Culture Club

What to Watch: Big queer ‘Prom,’ gay boys get ‘Christmas Setup,’ ‘Brokeback’ style

THE PROM (L to R) MERYL STREEP as DEE DEE ALLEN, JAMES CORDEN as BARRY GLICKMAN in THE PROM. Cr. MELINDA SUE GORDON/NETFLIX © 2020

Whatever your entertainment needs, we got your back (and hopefully your mind) with Queerty’s weekly “Culture Club” column with some of the highlights of new releases, streaming shows, classics worth revisiting, and what to drink while you watch.

The Event: The Prom

At last, Ryan Murphy’s adaptation of the popular Broadway musical arrives on Netflix this week, albeit with an unfortunate onus. As with the stage version, The Prom follows a lesbian high schooler in Indiana whose banning from her senior prom becomes a cause celebre for a set of out of work Broadway stars hoping to make a comeback. A handful of noisy critics have accused the film of homophobia for the casting of James Corden as an effeminate gay man. Having seen the film, we can assert, we didn’t find Corden’s work offensive. In fact, he plays his character with sincerity and complexity, enough so we found his performance quite moving. Detractors seem to want to attack Corden for the way the character is written (criticism the role generated on Broadway as well), or to push their own agenda. Corden does what Murphy and the role ask of him.

That out of the way, The Prom, at its best, features uplifting songs and stirring moments. Andrew Rannells and Meryl Streep deliver their usual, spirited work, though the real standout is Keegan-Michael Key who gives a full-blown romantic leading man performance. Likewise, newcomer Jo Ellen Pellman and Corden tug the heartstrings with their sincerity. At its worst, The Prom plays like a manic episode of Glee, with its camera spinning around teen acrobats lit by oversaturated colored lights. The film also underuses the talents of Kerry Washington, Tracy Ullman and Nicole Kidman, though the latter does get a showstopping song. Viewers who can get on board with Murphy’s approach will have a great time, and even the most jaded in the audience should enjoy elements of the film for their strengths.

Streams on Netflix December 11.

The Awards Contender: Funny Boy

This Canadian-Sri Lankan film has already generated early Oscar buzz. Based on the novel by Shyam Selvadurai, the film follows Arjie, a young gay boy growing up in Sri Lanka during the 70s and 80s. At the time, a racial conflict between the native Sinhalese and wealthy Tamils had begun to bubble. Amid Arjie’s own period of self-discovery, he and his family find themselves pulled into growing violence that threatens to spark a civil war. Oscar-winning director Deepa Meetha captures the lush beauty and colors of Sri Lanka with her camera, and gets moving performances out of her actors, particularly Arush Nand who plays Arjie as a child. Funny Boy has generated backlash from Tamil people in Sri Lanka for a dearth of Tamil actors in the film; Meetha defends it by noting that she had original cast Tamil performers, all of whom dropped out because of the film’s queer subject matter or visa restrictions. In any case, we found Meetha’s treatment of the Tamil characters respectful, and the movie’s handling of its queer themes frank and honest. For that reason, we recommend viewers give the film a watch and decide for themselves.

Streams on Netflix December 10.

The Spotlight: Queer Japan

We recommended this film on the festival circuit last year. This week it arrives on streaming services, offering up its expose’ of Japan’s beautiful and eccentric queer culture. Queer Japan focuses on a group of LGBTQ Japanese artists and their efforts to gain acceptance in the very traditional Japanese society. As with underground queer culture in the US, their work pushes the boundaries of good taste with hypersexualized and downright outrageous content. Maybe that’s why we found the characters in the film—which include a transgender politician, an erotic manga artist, and a drag queen—so endearing. Even if the folks profiled in the movie don’t find mainstream acceptance in Japan, they may well find it stateside. With COVID-19 continuing to prevent travel, we suggest giving the film a look as a kind of virtual vacation.

Streams on Amazon December 11.

The Adorable: The Christmas Setup

The Lifetime holiday movie—the first-ever to feature a queer-themed love story at its center—arrives this week. Real-life husbands Ben Lewis and Blake Lee play Hugo and Patrick, respectively, two gay professionals who once attended the same high school in suburban Milwaukee. Hugo has made his way to New York as a powerful lawyer, while Patrick has stuck around town working at his family’s landscaping business. When the pair reconnect, sparks fly. But can Hugo sacrifice his New York job for love?

If the plot sounds familiar, that should come as no surprise—these kinds of holiday films on Lifetime or the Hallmark Channel often follow the same formula. In this case, that’s not a bad thing. The Christmas Setup is a fairytale romance for the LGBTQ community, one whose sweetness managed to melt even our cynical heart. The picturesque winterscapes provide a beautiful backdrop, and Fran Drescher, as Hugo’s mother, gives an all-in performance that helps make the ridiculous plot believable. The real charm, though, comes from the very real chemistry between Lewis & Lee who have a palatable sexual charge to their relationship. Somehow, watching the pair share a kiss is far more erotic than graphic scenes of sex. With rumors of a sequel—one which will push LGBTQ inclusion even further—already abounding, we suggest giving the film a look. It’s fun to see a holiday fantasy centered on two men…and imagine what their characters are probably doing off-screen.

Airs on Lifetime December 12.

The Brokeback: Dashing in December

If someone made Brokeback Mountain as a Christmas romance, the result would probably look a lot like Dashing in December, yet another queer-themed holiday film coming down the chimney this week. Peter Porte plays Wyatt, a New York financier who returns to his Colorado hometown for the holidays. While staying at his mom’s (Andie MacDowell) horse ranch, he develops a wandering eye for Heath (Juan Pablo Di Pace), the newest ranch hand. As the sexual tension mounts, Wyatt must make a choice to sell the ranch and return to New York and his feelings for Heath.

Sound like a familiar plot yet? If so, please see our above entry for The Christmas Setup. Dashing in December features its own mix of snowy mountains, men on horseback, romantic meet-cutes, as well as scenes of rugged men line dancing, rustic Rocky Mountain ranches and emotional disclosures to equine friends. MacDowell gives a sweet performance as Wyatt’s mom, Deb, while Porte and Di Pace go very easy on the eyes. Whether or not that will keep viewers interested will vary.

Streams on the Paramount Network December 13.

The Giggle: Dudley Beene’s “I’m a Bea”

Comedian Dudley Beene, best known as the writer/star of the cult comedy First Period, drops his latest endeavor this week: a very strange ode to The Golden Girls parodying the Black Eyed Peas’ “Imma Be.” The resultant video packs the song with no shortage of Golden Girls references, and sees Beene impersonating all four of the show’s leading ladies. The amazing thing about the video is how well Beene has copied some of the show’s most iconic costumes; we hope he didn’t raid Betty White’s closet. Fans of The Golden Girls should get a kick out of the video and we hope it helps get Beene bankrolled onto the long-rumored First Period sequel.

Streams on YouTube.

The Sip: Mulled Wine

via Wikimedia commons

In honor of not one, but two gay-themed holiday romances, we offer up one of our favorite–and most romantic–holiday cocktails: mulled wine. Easy to make at home, it mixes citrus and spice in a rich and delicious blend perfect for watching a Christmas movie, snuggling up on with someone special on the couch…or imagining snuggling up with someone from a Christmas movie on the couch. Either way, it will warm you.

  • 1 bottle of dry red wine
  • 1 orange, sliced into rounds
  • 8 whole cloves
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 star anise
  • 24 tablespoons sugar, honey, or maple syrup to taste

Mix ingredients in a saucepan. Stir and bring to low simmer. Let simmer between 30 minutes and 3 hours to taste. Strain into a mug and serve.