take heart

Comforting queer flicks to soothe the soul in a discomforting time

Trick

There are plenty of options when it comes to movies to keep us company and distract us from reality. The list assembled here comprises of the equivalent of comfort food—gay films we love to watch again and again that put us in a good mood, rather like old friends. These are not necessarily the the “best” movies, flicks that challenge us artistically or intellectually and gobble up festival honors. Instead, they warm our hearts by reminding us of the beauty of same love, community and pride.

Check out or revisit these queer flicks for a little comfort, and some warm & fuzzy feelings…

The Broken Hearts Club

Before he produced superhero TV, Greg Berlanti (Arrow, Supergirl) tried his hand at writing and directing an indie film. The result, The Broken Hearts Club, became a latter-day classic of queer cinema, a love letter to the surrogate family of the LGBTQ community. These days it plays like a shocking who’s-who of stars on the rise: Justin Theroux, Zach Braff, and Timothy Olyphant all have early roles, as does Dean Cain before he became a Trump surrogate and spokesman for dermal filler. John Mahoney steals his scenes as an aging gay restaurateur, and becomes the emotional center of a film as tender as it is funny.

Streams on Amazon, iTunes, YouTube & VUDU.

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

For a dragtastic good time, check out this gem from Oz about three cross dressers in the Australian outback. The film helped launch the stateside careers of Guy Pierce and Hugo Weaving, and reminded the world of the considerable talents of the great Terrence Stamp. With Oscar-winning costumes that have to be seen to be believed, and one of the most fabulous soundtracks to ever grace the screen, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert affirms the family-like glories of gay camaraderie. Even the most stoic viewers will get in touch with their inner drag queens, thanks to the sharp dialogue and irresistible music.

Streams on Amazon, YouTube & VUDU.

Trick

Two gay guys do their best to hook up in this romantic farce, and along the way, they realize something curious: they actually like one another. Christian Campbell (Neve’s brother) and John Paul Pitoc play said horny dudes, though the real joy of the movie comes from (of all people) Tori Spelling as Campbell’s ditzy friend. Who would have thought that the actress could actually steal all of her scenes as a wannabe Broadway actress? Likewise, noted drag performer Coco Peru gives a memorable performance as one of Pitoc’s one night stands. Trick’s premise is hardly original, nor are its characters. Yet, as a charming portrait of boy-on-boy romance, the movie succeeds and will no doubt leave a smile on the face of a queer audience.

Streams on Amazon, Hulu & VUDU.

Latter Days

The closeted Mormon sexual fantasy has far surpassed cliché in recent years. In fact, thanks to the Church of Latter-Day Saints’ role in the passage of California Prop. 8 and other anti-LGBT legislation, anything Mormon grates more than fascinates (ok, Book of Mormon notwithstanding). Latter Days came out in 2004, and memorializes the last moment when queer culture found Mormon culture fascinating. As written and directed by C. Jay Cox, Latter Days chronicles a flamboyant Los Angeles gay falling for his closeted Mormon neighbor. Much like several other films listed here though, the romantic leads get upstaged by the eccentric supporting characters, and a supporting cast that includes Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Amber Benson, Mary Kay Place and Jacqueline Bisset. Though ostensibly a comedy, Latter Days does feature some disturbing scenes of conversion therapy, suggesting that if made today, the film would veer more toward the dramatic. In that sense, the film has a certain innocence about it, making it a charming, if naïve meditation on coming out and first love.

Streams on Amazon & Dekkoo.

GBF

If a mass hit like Mean Girls hinted at the dynamic between cliquish teen women and their gay besties, GBF indulges the idea, and becomes a hilarious answer to hetero-elitism. Part of director Darren Stein’s ongoing fascination with teen girls (his film Jawbreaker covered similar ground), GBF follows the rivalry between two young, gay high schoolers, one out and the other closeted. While their semi-feud provides plenty of laughs, GBF has a darker undercurrent—one highlighting the hypocrisy of straight women who want gay friends, but refuse to acknowledge gay relationships or homophobia. Even with the film’s serious edge, GBF keeps the humor coming, making it as familiar and comforting as other high school/queer interest movies like Mean Girls or Clueless.

Streams on Hulu, YouTube, Amazon, VUDU and iTunes.

Shared Rooms

A queer answer to holiday relationship movies like Love, Actually or The Family Stone, Shared Rooms follows a trio of gay couples all in various states of commitment over the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. A fresh-faced cast lends credence to what amounts to a meditation on love and family as a hook-up turns serious, a roommate arrangement masks hidden feelings, and a happy married couple takes in a young, gay ward. The unrated movie also features plenty of nudity from its very attractive cast, including the full frontal variety (actors Justin Xavier and Alexander Neil Smith might actually spend more of the movie’s runtime showing off the full Monty rather than dressed). Rather than titillate though, the nude scenes add a layer of honesty to the story, somehow making the characters all the more believable. The film’s one misstep lays in the film’s adoptive subplot: at times half of the married couple seems a bit too excited to have an adoptive gay teen, to the point it borders on creepy. Still, Shared Rooms has a great deal of charm, and some heartwarming scenes of a gay surrogate family becoming a real one.

Streams on Amazon, Tubi, YouTube & VUDU.

Boy Culture

Q. Alan Brocka directed this adaptation of Matthew Rettenmund’s novel about a hooker with a heart of gold. Boy Culture doesn’t play like the gay version of Pretty Woman, however. In fact, it smashes the Cinderella nonsense of that film precisely by introducing a set of realistic characters, led by X. As played by Derek Magyar, X makes no apology for his questionable line of work. On the contrary, he seems to feel more shame for being part of a love triangle with his two hottie roommates, Andrew and Gregory. With a multi-racial cast and a melancholy backdrop of Seattle, Boy Culture unfolds less as a gay film about sex than a thoughtful drama about finding love in an oversexed world. For a queer audience, Boy Culture surpasses the fairytale silliness of most romantic comedies—gay or straight themed—with believable characters and some real introspection.

Streams on Amazon, Dekkoo and iTunes.

Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss

Sean Hayes burst onto the indie scene just prior to his tenure on Will & Grace with this queer romance. Hayes plays Billy, a Los Angeles photographer who falls for one of his models named Gabriel. But is Gabriel gay? Billy spends most of Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss trying to realize the issue isn’t Gabriel’s sexuality—it’s if he’s attracted to Billy personally. The premise does wear thin over the film’s 92 minute runtime, though Hayes gives such a winning performance, he buoy’s the film when its shortcomings should sink it. Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss belongs to that trend of late 90’s-early 2000’s indie films more preoccupied with gay characters being gay rather than telling an interesting story. At the same time, sometimes a queer audience just needs a movie that understands the life of LGBT folk, and in that sense, the film comforts, even when it wears thin.

Available on DVD.

Lazy Eye

Writer-director Tim Kirkman examines the One That Got Away in Lazy Eye, a film that postures as a love story. Loaded with sharp, naturalistic dialogue and featuring two fine performances from Lucas Near-Verbrugghe & Aaron Costa Ganis, the story centers on two middle-aged men rekindling a long-ago romance. As the film unfolds, it begins to reveal its true subject. Lazy Eye is less about lost love than nostalgia for youth, confronting past idealism and ultimately, growing up. In that way, the film could easily work as a sequel to one of those “I’ll never forget that summer” coming of age films. Ganis and Near-Verbrugghe have a magnetic chemistry, and like Shared Rooms, Lazy Eye features a good deal of nudity and graphic sex, though not in a pornographic way. Rather, the film has a voyeuristic quality which adds to the underlying feeling of realism. Gabe Mayhan’s photography captures the majestic beauty of the desert on par with the most glorious images of Lawrence of Arabia, and if the movie leaves a bittersweet taste, it feels like a comfort rather than revulsion. The two leads find something even better than closure—they find themselves.

Streams on Amazon, Kanopy, VUDU & YouTube.

The Wedding Banquet

Before Ang Lee raised the bar on queer films with Brokeback Mountain, the director helmed this heartwarming tale about a gay Chinese man reconciling his traditional family with his American queer life. For lead character Wai-Tung, that means marrying a traditional Chinese woman with the titular traditional Chinese ceremony, even while he keeps his longtime boyfriend Simon at home. The Wedding Banquet succeeds thanks to a perfect blend of drama and comedy, an appealing cast, and Lee’s astute direction. In the end, the movie isn’t so much about being gay or being Chinese as it is about balancing family expectations, and becoming a fully-formed adult. Years ahead of its time, The Wedding Banquet remains an overlooked classic of queer cinema, and a comforting one at that.

Streams on VUDU & YouTube.

Love, Simon

The fact that Love, Simon–a mainstream rom-com about a gay teenager–even exists fills our hearts with joy. The movie itself, for that matter, is pretty heartwarming too, thanks to a great cast with awesome chemistry and sensitive direction by Greg Berlanti. Besides, we still can’t get enough of the scene-stealing Alexandra Shipp in full-on diva-in-waiting mode.The fact that Love, Simon–a mainstream rom-com about a gay teenager–even exists fills our hearts with joy. The movie itself, for that matter, is pretty heartwarming too, thanks to a great cast with awesome chemistry and sensitive direction by Greg Berlanti. Besides, we still can’t get enough of the scene-stealing Alexandra Shipp in full-on diva-in-waiting mode.

Streams on Amazon, YouTube, iTunes & VUDU.

To Wong Foo

Nothing says Americana like a cross-country road picture, and nothing says feel good like three drag queens played by three of the top action stars of their day. Still funny after 25 years, To Wong Foo has enough zingers, fabulous drag and just enough heart to make us sigh every time we see it.

Streams on YouTube, Amazon, VUDU and iTunes.

The Birdcage

Robin Williams, we miss you. Fortunately, Mr. Williams left behind one of his most hilarious performances (which says something) with this Mike Nichols comedy that also stars Nathan Lane, Oscar-winners Gene Hackman and Diane Weist, Callista Flockheart and Christine Baranski. Elaine May pens a script of stinging comedy, and one years ahead of its time: given that the central conflict, more or less, involves two men getting married (or palimony, which was close enough at the time), we find the movie delightful and heartwarming.

Streams on YouTube, Amazon, VUDU and iTunes.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

This coming-of-age story flew under the radar back in 2012, which is a crime: it’s one of the best movies of that year, and one of the best in the genre. A mix of hilarity and stark drama, we particularly love the movie for the awesomely gay Patrick (played by the out-queer hunk Ezra Miller), and his subplot about being in love with a closeted fellow student. Bittersweet and tender, the movie makes us grab the tissues, but warms our hearts the way few other teen comedies can.

Streams on YouTube, Amazon, VUDU and iTunes.

Mean Girls

We know you’ve seen it–the seminal teen comedy of the 2000s, which helped launch the careers of Lindsay Lohan, Rachel McAdams, Amanda Seyfried and Daniel Franzese. Almost 15 years later, the movie still makes us laugh with its astute observations about teen girl culture, and the role the gay besties play in high school social structure. Watch it, and see how long it takes to refer to a clique of fellow gays as “Plastics.”

Streams on YouTube, Amazon, VUDU and iTunes.

Girls Will Be Girls

Drag performers Coco Peru & Varla Jean Merman join acclaimed comedian Jack Plotnick in this drag campfest which aims to satirize Hollywood and camp cinema. Crude, weird and totally outrageous, Girls Will Be Girls combines a very weird premise with some very big laughs. Besides, since we’re still waiting on that much-delayed sequel, we need something to tide us over.

Streams on Amazon.

First Period

Though released direct-to-streaming, First Period attracted an immediate cult following for its quirky blend of camp, satire of 80s high school comedies and a litany of guest stars which includes Cassandra Peterson, Jack Plotnick, Deven Green and Judy Tenuta. Two female high school outcasts (played by two male actors, Dudley Beene and writer Brandon Alexander III) plot to become the most popular girls in school by winning the annual talent show. Do they succeed? We won’t reveal here, other than to say the film has some very big laughs and surprisingly affecting performances by Beene and Alexander.

Streams on YouTube, Amazon, VUDU and iTunes.

Saturday Church

Writer/director Damon Cardasis injects Saturday Church with an urgent energy, and a hearty dose of fantasy: this is the coming out story so many of us wish we could have had. With terrific songs by Nathan Larson, the film celebrates the LGBTQ community like few other movies ever have, treating queer safe spaces as a kind of sacred ground, and the older LGBTQ people that dwell within them as guardian angels. Kain gives a sensitive and charismatic performance in the lead, as does Rodriguez, in a role that shows off her musical gifts, as well as foreshadows her work on Pose. Indya Moore also has a supporting role, as does transgender icon Kate BornsteinSaturday Church is exactly the kind of religious service we can get behind: one that celebrates diversity with love, and that makes us want to get up and dance.

Streams on Amazon, VUDU, YouTube and Kanopy.

Benjamin

We fell in love with Benjamin, the queer Brit comedy, from director Simon Amstell. The movie concerns a neurotic filmmaker who falls hard for a French rock singer, and their rather awkward attempts at dating. Still, both characters are so dang likable we can’t help but root for them to end up together. As evidence look no further than a quiet scene of the two sharing a bath, which amounts to one of the sexiest scenes in film in a very, very long time.

Streams on Amazon, iTunes, YouTube & Vudu.

Cousins

Cousins follows the mundane life of Lucas (Paulo Sousa), a slightly nerdy piano teacher living with his religious aunt. When Lucas’ distant cousin Mario (writer/director Thiago Cazado) returns from prison, sexual tension quickly mounts between the pair. Cousins has a somewhat ridiculous premise redeemed thanks to Cazado’s good humor and sincerity. The film makes Mario & Lucas’ love affair into the stuff of romantic fantasy, which makes us overlook the unlikeliness of it. The awkwardness between the pair also invites some very big laughs to the proceedings, and Cazado’s very explicit sex scenes don’t come off exploitive so much as a celebration of newfound sexuality.

Streams on Dekkoo.

Note: This article contains portions of previous articles posted here on Queerty.