in 2018, queer films finally have happy endings
It’s taken too long for queer people to get their ‘Cinderella’ endings.
God's Own Country
Love, Simon could have easily gone for the sad ending. The title character sits on a ferris wheel in the final scene, praying his anonymous online crush, “Blue,” will reveal himself. For a moment, it genuinely feels like “Blue” is not going to show up and we will have to watch Simon experience rejection. That this will be yet another addition to the overinflated canon of queer heartbreak, joining films like Brokeback Mountain and My Own Private Idaho. “Yep, Simon is just like the rest of us,” you think. But then, just when all hope seems lost, “Blue” appears suddenly and hops into Simon’s passenger car. The two high school boys smile as the ride starts up and they rise to the peak of the ferris wheel. They kiss. The crowd cheers. The end.
A peculiar thing is catching on in queer pop culture: happy endings. I know, it may not sound like the most revolutionary thing — but it is. Because so rarely have queer men been allowed to have them. Traditionally, queer films like Call Me By Your Name, Weekend, and Moonlight have gone like this: boy meets boy, boys fall in love, something (AIDS, homophobia, girls, etc.) keeps boys from staying in love. Repeat. This formulaic approach to queer love can be insidious to the LGBTQ community and how straight people view us. It reinforces the idea that queerness is a costume men wear, a brief detour from the path towards a happy, long-lasting straight relationship. Or, an even more depressing view, that being queer and young means eternally hopping from relationship to relationship. Queer men are not alone in this callous treatment, either. Hollywood has a strange penchant for killing off its queer female characters. For so long, straight people got the Cinderella endings and we got the Romeo and Juliet heartbreak.
But not anymore. Francis Lee’s God’s Own Country (2017) is the most obvious example of how filmmakers are subverting the stale and tired tropes of queer romance. Lee masterfully uses the British drama’s rural setting of Yorkshire to influence what you think Johnny’s story will be. We assume Johnny is and will remain closeted, his parents will never accept his sexuality, and his fling with the migrant worker on his farm, Gheorghe, will turn into nothing more. None of those things prove to be true.
The most enthralling, formula-breaking scene in God’s Own Country comes when Johnny angrily and forcefully tells his stepmother what the future will be, the demands serving as a coming out. Johnny will take over the farm from his disabled father and run it with Gheorghe. As a couple. It’s an option we never consider for Johnny, much less expect him to go after and make a reality. In this moment, you realize God’s Own Country is not a coming out film. It’s a story about a wayward queer youth learning to care about something, better yet someone, for once and fight for the happy ending he wants. And Johnny gets it. Here, young queer viewers see you do not have to move to a metropolitan center like London or New York to get your happy ending. It can happen on a sheep farm.
Reality TV, the most unexpected of formats, has also joined in on depicting untainted queer joy. Netflix’s reboot of Queer Eye For The Straight Guy saw the camp makeover show receive its own kind of transformation. Returning simply as Queer Eye, the show has become more tender and uplifting, less focused on sassy one-liners and gay stereotypes. The cast of queer men — Antoni, Jonathan, Tan, Karamo, and Bobby — present us with a spectrum of what being an out-and-proud queer man can look like. They focus on life-coaching other men (of all sexualities) towards discovering what their best selves are. To help facilitate this, the men share how they found their own path to a happy now. Karamo discusses learning to navigate — and cherish — being a double minority, Tan boasts about his years-long marriage, and Antoni reflects on finding acceptance from his father. These are all men who have made it to the other side of the fence. Let’s say they are the cultured and stylish Elio twenty years after Call Me By Your Name.
Then there are the jubilantly queer pop songs artists have been delivering this year. Troye Sivan has made queer joy a focal point of his new punk-leaning era. The anthemic chorus of “My My My!” and the bubblegum lyrics of “Bloom” both focus on the ecstasy of a love gone right. It feels like a metaphorical happy ending, given that we literally watched Troye go from a young vlogger fearfully coming out to his YouTube fans to a pop singer power-strutting with Taylor Swift. There are no tears to be found in these new songs, which are a stark departure from his melancholic debut album Blue Neighbourhood. And thank God for that.
These images of undiluted happiness are crucial for queer men because they are so hard to imagine, much less achieve. Fleeting romances like the ones in Call Me By Your Name and Beach Rats hit close to home. As a 23-year-old queer male living in New York, I have had more than enough romances build me up for a couple of days or weeks and then knock me right back down. Sweet kisses turn to sour memories. The same is true for a lot of my queer friends. We sit around, cocktails in hand, and rant about not being able to lock a guy down, bemoaning Grindr and how it has “ruined” queer dating. These sassy, lipsy complaints thinly veil an incessant, beating concern in our heads: Am I going to be as happy as my straight friends when I get older?
There are so many options available to queer men when it comes to finding a happy ending for a night, a moment — cruising spots, clubs, apps — but so few for finding the guy you’d like to bring back home and introduce to your parents. Perhaps, from the outside looking in, this is why Hollywood screenwriters find it hard to imagine committed, long-lasting queer relationships. To them, a queer relationship means being two ships passing in the night.
This isn’t true, of course. In a post-marriage equality era, it’s important for young queer viewers to see two queer characters walking towards an “I do.” We want to see examples of what thriving queer relationships can look like, especially when considering so few of us grow up around them as kids.
Let us see what happens after Chiron from Moonlight accepts his sexuality and lays his head on the shoulder of his former lover. And capture Elio and Oliver reuniting after their passionate summer and properly dating. Show us what it looks like to be a queer man and have a romance go right. So we can more easily envision the same happening for ourselves.