Still from 'My Own Private Idaho'

7 sexy queer road trip movies to watch this summer

From 'My Own Private Idaho' to 'The Daughters of Fire', road movies have become on-screen queer utopias. Here are all the best ones to watch.

by Gabriela Almeida
08 July 2021, 6:45am

Still from 'My Own Private Idaho'

While the road movie has been around since the 1930s with Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night, it wasn’t until the 1960s, when Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper set off in their trek across America in Easy Rider, that the countercultural possibilities of the road truly manifested for filmmakers. Since then, the road has offered itself to movie-goers as a utopic space of freedom, reinvention and rebellion against social norms — a place for outcasts, where the boundaries of society can be tested and transgressed. Until recently, road trip movies have remained a primarily white, cis, heterosexual male escapist fantasy, but independent, queer and women filmmakers in the 90s ushered in a new era for the genre — making it a vehicle for the representation of those usually left out of the equation.

Though even today there’s still much work to be done when it comes to casting queer folks to tell queer stories on screen, movements like the New Queer Cinema during the AIDS crisis took popular narrative conventions and made them, well, queer. From a rejection of the traditional family to interrogations of masculinity, the markers of the road movie lent themselves to the dissemination of these non-dominant narratives. On the road, queer people could escape the structures that oppressed them back home, allowing them to be whoever they wanted to be.

Of course, queer road movies are not a monolith; some, like Gregg Araki’s The Doom Generation and The Living End, eschew heteronormative family structures or values, while in others, characters want to be part of the norm. Whatever the case, every queer road movie contributes something distinctive to the ever-evolving genre.

Here, we round up the best queer road trip movies to stream this summer.

1. Messidor (1979)

European road movies find their antecedents in films like Jean-Luc Godard’s Weekend, but what makes Messidor so rare and ahead of its time is that it centres two queer young women. Largely forgotten, Alain Tanner’s 1979 film bears a striking resemblance to Thelma & Louise, but it remains a bitter, pessimistic and much queerer sibling. The movie follows two young women traveling the roads of the Swiss countryside, where the girls’ dreams of freedom are shattered by the force of the social norms and restrictions they hope to escape.

2. My Own Private Idaho (1991)

One of the things that distinguishes the road films of the New Queer Cinema is their rejection of happy endings, both as a Hollywood convention and an endorsement of “positive” but shallow queer representation. Gus Van Sant’s 1991 My Own Private Idaho is one such film. Fragmented in structure, it follows two hustlers, Mikey (River Phoenix) and Scott (Keanu Reeves) through the streets of Portland in Mikey’s perpetual search for his mother. Delicate and brooding, the movie’s soul and status as a queer — and cult! — classic rests on River’s impassioned campfire confession and his character’s unrequited longing.

3. The Living End (1992)

Few are the queer road films that speak directly to queer audiences, but that’s precisely what Gregg Araki does with The Living End. The movie follows two frenzied HIV-positive lovers, a reserved film critic and a passionate hustler, across the roads of America after one of them kills a homophobic cop. As a road movie, it negotiates audience’s expectations about the genre and the disease — and inevitable death — by proposing something else entirely: the enduring and transformative power of queer desire.

4. To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything! Julie Newmar (1995)

As one of the first mass-marketed drag movies, the 1995 fairytale-like To Wong Foo attracted its reluctant and majority straight audience with three very famous, very straight actors at its helm: Patrick Swayze, Wesley Snipes and John Leguizamo. They each play established New York City drag queens and though the film is lacking in true representation, it distinguishes itself as one of the few queer road films to tackle race and sexuality in the 90s. The breezy comedy follows the three queens on their way to a pageant in Los Angeles and through the small town they shake up along the way.

5. Happy Together (1997)

Whether Wong Kar-wai’s Happy Together is a road film is debatable, but the movie’s tendency to toy with the American conception of the road as freedom is undeniable. In the film, Ho (Leslie Cheung) and Lai (Tony Leung) embark on a journey to the Iguazu Falls in Buenos Aires, but their relationship quickly turns bitter. Rather than channeling the road as a purifying space that can strip away troubles, the road trip within Happy Together is volatile. As the promise of freedom clashes with the characters’ baggage, what they aim to escape is inevitably brought with them on their journey.

6. Y Tu Mamá También (2001)

In Alfonso Cuarón’s return to Mexico, he remodelled the American road movie to explore a different side of Mexico’s politics and culture. The hit road comedy follows a pair of horny teenagers, Julio (Gael García Bernal) and Tenoch (Diego Luna), and a woman (Maribel Verdú) they’re both attracted to across Mexico’s roads and on their way to a faraway beach. Although the film’s queerness remains in the subtext save for one scene, Y Tu Mamá También offers a valuable investigation into masculinity and sexuality within Latin American cultures.

7. The Daughters of Fire (2018)

Albertina Carri’s The Daughters of the Fire filters the road movie’s signature longing search for a great big something through radical lesbian eroticism. In a stolen car, a group of women eager to escape the confines of heteropatriarchal structures meet by chance in Patagonia, Argentina and set out to visit a family home. The film is a trip in every sense of the word, veering from reality to fantasy and from narrative to pornography. Deliberately abstract, it subverts the road film’s desire for a destination and takes the endless road somewhere.

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