A few weeks back, I was chatting with my well-off, ardently Republican, impenetrably heterosexual nephew in his souped-up Land Rover. (Let’s call him Chad.) After picking me up at the Croton Falls train station and blathering on about the state of our kin, Chad changed topic and began insisting that nowadays gays have everything they had ever wanted.
Trying to lay out the reality in an even-tempered tone, I noted this was not exactly true. Hundreds of laws had just been passed or were about to be passed in numerous legislatures across our Great Land with the single-minded goal of making every member of the LGBTQI community into a third-class citizen. Would he like me to email him some articles?
“No! I don’t need articles,” Chad exclaimed. “I see The Gays on all the TV shows and in all of the commercials.”
Well, who needs legitimate news sources when you have Botox ads and Modern Family reruns? And Chad does supplement his LGBTQI education by watching Fox so he can get deliciously freaked out about trans folk. For my nephew, hearing the likes of Greg Gutfeld trash a trans athlete supplies the same immeasurable joy he gets from multiple viewings of Saw V. But Chad has a point, limited as it is.
One of the only shows I binged on recently that was decidedly queerless was Season 1 of The Bear. Though to be honest, that series moves so briskly, there might actually have been some non-binaries hiding behind the brisket.
Even on Broadway this past year, you seldom could throw a CD of Judy at Carnegie Hall without hitting an actor currently portraying a bisexual, a gender-expansive, or an old-fashioned lesbian: Bad Cinderella, Once Upon a One More Time, Fat Ham, & Juliet, Some Like It Hot. The list feels longer than the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in a hail storm.
Indeed, I’d bet you all the smoked lox in Zabar’s that if you tallied up each and every queer character appearing just this week alone on cable, on regular TV, on New York City stages, and on Netflix, they’d outnumber all of the LGBTQI fictional mortals that sauntered through the 1970s, 1980s, and half of the 1990s combined. Yes, even with Richard Simons and Pee-wee Herman included.
Also, it should be noted that back then most of the queer characters depicted were white and male, closeted, had AIDS, or were closeted and had AIDS. There were some exceptions though to these heartfelt and necessary offerings. Among those broadening the landscape were the likes of John Waters, Greg Araki, Donna Deitch, Chantal Akerman, Paul Morrisey, Cheryl Dunye, and Isaac Julien.
A true example of how far we have come, and which some may consider as an example of coming too far, is Wei-Hao Cheng’s Marry My Dead Body (2022), a Taiwanese highlight of the recent New York Asian Film Festival and now on the aforementioned Netflix.
Before we go on, please note there is a Chinese tradition called “ghost marriage” where at least one or both of those being wed are deceased. It’s sounds ideal. No more hurt feelings over forgotten anniversaries. No blanket-tugging or fortissimo snoring at night. No one yelling at you about your inability to be sexually intimate before breakfast . . . or after.
One of the main reasons this procedure came about is that it solves a family’s embarrassment of having an unwed daughter. It’s also a way for a lineage to continue if one’s son is pushing up daisies. Yes, the wife of a defunct spouse could now adopt a child to carry on a dead chap’s name. (Wikipedia will explain it to you in more detail.)
Anyway, Marry My Dead Body starts with a wolf howling on a full-moon night. Soon after we meet a cute homophobic cop, Min-Han (Greg Hsu), who immediately roughs up a flirty drug dealer in a gym locker room. Not a good career move. Clearly, it’s no longer woke in Taiwan to bash gays in gym locker rooms especially if their dads are influential.
Demoted, Min-Han winds up patrolling a mostly deserted street when he spots a red envelope on the sidewalk.
Don’t pick it up, Min-Han!
Uh-oh, he doesn’t listen. Instantly, Min-Han discovers he’s now the fiancé of an equally cute, slightly flamboyant queer spirit named Mao Mao (Austin Lin), who was the victim of a hit-and-run driver. You see, in that red envelope, Mao Mao’s grandmother had placed the nail clippings and locks of hair she had snipped off her beloved grandson’s corpse. Why? Because she had always promised him true love and hadn’t been able to fulfill that vow when he was breathing.
Is this woman crazy? What about when she insists Min-Han was Mao Mao’s pet dog in a previous life? This can’t be true, right?
But after Min-Han returns home and while he showers, a visible version of Mao Mao appears to him and pleasurably smiles at the size of his new spouse’s crotch.
“Get away from me, gay guy!” Min-han screams.
Call me “hubby,” Mao Mao insists.
“Hubby?” Min-Hasn questions. Why can’t he be the hubby?
You see, in a same-sex relationship with a ghost, the spirit has the power to decide who’s the femme and who’s the butch. The ghost, by the way, can also enter human bodies and make them do what it wants them to do, even to saunter about like RuPaul.
Hey! Min-Han asks, isn’t there a way to get a divorce from this unfeasible mate who likes to pop his head through walls now and then? Well, yes, there is now that you ask. First, find out who ran over Mao Mao and secondly find someone to love him eternally.
What follows are drug dealings, fisticuffs, grumpy gangsters, grandmas who insist you come over for dinner, and a few shoot-outs that lead to quite a sweet, moving, satisfying finale proving once and for all that sometimes we all need a good dose of otherworldly romantic silliness.
How about two or three doses?
You’ll certain receive a dollop or two of the absurd from Amazon Prime’s Red, White and Royal Blue, directed and co-written by Matthew Lopez, a Best-Play-Tony-Award winner for the marvelous The Inheritance. That work consolidated the tragedy of AIDS with the insights of E.M. Foster and gay men eating dinner and so on. RWARB is a bit more lowbrow with its intentions. This international hit that last month was crowned the streamer’s third most-watched romantic comedy of all time is based on the hit novel that chronicles the affaire de coeur of the bisexual son (Taylor Zakhar Perez) of a female President of the United States and the closeted Prince of Great Britain (Nicholas Galitzine).
Imagine the Hallmark Channel making soft-core porn and you pretty much have it: yearning, orgasmic faces, but no crotch shots. The acting varies in believability as does the script, but the two leads are beautiful, especially when dancing together among nude museum statuary, reminding me of how Melissa Marr described a character in her novel “Wickedly Lovely”: “He looked good, like sin a suit.”
But to be honest, tears was gushing forth from my orbs just before the end credits rolled. No one was more shocked than myself. I didn’t even weep during Sophie’s Choice. Thankfully, I go nowhere without a Kleenex.
Mr. Galitzine, by the way, also has a supporting role as Jeff, a self-absorbed football jock suffering from satyriasis and a pineapple allergy, in director/co-writer Emma Siligman’s Bottoms, a title which refers to societal positionings, not sexual ones. The nearly universally praised comedy is a rip-roaring, lesbianic takeover of the high-school, “I-want-to-lose-my-virginity” high-jinks genre.
Here Seligman reunites with the star of her directorial debut Shiva Baby, Rachel Sennott. Sennott serves double-duty here as co-writer while playing the loudmouthed, obnoxious PJ, who along with her highly insecure pal Josie (The Bear’s Ayo Edebiri), moon over the in-girls of their senior class.
So how does one survive high school with raging hormones and a complete lack of savoir faire? There’s also the threat of getting expelled after “hitting” Jeff with your auto which might cause the school to lose a long-pined-for football championship. That won’t help their cause.
How about starting a female fight club with the fraudulent premise that it’s a feminist venture? The principal sort of falls for the pitch.
What follows are bruised females with some clever banter, a “belle hooks” joke, plus a huge amount of dunderheadedness that these sort of comedies call for.
Can Bottoms become the huge hit Bros wants to be and that the lesbian-themed, Oscar-winning Everything Everywhere All at Once was? Having beaten EEAAO’s opening-week take and with a continued solid box-office, Bottoms won’t win any Oscars but the film just might prove to the powers that be that sapphic cinema is a money-making proposition.
(By the way, Bottoms received the “Good Housekeeping Seal of Same-Sex Comedy Approval” from Helen Eisenbach, the author of Lesbianism Made Easy. That’s good for a few more hundred thousand, no?)