To celebrate Pride month, we’ve put together a list of eight feel-good queer movies.
It can be quite a slog to uncover the gems in this relatively uncharted category. Those that are out there are not without problems, with sparse representation of people of colour, trans, and intersex characters across the board.
Things are getting better, and I swear that’s not just empty optimism – most of our picks were released in the last decade or so, which can only signal hope for the future.
As always, we’d love to hear your suggestions – just drop us a comment below!
1. The Kids Are All Right (2010)
“Bottom line is, marriage is hard. It’s really fuckin’ hard. Just… just two people slogging through the shit, year after year, getting older, changing. It’s a fucking marathon, okay?”
L.A. couple Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore), the mothers of two teenage children, have hit a rocky patch. Their fifteen-year-old son Laser wants to meet his sperm-donor father, and secretly convinces his older sister Joni to help track him down. The film explores the family’s struggle to adjust as the kids’ biological dad, the charming and free-wheeling Paul (Mark Ruffalo), becomes more and more involved in their lives.
Seeing two women face the trials and tribulations of raising a family together on-screen makes for a welcome change. Happily, Nic and Jules’ capabilities as parents are never for a moment up for debate. Rather the film strives to illuminate the vast complexities of marriage, parenting, and sexuality in general.
The film is open to its fair share of criticism: highly heteronormative in many ways, its core conflict is gleaned from placing a queer protagonist into a heterosexual dynamic. While it is a crying shame that one of the few high-profile films with a LGBTQ+ family at its heart ultimately bows to this trope, the plot is at least skilfully handled. If there’s one thing that The Kids Are All Right conveys, it is that nothing is black and white.
Overall, the film is warm, witty and feels real in many respects. With impressive performances all-round, The Kids Are All Right is a refreshing look at a non-conventional family which serves to remind us that no family is perfect, but at the end of the day, all right is good enough.
2. Imagine Me And You (2005)
One of the most famed and well-loved LGBTQ+ romantic comedies, what makes Imagine Me And You so appealing lies in its comforting familiarity.
Matching the tone and style of classic romcoms, Imagine Me And You addresses the romantic confusion felt by newlywed Rachel (Piper Perabo). Rachel loves her husband Heck, yet finds herself uncharacteristically drawn towards wedding florist Luce (Lena Headey).
The film avoids casting characters as one-dimensional villains to yield drama, and does not fall prey to stereotypical depictions of its LGBTQ+ protagonists. Although often clunky and distinctly formulaic, Imagine Me And You is sweet and easy to watch. It also adds a much-needed sliver of diversity to a category otherwise dominated by heteronormative Hugh Grant movies.
3. Handsome Devil (2016)
Two gay schoolboys form an unlikely friendship. It sounds like a classic cliché, but Handsome Devil manages to rise above formulas to yield a good-natured, offbeat Irish drama.
When reserved outcast Ned is allocated to a dorm with brawly rugby star Conor, he immediately brands his new roommate as yet another hyper-masculine, homophobic bigot. The reality, as always, is a tad more complicated.
Handsome Devil resists succumbing to tempting character stereotyping. Protagonist Ned is an unexpected enigma. Despite being a victim of bullying, he is not browbeaten, and he is unapologetic about supposedly being ‘different’, a trope with which the film enjoys playing.
One of the more moving aspects of Handsome Devil is the arc of Dan (Andrew Scott), an eccentric English teacher who is not out in his professional circle. Refreshingly, the movie explores the sexual identity of three characters in complete isolation from romantic relationships.
My main issue with Handsome Devil is its use of a character outing another as a plot device. Set in a privileged male boarding school in Dublin, women are also nowhere to be seen – but what Handsome Devil does represent is the diversity of queer characters that exist even within such a uniform environment. While often heavy handed in its delivery, the film proclaims ‘never use a borrowed voice’ – a message that definitely resonates in this day and age.
4. Shelter (2007)
Zach is a young man in flux. His deadbeat family leave him constantly responsible for his five-year-old nephew Cody, and he squanders his artistic talents flipping burgers at the local diner. Meanwhile, Zach’s on-off relationship with childhood sweetheart Tory fizzles.
When Shaun, the older brother of Zach’s best friend, returns to town for the summer, the two end up bonding over surfing and old times. The film is a coming-of-age tale about sexual discovery and the inner conflicts that go with.
Shelter tackles casual homophobia without being exploitative. Archetypal characters such as Zach’s laddish best friend Gabe and his disgruntled ex-girlfriend Tory avoid the trap of plot-driven bigotry, while Zach’s self-serving sister Jeanne uses feigned homophobia as a tool in her own manipulation.
Class is also cleverly explored in parallel with sexuality. For Zach, teased by Gabe for being ‘trailer trash’, restraining his own desires is a part of life, whether it be pursuing his art or embracing being gay. This creates discord between him and Shaun who, as a writer from a well-off family, doesn’t have the same understanding of sacrifice.
These subtleties make Shelter a joy to watch over and over again. Sweet, heartfelt, and set against the sunny backdrop of Californian beaches, this queer indie classic has the feel-good vibes down to an art.
Chosen by Ciannait
5. G.B.F. (2013)
If you’re tired of inevitably straight teen romcoms, where queer characters are sidelined or played for laughs, you will love G.B.F. (‘Gay Best Friend’). While Tanner and Brent, two closeted high school teens are testing a gay dating app, Tanner is accidentally outed to an entire class. Soon, he becomes the most coveted accessory of the three most popular girls in school, each of whom competes to make him her ‘GBF’.
By dealing with adolescence and high school through a gay protagonist, G.B.F takes a fresh and insightful look at typical American teen stereotypes, as well as stereotypes relating to gay people, with Tanner’s sexuality questioned on the basis that he isn’t very “fabulous” and doesn’t want to take part in the school musical.
Personally, I feel like this film, while not particularly well-known, is an instant classic. With the wit, charm and humour, of old favourites such as Mean Girls and Clueless, G.B.F brings something new to the table not only to the teen romantic comedy genre, but also to LGBTQ+ films, by allowing a gay teen to star in a fun, hilarious story of finding yourself, falling in love, and dealing with society’s expectations of you at a tender age, something which is not commonly found in LGBTQ+ cinema.
On top of that, the film takes care not to oversimplify other characters either, giving the apparently vacouous school queens distinct and interesting personalities. Most importantly, it reminds us that there should be no such thing as a “gay best friend”, just a best friend who happens to be gay.
If you’re looking for a (literally) off-the-beaten-track road trip film, look no further than The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. After receiving an invitation to perform their show on the other side of the country, two drag performers and their trans friend Bernadette set off across the outback, in a van affectionately named Priscilla.
On the way, they meet a variety of characters and inevitably encounter very different attitudes to their lifestyle and performance, not to mention breakdowns, both technical and personal. The film is glittered through with incredibly imaginative costumes and drag performances, making it truly memorable.
What I love about Priscilla is that it celebrates the importance of being true to yourself, even when it is difficult, and you find yourself judged and mocked for it. The protagonists have different personal obstacles to overcome: Tick is troubled by the impact that his identity might have on his relationship with family, while Bernadette is trying to establish herself as a woman, amidst whispers about her “real” name being Ralph. Ultimately, the film ends on a positive note, showing that this team of misfits can find people and places which make them feel happy in themselves.
Priscilla’s only, but unfortunately notable, failing is its portrayal of Cynthia, a caricatured Filipino woman with a brief appearance in the film, which is sadly both sexist and racist. This is, of course, something that must not be ignored, and all of a film’s problematic elements must be taken into consideration with its positives. In this light, the film is far from brilliant, but is arguably still a landmark piece of LGBTQ+ cinema.
7. Hurricane Bianca (2016)
Anybody who is familiar with (or has heard their friends rave about) Ru Paul’s Drag Race will be familiar with the unique Bianca Del Rio, who recently starred in her own film, Hurricane Bianca.
After being discovered as gay and fired from his job in a small-minded small town school in Texas, high school science teacher Richard Martinez decides to take the school back by storm by interviewing and being hired again as Bianca del Rio, his fabulous, overdressed drag persona. Bianca sets out to get revenge on the people who kicked her out of school, simultaneously showing the generally stereotypically conservative Texans that sexuality has no bearing on someone’s teaching abilities.
Notably, Hurricane Bianca is a film with a gay protagonist of Hispanic descent, adding diversity to queer cinema which rarely focuses on this minority. Additionally, while the film is hilarious, it also addresses the very serious fact that it is legal to fire someone on the basis of their sexuality in 29 US States. Del Rio does this in a clever way, exposing the inherent hypocrisy of the judgemental school staff by wowing them, dazzling the men with her charm and making the women envious.
It’s worth mentioning that Bianca Del Rio’s comedy style is at times quite offensive – she is a queen of insults. However, in a film so farcical, I feel that these problematic elements can be taken with a pinch of salt and the film can be enjoyed as the mad caper comedy it is.
8. Pride (2014)
One of the queer movies I love most, which has made me laugh and also moved me to tears within two hours, is Pride. Set during the Miners’ Strike of 1984 in the UK, it tells the true story of an LGBTQ+ community’s union with a small town of miners in Wales to protest against pit closures.
Told from the perspective of Joe, an insecure gay youth, the film follows the community’s activism, from the funding of LGSM (Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners), to the small town’s initial reluctance to except help from “the gays”, to the friendship that grows between the two communities and the work they eventually do to help each other out. In parallel, the film shows us the characters’ own experiences as members of the LGBTQ+ community and the personal issues they must deal with.
What really makes this film incredibly heart-warming is seeing two very different groups coming together and getting past their differences to unite against the oppression both are facing. Best of all, it’s based on true events!
Pride is an excellent portrayal of an incredibly important, and not particularly well-known, event in the history of the UK’s LGBTQ+ community. While the film, by nature of being based on truth, is bittersweet in many ways, it oozes humour and warmth, and is held together by its brilliant characters.
Chosen by Katarina