Think of your favourite romantic comedy. Whether it’s When Harry Met Sally, Crazy Rich Asians or 10 Things I Hate About You, they all have one glaringly obvious thing in common – they’re straight. In fact, growing up in the early noughties, I don’t recall watching any mainstream queer romantic comedies, unless you want to count Bend It Like Beckham and, believe me, I do. It’s not as if there’s isn’t enough space at the multiplex for LGBTQ+ romcoms, it’s just that nobody has filled the gap.
Even after Love, Simon – 2018’s gay high school smash – proved straight love stories weren’t the only ones that could make money, Hollywood didn’t respond. And when they do try something more diverse, like upcoming queer comedy Happiest Season, they get it all wrong. Packing a lesbian drama with a hit cast (Kristen Stewart, Mackenzie Davis, Aubrey Plaza) will not make amends for the movie’s clichéd premise: a young woman plans to propose to her girlfriend while at her family’s annual holiday party, but discovers her partner hasn’t yet come out to her conservative parents. For once, I’d like a queer film where the plot doesn’t climax around the grand unveiling of somebody’s sexuality. By reducing an identity to a dramatic reveal, Happiest Season sensationalises one of the most vulnerable moments in a queer person’s life. It’s an ugly trope – and one we could do with less of.
Another harmful stereotype that has become commonplace in LGBTQ+ movies is the villain-turned-ally. In both Love, Simon and Bollywood’s first LGBTQ+ romcom Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga, the queer protagonists tangle with a potential romantic partner of the opposite sex who soon turns out to be a villain. Later, the baddie is redeemed when they aid the main character in achieving self-acceptance. I’m all for allyship but this recent cliché offers a toxic, manipulative response to intensely vulnerable characters. Hollywood and Bollywood need to scrap it.
Despite the big studios’ lack of interest in (and tendency to bungle) LGBTQ+ romcoms, streaming sites have taken up some slack. Generally more willing to embrace diversity, Netflix and co. have begun poaching queer viewers looking for representation on screen. Dating Amber and The Half Of It are just two critically acclaimed queer romcoms that feature in 2020’s best films – both released straight to digital platforms. Amazon Prime Video’s Dating Amber is another success – a sweet young adult film which unpacks the difficulties of coming out in an Irish community. The film won’t win any awards, but it’s a touching story about learning to accept yourself – and it features a heartwarming friendship. Netflix’s The Half Of It, meanwhile, delicately explores ethnicity, immigration and sexuality in a nonconforming LGBTQ+ romcom setting. It arrives hot on the heels of a number of international queer favourites like Bollywood’s Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga and Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan, while the streaming giant has also delved into queer TV, producing hit titles like RuPaul’s Drag Race, Queer Eye and AJ and the Queen. If critically acclaimed TV shows can portray nuanced LGBTQ+ narratives without trope casting or queer-baiting then what’s stopping Hollywood?
Now, more than ever, audiences are leaning towards subscriptions and staying indoors. If streaming platforms can offer more inclusive and diverse content, then they’ll continue to lure film fans away from the multiplex. As we enter a new age of queer romcoms, it looks like Netflix and Prime Video are leading the way.