artist named Wei-Wei.
And then the parents show up.
Simon finds himself having to shut himself back in the closet for the benefit of his boyfriend’s parents. A massive charade of deceit is performed for the benefit of Wai-Tung’s father, who recently had a stroke and who Wai-Tung fears could not handle the news that his son is gay. The whole thing builds to a head when at the wedding banquet, a drunken Wai-Tung hooks up with Wei-Wei. Simon finds out and the two look headed for Splitsville, especially after Wei-Wei reveals she’s pregnant.
What happens next is probably my favorite moment in the history of gay cinema. The elder Mr. Gao is no fool and realizes that Simon is truly the love of his son’s life and gives him the traditional red envelope of money the father usually gives the bride. It’s a simple gesture, that by virtue of its traditional and cultural significance, manages to mean more than any speech ever could.
The movie doesn’t make things simple however and when Wei-Tung’s mother finds out, she’s a lot less accepting. In the end, a sort of family emerges between Simon, Wei-Tung and Wei-Wei. It is, like all family’s imperfect, but it’s held together by love.
I’ve shown it to a ton of friends over the years and it’s always been a hit. I especially like showing it to straight friends, because it gives them a glimpse of what it’s like to be gay– to be constantly deciding whether to admit you’re gay to strangers, having to wonder if your family will still love you, being forced to forge familial relationships in a society that doesn’t support yours. If you want to know what it’s like to be a gay person living in America, this is your film.