Big Gay Releases (with straight actors)

Two upcoming films about gay couples feature big name celebrities. Is mainstream film becoming more queer-friendly or are the white, mostly monogamous characters and the straight actors that play them anything but revolutionary?

I Love You Phillip Morris stars Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor. The law finally catches up with Carrey's con-man character Steven, and he meets McGregor (he's the beloved Phillip Morris) while serving time.

Overall, the film seems to be more about Steve's heists and cons (with an unsurprising amount of physical comedy) than a love story à la Brokeback. The film's exploits are dark and zany not because they involve a gay couple, but because the exploits are actually dark and zany. Like The Informant, it's a zesty take of a bizarre true story of a desperate man. That is, according to the trailer on the film's website.

But is the trailer marketing a different film? Its gay plotline, and a sex scene in particular, has been rumored to be the cause of the film's continually delayed release. Although it met warm reviews at Sundance in 2009, even as of last week there reports of the film's release suspeneded "indefinitely" (it now looks like it will be released July 30th). How much is glossed over in the new trailer? Was the postponement due to studio or financial reasons? Or as Gawker continually speculated, because American wasn't ready to watch Ace Ventura go gay?

Worries: That Steven's illegal escapades are somehow tied into his sexuality; that there will be jokes where the gay men don't deliver the punchlines, but are the punchlines.
Hopes: That the sex scene really is too racy for America! It's only fair after Bruno and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry.

The Kids Are All Right features two more straight actors, Julianne Moore and Annette Bening, as a lesbian couple whose teenage kids look up their sperm donor dad (Mark Ruffalo), who turns out to be more playboy than father figure. Antics ensue, including the kids rebelling by doing mildly dangerous things with their new found DNA-provider, and Moore's character locking lips at least once with the Ruffalo's, with a big round of hugs at the end, all to the tune of Vampire Weekend.

At AfterEllen, Dorothy Snarker says she isn't keen on the "'lesbian has an affair with a man'-storyline, [but] I'll stomach it because of Cholodenko's track record. In movies like High Art and Laurel Canyon she has painted complex (if not always happy) portraits of relationships and sexual ambiguities."

Worries: played-out stereotypes such as daughter's "Mom I'm eighteen years old!" and Ruffalo's tired clueless dad character (seriously, Robin Williams filled the quota for this year ten times over with Old Dogs)
Hopes: That this well-to-do, two-parent, white family goes beyond the recognizable cliches of family comedies to prove that they are actually "unconventional."

Are my worries unfounded? My hopes unrealistic? Are you going to watch these movies? Readers, weigh in!

by Kjerstin Johnson
View profile »

Kjerstin Johnson is a writer and editor in Portland, Oregon. She is the former editor in chief of Bitch. She tweets at @kajerstin

Still Reading? Sign up for our Weekly Reader!

12 Comments Have Been Posted

laws of nature

I think there may be some kind of natural law that dictates a gay character cannot be played by a gay performer. It may be a bit like crossing the streams. Otherwise surely there would have been ONE GAY ACTOR cast in Milk SOMEWHERE, wouldn't there?

It's marketing, I think. You can't really put out a press release about how courageous it is of your star to pretend to be gay if he or she really is. Then it's just gross.

Same with being fat or conventionally ugly. You gotta use prosthetics and shit so we don't accidentally celebrate anything legitimately other. I'm surprised we let women play women, this is on some shakespeare shit.


That is all.

Carry on.

I definitely agree. It's

I definitely agree. It's also interesting to look at things from the other side of the fence as well. I mean, look at Neil Patrick Harris who is openly gay, yet has played heterosexual roles in movies in television.

Society has made it so we have to pretend to be something we're not. I know that's kind of the point of acting, but why does Hollywood have to recruit misrepresentations or stereotypical characters, rather than the real thing? It's sick. Simply put.

What They Want

I think you hit on a note with hoping that both of these will surpass the predictable story lines and/or stereotypes that we could expect in these films, but beyond that, that they will surpass a portrayal of queer or sexually unconventional characters that aren't just "the white privilege" version. Who knows if those hopes are unrealistic, but until films of this nature/stature are boldly made and displayed without playing into the "how White America wants to see 'gay' so they will pay for this film - screw everyone else," your worries are founded indeed.

I love Annette Bening AND Julianne Moore though, so I'll have to check it out. =)

One concern

Just like any queer movies, mainstream or indie, I'll read the reviews before deciding whether to see them to make sure they are A) good and B) not offensive. I think it's a good sign that there are queer films, however rarely, which get wide release and big names, because it reinforces that gayness is not always some uncommon, distant countercultural force. (This is not to say that there don't need to be more movies around nonmonogamous or less-than-wealthy same-sex couples; there obviously does, and we are starved for representation amongst all walks of life.)
Something that irks me about some conversations around queer media is the assumption that everyone is completely straight. We don't *know* the sexual practices and desires of these actors! Maybe you can name a few public opposite-sex partners or past partners of this or that figure, but even if they were actually involved with those people, who knows what relationships aren't in the spotlight? I don't think discounting movies based on the performers' perceived sexuality is helpful. Call it The L Word Effect: declaring everyone straight now can just make critics look silly and heterocentrically-minded later, because odds are good that they're wrong.

good point

on the assuming of actor's sexualities. But I guess, and this is especially true of these larger stars, that really all we have to go off of is the public personas they put out there, ie, Jim Carrey saying in interviews "You just set aside your own sexual proclivities" in response to the inevitable "What was it like kissing your same-sex co-star" that always come with these movies, or Julianne Moore's public role as a wife and mother. But if I am proved wrong later, I'll eat my heterocentrically-minded words.

Well if they're *really*

Well if they're *really* queer and just pretending to be straight to make money and appropriating queer culture in the process, then I have no sympathy for them, honestly.

I don't think...

TheBadassMuppet is saying they're queers pretending to be straight. S/he is saying the media makes the assumption of an actor's heterosexuality (which may or may not be the case) and that assumption, therefore, gives audiences the impression that the actor is straight.

Call me naive or hopelessly

Call me naive or hopelessly optimistic, but I think movies like this are a good sign. As long as they don't end up being horribly offensive, which I'm obviously hoping they won't. Don't get me wrong, I'd rather have less mainstreamed queer movies, and I'd rather audiences didn't need to be eased into watching queer movies, but if this is how we pave the way for more radical fair, I'm glad it's happening.
Of course, I'm also just looking forward to that sex scene.

Two Thoughts

Given that there is a assumption that queer families are unconventional (which can be rooted in homophobia), some queers may find films that reinforce the idea that queer families are just like hetero ones a positive development from Hollywood. Personally, I prefer films that validate unconventional relationships (the lesbian affair w/ a man, for example, could be a really interesting if it pushes the idea of sexual fluidity despite orientations), but I also recognize that there are benefits to normalizing queerness.

The prison theme of the Carrey/McGregor film is bothersome to me, as there is an implicit inauthentic quality to gay encounters in prison, particularly since male rape is prevalent in that environment. Also, the foundation of the film is based on stereotypes of gay men as shallow and flamboyant consumerists, an obvious sign that it's worthy of skippage.

(Can I also briefly mention that Carrey's attempt at a Southern accent is just <i>abysmal</i>? Ugh!)

What bothers me with the

What bothers me with the "lesbian falls in love with genetic father" storyline is that it seems to imply: "you can try to bypass natural laws, but they will catch up with you in the end". Much like Max's pregnancy in The L Word. As a bi woman I would love a thoughtful reflexion on sexual fluidity but I doubt this is what's happening in this film.

I appreciate that the film

I appreciate that the film does not make a big issue out of homosexuality. It is a lifestyle just like heterosexuality. This makes me actually want to see the movie because it looks decent, not for the thrill factor of seeing a gay couple that so many other movies aim for.

Add new comment