Culture Club

What to Watch: Dolly Parton is an angel, Dan Levy does Christmas & Paul Bettany goes gay for pay

(L-R) Cole Doman and Michael Perez star in UNCLE FRANK. Photo: Brownie Harris. Courtesy of Amazon Studios

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 Seasonal: Christmas on the Square

An old-fashioned holiday musical about the love of charity, empathy and forgiveness? Who else could get away with it but Dolly Parton, who also stars in this new film for Netflix. Director Debbie Allen stages a story about Regina (Christine Baranski), a wealthy real estate tycoon hellbent on bulldozing her hometown just ahead of Christmas. Enter Angel (Parton), an actual Angel that forces Regina to face her own fears over a breast cancer scare, and lingering feelings for a high school beau (Treat Williams). Few actresses could carry this kind of material better than Baranski, who delivers a three-dimensional, genuinely affecting performance. Moreover, Parton’s score allows both ladies, as well as Donovan and co-star Jennifer Lewis an opportunity to show off their remarkable vocal chops. Silly and schmaltzy as it is, we can’t deny falling in love with the cast (including a pair of voguing hair stylists…read into that as you will) and even shedding a tear or two.

Streams on Netflix November 22.

The Buzzing: Uncle Frank

Oscar-winner Alan Ball (American Beauty, True Blood) makes his bid for another golden statuette with this quiet, semi-autobiographical drama. Paul Bettany stars as the title character, a gay college professor who takes his rural niece Beth (Sophia Lillis) under his wing. When his father unexpectedly dies, Frank and Beth must return to small-town South Carolina for the funeral, and Frank must face demons long hidden in his heart. Bettany gives his best performance to date in the lead (he’ll also likely be competing for the major awards), and Lillis reaffirms her status as one of the best young actresses working today. Judy Greer, Margo Martindale and Lois Smith each give fine supporting turns, though actor Peter Macdissi (the real-life, longtime boyfriend of Ball) steals his scenes as Wally, Frank’s longtime Muslim boyfriend. Touching and well-acted, we recommend the film to anyone who has ever felt like an outsider. Let’s face it: if you’re reading this, you have.

Streams on Amazon November 25.

The Yuletide Gays: Happiest Season

The year’s first queer holiday comedy arrives this week. Who better to usher it in than LGBTQ stalwarts Dan Levy, Kristen Stewart and writer/director Clea DuVall? In the film, Stewart plays Abby, a thriving lesbian about to propose to her longtime girlfriend, Harper (Mackenzie Davis). When Harper invites Abby home for the holidays, Abby finds herself in the eye of a furious family storm as she learns Harper is still in the closet. With Harper’s dad (Victor Garber) exploring a political career, her mom (Mary Steenburgen) bent on having the perfect Christmas, and her sisters (Aubrey Plaza and Mary Holland) hiding secrets of their own, the tension begins to spiral out of control. Can Abby’s gay bestie John (Levy) arrive in time to save the day?

Warm and tender (as a holiday film tends to be), Happiest Season also has its share of sharp jabs at familial pressures, not to mention a few very big laughs. More importantly, DuVall earns the film’s sweet ending by building characters equal parts lovable and infuriating. Loaded with gorgeous winter pageantry and fine performances all around, it’s a fine way to usher in the yuletide season, with or without gay apparel.

Streams November 25 on Hulu.

The Celebration: Born to Be

Director Tania Cypriano dives into the world of transgender medicine in this new documentary. The film follows Dr. Jess Ting, a plastic surgeon specializing in transgender patients for both top and bottom surgery. Ting’s groundbreaking innovations in genital reconstruction have earned him a worldwide reputation, and Born to Be profiles several of his patients as they undergo surgery, as well as Ting’s growing pressure to treat as many patients as possible. Never gratuitous, Born to Be also goes into detail about how phalloplasty and vaginoplasty work, for anyone—cis or transgender—who always wanted to know, and trumpets a rallying cry for American insurance companies to offer comprehensive treatment for trans patients. Since many transgender people would rather not discuss their genitals or surgical treatment—understandably so—we recommend the film as a fascinating primer on the subject, and an entertaining look at a groundbreaking queer ally and his brave patients.

Streams on virtual cinema platforms November 18.

The Ruff: The Pack

Canine lovers or anyone that has found solace in the days of COVID with a pet won’t want to miss the new Amazon series The Pack. The show mixes The Amazing Race with Lassie as 16 owners partner with their beloved pooches for a chance to win $500,000. That includes West Hollywood-based handsome Josh White, and his punk poodle Snow. Animal lovers and fans of reality competition will love the series, as will anyone looking for some innovation in reality TV. The teams embark on some very inventive challenges (zip-lining dogs? Canine soccer?), and some of the pups even find romance. Take that as you will, but give the show a watch.

Streams on Amazon November 20.

The Homage: Nina West “Cha-Cha Heels”

RuPaul’s Drag Race alum fuses the holiday spirit with the films of John Waters in this new video for her single “Cha-Cha Heels.” Waters fans will delight at the numerous in-jokes and references to Polyester and Female Trouble, while West lovers should love the eerie accuracy with which she channels Divine. Set to a 60s pop beat, it’s a fun—if ironic—way to get in the holiday spirit.

Streams on YouTube November 19.

The Sip: Hot Butter Rum

As we sit here bundled up thanks to a newfound chill in the air, and with the influx of holiday films landing in Culture Club this week, we offer up one of our favorite yuletide libations, a hot butter rum. Harder to make than our usual fare, it nonetheless offers a very sweet, creamy reward.

Mix sugar, honey, butter, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves & salt in a bowl until smooth (for best results use an electric mixer). Add rum & boiling water. Stir well until butter mixture fully dissolves. Serve in a mug.