Being queer is exhausting in a world which constantly villainizes it in various ways possible. It is a life of pride, but a difficult one. Sometimes one requires respite, to just unwind and unapologetically be themselves, not having to justify their identity or fight for the right to exist. When your entertainment is also focused on the stories of loss and tragedies, it becomes especially difficult to just escape the harsh realities for a while. So, here’s a list of ten films where tragedy doesn’t befall our gay protagonists when the film ends.
‘Crush’ (2022) dir. Sammi Cohen
Crush is a coming-of-age romcom with a love triangle where the characters go through usual high school drama but everything light-heartedly ends without any tragedy. The plot twist? The central characters in the triangle are all queer. The Latinx representation and the queer representation both feel genuine with inside jokes and cultural references playing a role in shaping the humour. It isn’t the best script per se, but as a sweet romance, it’s the perfect cute and funny break from queer tragedy. My favourite aspect of the story is that most of the characters are queer and none of their stories or struggles revolve around reconciling their queerness.
‘Saving Face’ (2002) dir. Alice Wu
A quintessential romcom scene shows a person hurriedly hailing a cab and then running through the airport to catch up to their love interest and confess their feelings before said love interest boards their flight. In 2002, Alice Wu gifted the world the Asian lesbian equivalent of this quintessential scene, and it feels just as glorious as it sounds! Not only is Saving Grace a lesbian romcom, it has a beautiful exploration of generational gaps and generational trauma. Sure to make you cry, but also provide you catharsis, it is a must watch for queer film aficionados.
‘But I’m a Cheerleader’ (1999) dir. Jamie Babbit
The funniest film on this list for me, But I’m a Cheerleader is a comedy that parodies the culture of gay conversion therapy. Even if it presents a sobering reality, the film is light-hearted and funny. It also happens to end on a very positive note. So, as a source of queer joy, it’s top-notch. It presents the hypocrisy in the mindset of those who believe in conversion therapy, and feels like a hug in the times of crisis. Natasha Lyonne is phenomenal as the lead and the film’s flamboyance makes it feel like a safe space to me.
‘Bound’ (1996) dir. Lilly Wachwoski and Lana Wachowski
Directed by the Wachowski sisters pre-transition, Bound is a feminist pro-queer thriller. It tells the story of two women in a Sapphic relationship who plan to rob the mafia and run away to live a life away from controlling men. There’s a story that the studios were unwilling to fund the film unless the writers made one of the two a man, but the Wachowskis were adamant, claiming that such a film had been made a million times already. Bound is a part of queer history and a major triumph for the LGBTQIA+ film community.
‘Desert Hearts’ (1985) dir. Donna Deitch
Featuring what is possibly the first lesbian sex scene directed by a woman, Desert Hearts is unapologetic in its queerness despite being made in the 80’s. The best thing about this film is that it was made almost forty years ago, and yet it’s committed to making its queer characters happy. The story of a literature professor escaping to another town to deal with a breakup and falling in love isn’t unconventional either, so the film boldly makes the claim that gay people deserve to have the same stories cishet people fall in love with and find solace in!
‘D.E.B.S.’ (2004) dir. Angela Robinson
An academy of teenage spies who fight crime make for the most light-hearted film on this list. An unexpected Sapphic romance and a supportive group of characters make D.E.B.S. a cute coming-of-age lesbian romance on top of being a fun spy thriller. The Sapphic characters themselves struggle with allegiances, but not with their sexuality. The fact that they’re lesbian is very naturally accepted within the film and it’s relieving to watch a film of this genre so openly feature a lesbian relationship as its central couple! Robinson’s film is quintessential queer joy.
‘Fire Island’ (2022) dir. Andrew Ahn
Have you ever wished for Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice to be gay? If you have, Andrew Ahn’s Fire Island was made for you! Even if you haven’t, it’s very much a must-watch as a gay romcom with emotional twists, unapologetic queerness, and quite an explicit expression of sexuality. There’s no cishet character in the entire film and it feels like a chunk of queer heaven secluded from the rest of the World’s filmography, carefully conserved between rainbows for when you need to watch gay men be as gay as they want to be.
‘Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan’ (2022) dir. Hitesh Kewalya
Raucous laughter accompanies any screening of Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan thanks to its witty screenplay. With brilliant one-liner comedy that one can only associate with the niche of camp cinema, it is a hilarious adventure about a gay couple. One of them is out but has been cut off from their parents and the other has been outed and is trying to still maintain a relationship with his homophobic parents. His father even renames him in the name of removing his son’s gayness. But the film is lighthearted in its treatment, without being dismissive of the gay trauma it’s depicting and eventually is a queer joy story. I believe it will go down in Bollywood history as a gay comedy classic.
‘Kajillionaire’ (2020) dir. Miranda July
If “be gay, do crime” was an uncomfortable story, it’d be Kajillionaire. The film tells the story of a very awkward and clearly closeted Old Dolio meet another woman and slowly begin to understand herself, while trying to move away from her manipulative parents who use her for their criminal lifestyle. It ends with a kiss and even though the drama often feels like a harrowing experience, it is eventually a very tender and emotional journey that the protagonist goes on, so I’d definitely say it presents the viewer with queer joy.
‘Maja Ma’ (2022) dir. Anand Tiwari
Like many other Bollywood films, Maja Ma has too many subplots apart from the central lesbian story. They do distract from the main narrative, but eventually, the story is a triumph for queer people, especially of the previous generation who even if they grew up queer, neither had a World they could live fearlessly as themselves, nor had the awareness that today’s youth does. The protagonist is a housewife who hides her actual identity. The film explores the various consequences of her getting outed as queer by accident. Despite its flaws, Maja Ma feels authentic and that’s its saving grace.
There’s glory in being gay, and while it’s necessary that stories about pain and loss be told because they’re authentic narratives, it is also equally necessary to both celebrate the triumphs and create spaces for unapologetic expression. Films bubbling with queer joy are often our only source of solace and I hope to see more of them getting made in the future.