Welcome to Screen Gems, our weekend dive into queer and queer-adjacent titles of the past that deserve a watch or a re-watch.
The Adorbs: The Christmas Setup
2020 yielded many things…many of them horrendous. Thank goodness for the year’s tender mercies, among them, the race to produce the first LGBTQ-themed holiday romance. Hallmark, Lifetime, Paramount and more all went dashing through production to don some gay apparel (see what we did there?).
The Christmas Setup arrived courtesy of Lifetime last December, and of all the queer-themed Christmas fairy tales (as it were), it ranks at the front of the pack. The movie stars real-life husbands Ben Lewis and Blake Lee as Hugo and Patrick, respectively, two successful gay 30-somethings who once attended the same high school in suburban Milwaukee. Now a high-powered New York lawyer, Hugo comes home to celebrate the holidays with his mom Kate (Fran Drescher, irrepressible as ever), brother Aiden (Chad Connell) and bestie Madelyn (Ellen Wong). As the local queen of Christmas, Kate puts Hugo to work planning festivities…and just maybe to cross paths with Patrick, his single high school crush. Of course, undeniable sparks fly between Patrick and Hugo…but could Hugo really give up his big city life for love in a small town?
Give you one guess.
Promotional materials touted married couple Lee & Lewis as a kind of gimmick–real married gays playing a romance together. That superficial marketing ploy doesn’t do either actor credit: when they appear on screen together, their chemistry is palpable. These two boys have a powerful attraction to one another, and the stars in their eyes say it all. They. Are. In. Love. In a romance like this, that leading chemistry can make or break a movie. Here, it makes the fairy tale seem real.
Dresher goes all-in on her performance as Kate, channeling her force-of-nature energy into sincere maternal tenderness. For Kate, having her son settle down with a nice boy is her dream come true. Wong also has some wonderful moments in the best friend role, and her I-know-you-too-well rapport with Hugo also gives way to some of the movie’s funniest lines.
Of course, it’s all preposterous, but that’s the point: part of the joy of the holiday season comes from believing that just maaaaybe there is magic in the air. How else to explain how so many networks have made the holiday romance movie into a cottage industry (looking at you, Hallmark)? Still, movies like The Christmas Setup, as cheesy, predictable, and saccharine as they are, make us believe that holiday miracles can happen…even to those of us LGBTQ. Moreover, as romantic comedies go, The Christmas Setup is actually a very good one. Call that a miracle unto itself.
Streams on Amazon, Lifetime, & VUDU.
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