The Gay ‘90s

Four romantic comedies that are bursting with rainbows

Each of these films focus on queers in a way where sexuality isn’t just a plot point.
Photo: Taelar Pollmann • The Sentry

When a homosexual couple or any member of the LGBTQ+ community sits down to watch a movie that reflects themselves, they must wade through a sea of tragic stories to find something lighthearted.  Much of this community’s past includes pain and tragedy, so it’s unsurprising that these are the stories that are told.  Even so, it would be nice to see a big budget romantic comedy that is centered on a pair of queers where neither of them is shoved back into the closet.  That is the flip side to the tragic story of a gay person dying: the story of a gay person conforming to the heterosexual narrative to please a family member or spouse.

Despite the various issues and glaring lack of honest and healthy representation of LGBTQ+ people, there are still some delightful movies that have the rainbow seal of approval.  First on the list is the 1991 classic Fried Green Tomatoes.  It never comes right out to directly say it, but the subtle gay relationship between Idgie Threadgoode (Nancy Moore Atchison) and Ruth Jamison (Mary-Louise Parker) is so genuine and real.  It is so infectious that anyone who watches it will end up making fried green tomatoes as they pat the tears from their face.

This is a two-for-one type movie, as in two stories wrapped inside one movie.  The main storyline follows Evelyn Couch (Kathy Bates) who meets Ninny Threadgoode (Jessica Tandy) through the nursing home Evelyn’s mother-in-law is staying at.  They quickly develop a friendship built on Ninny sharing stories of the eccentric people she grew up around during the Great Depression of the 1930s.  Idgie and Ruth’s quiet love story is shared through segments interweaved with Evelyn’s personal growth as a woman and realization that a wife’s needs are as equal as a husband’s in a marriage.  This is a story that not only gives lesbians beautiful silver screen representation but also champions the independence of women in general, no matter their sexuality.  It is a timeless movie that captures the human experience with a grace that is not often seen in films anymore.

The second of the bunch is The Birdcage from 1996.  The story taps into the lives of Armand (Robin Williams) and Albert (Nathan Lane) Goldman who are two openly gay men living in South Beach, Florida.  Armand is the owner of the nightclub; The Birdcage, and his partner Albert is the star drag queen who performs there.  Armand’s son, Val Goldman (Dan Futterman) shows up and requests that his father play it straight for a night in order to win the approval of his girlfriend, Barbara Keeley’s (Calista Flockhart) parents, Kevin (Gene Hackman) and Louise (Dianne Wiest) Keeley.  Her father happens to be an extreme right-wing Republican Senator who would never allow his daughter to marry the son of two out and proud gay men.

This movie should be required viewing for every member of the LGBTQ+ community, even though it does suffer from one of the afore mentioned issues because Armand does sort of go along with the whole heterosexual charade to appease his son.  However, it is used within the story with intent and is not a crutch for poor writing.  There is a whole speech about not being authentic to thyself, and as the events play out it is clear their scheme to make two very gay men appear straight was never going to work.  When the credits start rolling, the message is overall wholesome and optimistic that people can change their views.

The third flick in this quartet marathon is 1997’s In & Out.  This movie focuses on Howard Brackett (Kevin Kline), a high school English teacher who appears to have a classic small town life.  He is engaged to Emily Montgomery (Joan Cusack) and the whole town is looking forward to their wedding that is post Oscars.  This is a key fact because a former student, Cameron Drake (Matt Dillon) outs Howard as a gay man to both Howard and the world during his acceptance speech for Best Actor, that he won for playing a homosexual soldier.  The core of the story follows Howard’s self-discovery after this bombshell of a suggestion.  Not to give any more spoilers away, but the 12-second kiss between Howard and Peter Malloy (Tom Selleck), a low-level news reporter covering Howard’s story, was a big milestone for the community at that time.  This movie out of the four has one of the most moving scenes in all of LGBTQ+ cinema.  The level of acceptance pours out of the television and embraces anyone who needs acceptance for being themselves.

The last movie is a wild card as it is not from the ‘90s, and to have a bit of fun will remain nameless, per the spirit of the film. Don’t worry the title is easy to guess with the right (fill in the blank).

This movie is not centered on a romantic relationship like the other three films. It is a dinner party with a parade of colorful guests, and depending on which ending is being shown there is even a gay character.  Despite not being considered a total LGBTQ+ film, it is beloved by many in the community due to its overall campy tone, the fantastic cast that includes Tim Curry and a costar line up that created pure comedic genius for the entire hour and a half runtime of the film. 

Maybe with the proper Clue this film can be discerned… 

The community needs modern films that follow the same representation style as those of the past that focus on the LGBTQ+ identifying people in a way that is productive instead of a plot point or character trait.  Healthy and wholesome representation in cinema should be available in large quantities to all people no matter their sexual orientation, and until modern Hollywood steps up, there are these gems from the 1990s to bring the community joy.

This is a selection from the April 7 issue. To view the full issue, visit: https://online.flippingbook.com/view/989376735/

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