romance

7 Films To Watch For Pride Month

By Andrea Thompson

Happy Pride Month! Since there's still a few days left to enjoy it, here are seven films that you should make time to watch.

Dracula's Daughter (1936)

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IMDB

This Golden Age Hollywood film is somewhat limited by its time, but it's also got quite a bit going for it. Countess Marya Zaleska (film goddess Gloria Holden) should be more well-known as not just one of the great female villains, but just a great villain in general. She could even easily be anti-heroine, as we meet her far before our hero and his love interest, who aren't nearly as interesting. What makes Zaleska so tragic is that what she truly wants is a normal life. She believes Dracula's death has freed her, only to discover she still craves blood and death. She is a great danger to both men and women, and lesbian undertones are quite clear, given her ultimate temptation is the sight of a young woman's bare throat. So Hollywood's first reluctant vampire was a complex female character, whose was equally regal, beautiful, and terrifying.

Desert Hearts (1985)

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IMDB

First off, that dynamite outfit on Cay Rivvers (Patricia Charbonneau). Cay doesn't exactly arrive on-screen, she bursts onto it, laughing as she recklessly drives backward, wind in her hair. The prim and proper Vivian (Helen Shaver), who has just come to a Nevada ranch for some peace and quiet after filing for divorce, is fascinated by her, and only gets more so. Their mutual attraction practically sets the screen on fire every time they meet, and their love scene together is both tender and sensual without coming off as objectifying. The love story is also blissfully free of any love triangle, and the sweetly optimistic ending was a rarity for LGBTQ films at the time.

The Watermelon Woman (1996)

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IMDB

“The Watermelon Woman” isn't just a criminally underappreciated classic, it's a 90s time capsule, a time which saw a resurgence in Black cinema. Director and writer Cheryl Dunye plays a fictionalized version of herself who's also named Cheryl, a Black lesbian who works in a video store (ah, nostalgia) in Philadelphia with her best friend Tamara (Valarie Walker). Cheryl soon becomes obsessed with a Black actress who played a series of mammy type roles in the 30s. It's a meta narrative that's also socially conscious, as Dunye creates her own history in order for the fictional Cheryl to confront the lack of resources devoted to Black women on-screen, just as she's dealing with a fallout with her best friend Tamara after she starts dating a white woman. It's groundbreaking, fascinating watch on its own merits, not just because “The Watermelon Woman” is the first feature film directed by a Black lesbian.

Imagine Me & You (2005)

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IMDB

In many ways, “Imagine Me & You” is just another rom-com. The difference? It revolves around two women. Also, it stars Lena Headey. Yes, Queen Cersei. And she's fantastic as Luce, who shares an intense chemistry with Rachel (Piper Perabo) from the moment they lock eyes...on Rachel's wedding day to Heck (Matthew Goode, yes this movie also has Matthew Goode). Even if the poster makes it seem as though this relationship blossomed behind the back of not just one, but two men, Luce is very aware and comfortable about her preference for women. It's Rachel who is initially very sure of who she is, then begins to question her sexuality after she meets Luce. Their love story is sweet and tender as it grows in spite of Rachel's conflict over her kind and decent husband Heck, who senses the change in his wife but is unable to discern the cause. Even if the the movie keeps things light, it also delves into the prejudices and disapproval Luce still has to face simply being who she is, and Heady and Perabo have the kind of chemistry that makes rom-coms soar.

Pariah (2011)

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IMDB

“Pariah” doesn't sugarcoat just how rocky coming-of-age can be for LGBTQ youth in an environment that wants them to be anything but. For her feature film debut, Dee Rees pulls few punches in just how much 17-year-old Alike (Adepero Oduye) must overcome despite of her status as a gifted student and writer who lives in Brooklyn, which is often depicted as a liberal haven. Alike is very certain of her lesbian identity, but her conservative parents prefer denial and conformity. Alike's mother is especially invested in her daughter conforming to a more conventional femininity, buying her pink clothes Alike clearly isn't comfortable in, and displaying open hostility towards her supportive and out friend Laura (Pernell Walker). For a time, Alike thinks she's found comfort and love with Bina (Aasha Davis), only to experience her first heartbreak as she learns just how invested Bina is in denying not only her own truth, but their shared one. Even if Alike emerges firmly committed to breaking free of the forces that constrict her, those forces still ensure her freedom has a price.

The Handmaiden (2016)

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“The Handmaiden” is one of the most unusual on-screen love stories. The plot seems simple enough at first. In Japanese-occupied Korea, a Korean pickpocket named Sook-Hee (Tae-ri Kim) is hired to serve as a handmaiden to the supposedly naive and innocent Japanese heiress Lady Hideko (Min-hee Kim) in order to assist a conman in robbing Hideko of her inheritance. What seems like a straight path (pun intended) soon proves to be more of a maze, as Sook-Hee begins to develop feelings for Hideko, who is also more complicated than she appears. Unlike other films that claim to be erotic, “The Handmaiden” actually lives up to the genre, giving us a thriller that is equal parts suspenseful, stylish, and yes, sexy.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)

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IMDB

Unlike the other heroines, or even the other anti-heroine, on this list, author Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) isn't even trying to be good. It's understandable though, since other priorities like survival take precedence. In 1991 New York Lee is deeply out of step with the times. She not only a female writer, she's an older woman who's also a lesbian, and not interested in making nice with entitled, successful male authors. To make some extra cash, she decides to forge letters from deceased authors, and before long is actually able to find quite a bit of success. McCarthy manages to make Lee not only sympathetic but lovable without softening her or making excuses, taking us gleefully along for the ride as Lee cons the industry that has shut her out.

52 Films By Women: Set It Up

By Andrea Thompson

I had high hopes for the Netflix film “Set It Up,” which looked like a delightful romantic comedy that was just as invested in the heroine's career as it was in her love life, which of course she and her requisite male lead insisted on complicating. Instead, it's an example of how women can also get invested in sexism if it gives them a kind status that can result from buying into it. After all, when you are able to gain quite a bit of social cache by following the rules, you're less likely to advocate for those rules to be broken.

Rom-coms are tricky anyways. They depend more on conventions than other genres, which means there's little chance for suprises. They also obviously depend on romance, and that said romance will run into some obstacles before the two leads realize what everyone – from the people around them to any audience who happens to be watching – around them already knows. They are meant to be together!

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IMDB

Forestalling such an obvious truth is tricky, and that's why so many rom-coms buy into pernicious stereotypes, not only about love, but about gender and the so-called differences between them. It's a lazy way to create conflict when there's a very real danger of not there not being enough of it. “Set It Up” doesn't so much buy into traditional mores as the new ones which sprung up from the old, and are about as damaging. The fact that it's written and directed by women adds insult to injury.

First, the premise. It's actually an interesting one, as Harper (Zoey Deutch) and Charlie (Glen Powell) are long-suffering, overworked assistants to demanding, workaholic bosses. It's strongly indicated that Charlie's boss Rick (Taye Diggs) is a venture capitalist, but it's not made quite clear aside from the fact that Rick's job involves a whole lot of money. Harper's boss Kirsten (Lucy Liu) is the formidable head of a sports journalism site that Harper longs to be published on.

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IMDB

Harper and Charlie work in the same building and are at work before everyone , which is how they happen to meet, and Charlie quickly establishes his jerk bonafides. Harper is just barely able to persuade him to split the food that she ordered, but Charlie is quick to take for his own boss since Harper doesn't have the cash required. After Harper and Charlie meet up again and swap horror stories, as well as their complete lack of personal lives, they start to consider how their jobs would get a lot less demanding if their bosses Rick and Kirsten were seeing each other. And since Harper and Charlie control their schedules and nearly everything else in their lives, they can actually arrange this.

So Harper and Charlie decide to do just that. They get Kirsten and Rick trapped in an elevator together, only for that to go hilariously awry when a claustrophic deliverman gets trapped in there with them. Their second meeting, where Harper and Charlie arrange for them to sit together at a baseball game, goes much better, and Kirsten and Rick actually start dating, freeing up their assistants' time.

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IMDB

It's when this relationship starts that “Set It Up” gets problematic. Or rather, its leads prove to be as shallow as much of the corporate world the movie tries to criticize. Much of Kirsten's personality, time, and workaholic tendencies are assumed to revolve around the fact that she's not only a single woman of a certain age, but a woman sans children. Kirsten mentions that a lot of men proposed to her in her 20s, as if male attention suddenly dries up when you hit 30. Near the end of the film, she tells Harper, “Men don't want to date you when you're beating you to a story. But I've met someone who wants me to be strong, and he likes that I'm successful. I mean, he's a goddamn unicorn!” In the world of “Set It Up,” men who date women their own age aren't just rare, those who are attracted to women with power are apparently almost nonexistent.

Needless to say, Rick's behavior doesn't need to be similarly explained. He's barely humanized at all, and the moie seems just fine with this. While dressing down Charlie, Harper even says that he can be better, and that Rick can't help being an asshole. Really? Rick doesn't have the capacity to be a better person, or even the free will to do so? It's a rather disturbing justification of male behavior.

IMDB

IMDB

At least the movie knows where to draw the line. Harper and Charlie may be desperate enough to arrange for Kirsten to have a bikini wax once they learn that Rick is completely turned off by hair, but at least Harper isn't willing to hide Rick's plan to continually cheat on Kirsten with his ex-wife, even after he decides to marry Kirsten. Shockingly, Charlie is at first willing to in order to gain a promotion, and thus financial security from Rick, but his eventual decision to run to the airport to break up a romance is at least a nice twist on rom-com conventions.

Then again, Harper and Charlie don't seem much worth investing in either. Charlie is continually a jerk to her, and has a habit of, among other things, hanging up on her when they're in the middle of a conversation. Harper also comes off as little more than a Cool Girl cliché. She's into sports in a way only unrealistic female characters are: when it's convenient. And of course, she totally goes crazy on unhealthy snacks when she's sitting in the apartment by herself while somehow maintaining Hollywood beauty standards, even when she's at her lowest.

IMDB

IMDB

At least “Set It Up” places a lot of emphasis on Harper's career and her complicated relationship with Kirsten, deeply humanizing her boss by the end. But the movie's attempts at female empowerment ring rather hollow when it invests so much time into many of the beliefs that hold women back. Then there's the topic that goes completely unadressed: race. Their bosses are both minorities who worked their way up in corporate environments that still openly favor white men. The movie does dip a toe into how draining capitalism can be for those on the lower rungs, but it doesn't even approach as to how race might play a factor into Rick and Kirsten's personas and just how isolated they are. Rom-coms have come a long way recently, but “Set It Up” shouldn't be praised when other films have taken the genre much further.

Romance, Homogenized: Crazy Rich Asians And Cutlure in Rom-Coms

By Arrisa Robinson

As I reflect on “Crazy Rich Asians,” (which is FINALLY out in theaters), I can only think of the vast differences between family dynamics in this film versus what we typically see in most romantic comedies. But as I begin thinking more and more about these differences, it occurred to me: does race have that much of an impact on the type of families represented in these films?

Well let’s look into it! For starters, I sat down and binged-watched a bunch of rom-coms on Netflix, starting with “13 Going On 30.” Main character Jenna Rink (Jennifer Garner) had a small family that consisted of a mom, a dad, and herself. Then I moved on to “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.” Andie Anderson (Kate Hudson) and Ben Berry (Matthew McConaughey) both came from small households. Andie’s family was barely mentioned, but Ben’s family was made up of a mom, dad, uncle, brother, sister-in-laws, and a couple nieces and nephews. They were standardly nuclear for the most part.

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But then I pulled up some of my favorite rom-coms, which consisted of casts who were primarily non-white. I saw mom, dad, sisters, brothers, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, every unnecessary in-law, exes, frenemies, and everything in between. The predominantly black cast of “Guess Who” includes extended family members and friends. Even in “Our Family Wedding,” which features an extensive black and Latino cast, the various players combine to create one gigantic, chaotic family by the end.

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But an even bigger epiphany came to mind: where’s the culture? This doesn’t even go for films that involve people of color. As I thought about what these movies had in common, I recognized this lack of culture in a lot of big romantic comedies. Sure, we as Americans have a certain stigma about ourselves but-sorry, not sorry-we’re more than that. We’re comprised of Africans, Chinese, Indians, Irish, Indonesians, Greeks, Pakistanis, Australians and so many more! And they all have their specific values and traditions. Even in films such as “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” or “Polish Wedding,” their family units stand out because of what is culturally acceptable and what we all have in common. It's customary to have an overbearing mother or aunt who cares about who’s marrying who, a host of cousins who intrude on every aspect of your life, or that one aunt and uncle who take their nieces or nephews under their wing like they were their own.

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Ultimately, I realized that Hollywood didn’t fail at having more families in its romantic comedies. What Hollywood has failed to do was have more culture. Americans are composed of a staggering amount of races and ethnicities, and it ought to be fair to represent them rather than homogenize them on the big screen. So seeing a film out like “Crazy Rich Asians” openly express how Asian-American culture is represented makes a hell of a difference in Hollywood and in our society. There hasn’t been a primarily Asian cast in theaters since 1993’s “The Joy Luck Club” 25 years ago. So if you were wondering why everyone is emphasizing why representation matters, just remember...25 years. That’s why.

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Sure, romantic comedies are supposed to be light and cheery, and by all means, they should continue to be. But here in the great US of A, white people are not the only people in this country. America consists of different shades, cultures, traditions, and values, and they should all be represented and accounted for. Making it to Hollywood is one thing, but Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Awkwafina, America Ferrera, Lance Gross, Zoe Saldana, Lena Olin, and Nia Vardalos all represent the diversity that make America America. Hollywood embracing that is just another step towards getting acquainted with our neighbors, and we have plenty of them. I hope to see more films with more people of color, races, ethnicities, sexualities and genders coming to theaters soon. Because it definitely matters.