Lesbianism and the Romantic Comedy

24Jan10

Today I wanted to talk about the representation of homosexual women in two movies which would be categorized as romantic comedies (unless the categorization in question has a LBGT category, in which case they’d be shuffled over there). The movies in question are Imagine Me & You (2005) and Gray Matters (2006). I recommend both, they’re adorable. Extensive spoilers beneath the cut.

Both movies are scripted around a love triangle involving two women and one man, and as the movie unfolds, the romantic-comedy conflict is whether the central female will end up with the male or female character who is in love with her. In both cases, the promotional material that I saw before watching the film indicated that conflict, but both movies were promoted as “romantic comedies”, and targeted to a general audience, whereas the films I’ve seen that center on female relationships (without the extra male option thrown in) have been targeted towards the LGBT niche. In both movies, I had no clue how the relationships would eventually fall into place.

I saw Gray Matters more recently, so I’m going to talk about that one first.

As the movie starts, we are introduced to Gray (female) and Sam (male), a co-dependent couple, age 30, and it’s only a few minutes in, at a dinner party they’re hosting, we’re informed that this “couple” is actually a brother and sister–common mistake. Embarrassed by the mistake, the two of them realize they need to get out of their house and date other people.

They head to a dog park, borrow a dog from a 12-year-old boy (I found this creepy–hey, kid, can we borrow your dog? here, have some candy…), and immediately meet a beautiful brunette, Charlie (Charlotte). The two of them invite her to dinner, and both become infatuated. When Sam realizes that his sister Gray is also interested in Charlie, the two siblings begin competing over her. Sam “wins” the competition and Gray heads home alone.

The next day Sam comes home with the information that he and Charlie have decided to head to Vegas this weekend to get married, and Gray’s invited. (I find the depictions of dating in this movie to be wildly unrealistic: As soon as you start looking for a romantic partner, you will find The One within 30 seconds in the first place you look, and they won’t be at all creeped out if you propose the next day.)

All three of them head to Vegas, where the girls ditch Sam in order to have a girl’s night out in Vegas. The two of them get drunk, head back to the suite (which they are sharing, to the exclusion of Sam), and share a kiss. Charlie doesn’t remember this kiss the next morning, too drunk, but Gray does, and proceeds to agonize over it, because Charlie kissed back, which suggests that the marriage is a bad idea.

The marriage proceeds, Gray agonizes, and everyone goes back to life as normal. Gray decides she’s a lesbian, and tells her therapist, who convinces her that she’s not a lesbian, she’s just jealous and afraid of losing her brother, which is why she’s trying to sabotage his relationship. Worst therapist ever. Gray goes from ecstatic (“I’m gay!”) to agonizing and miserable again in a matter of seconds.

(As a slight tangent: It’s a semantic problem for me that this movie never uses the term “lesbian”, which I prefer. Gray exclusively refers to herself as “gay”. I personally prefer the distinction between gay (male) and lesbian (female), though either way has gender problems–gay can be used as male or female, because women are women, but men are people.)

Attempting to fix herself and reestablish her heterosexuality, Gray goes on three dates in one night, and rediscovers that she’s definitely more interested in women. She talks to both Charlie and her brother, and at this point in the movie, the love triangle breaks. Sam gets the girl.

As Sam tells his sister, this is inevitable. Since Charlie was Gray’s first love (not counting the crush on the 3rd grade teacher that is mentioned), of course they can’t end up together. Gray has to go though “gay puberty” before she finds The One. (Never mind that she’s 30 and has had relationships before–they didn’t count, because they were relationships with the wrong gender. Can you tell I have problems with this?)

The whole tone of the movie changes after this. It is no longer a romantic comedy. There’s no longer a question of who gets the girl. This is now a movie about Gray discovering her gay identity, and the viewer is pretty bluntly expected to realize that that’s what the whole movie has been about. The entire genre of the film changes. Never mind those cute antics of the first 2/3 of the movie, to trick you into thinking this was a romantic comedy.

This actually pisses me off quite a bit. It bothers me that GLBT characters cannot appear as protagonists in movies unless it’s a movie about GLBT issues. Just like black characters are very rarely protagonists unless it’s a movie about black people, targeted at a black audience. This even applies to women–mainstream movies that actually pass the Bechdel test are often demoted to “chick flicks”. And what this movie has just told me is that these rules are so important that they will change the entire genre of a film as soon as the main character’s sexual orientation changes, even in a cheery little indie film that’s trying to portray homosexuality in a positive light with very little stereotyping.

If you’re wondering, the film ends when Gray goes to a all-female bar, and within 30 seconds meets the perfect woman (who actually had showed up as a minor character earlier in the film). Because, if you didn’t pick up on this the first time it happened, dating works by finding the perfect person in the first place you look, within the first minute that you’re there.

I’m now going to switch to talking about Imagine Me & You. This one has a very similar set-up for the central conflict. The main character, Rachel, is getting married. On her wedding day, while walking up the aisle, she makes eye contact with the florist, and feels an instant connection with her. They make friends, and Rachel & Huck (husband) try and hook Luce (florist) up with their single friend Coop, so they can form into neat, heterosexual pairings. This fails from the start, because Luce announces that she’s a lesbian.

Rachel and Luce become close friends, and Rachel begins to question her own sexuality. Antics continue, as they must, as Rachel flip-flips back and forth between wanting to preserve her happy, loving marriage, and wanting to pursue her undeniable connection to Luce.

In the end, she chooses Luce.

Unlike Gray Matters, the tone of the movie doesn’t change when this happens (of course, it happens in the last thirty seconds). Imagine Me & You is still a romantic comedy, and I will stubbornly insist that it belongs in the romantic comedy genre, not the LGBT genre, despite the lesbian relationship at the center of the movie. Also, unlike Gray Matters, the odd (lesbian) woman out isn’t treated like her role in the relationship is less valuable. In Gray Matters, there’s this sort of attitude of “that’s cute, now leave the heterosexuals alone and go date your own kind” when she’s rejected from the love triangle.

I came out of Imagine You & Me feeling that both versions of relationships were respected, and that I would have been happy and satisfied with the movie whichever direction it took (though getting the lesbian relationship in the end was, for me, a bit like having a movie I enjoyed and then getting SURPRISE CAKE at the end). (Lesbian smooches and delicious cake exist on the same level on my mind.)

What do you think? Does it bother anyone else that in both movies the options are either “I’m a lesbian” or “I’m not a lesbian”? Why is bisexuality not presented as legitimate? And what about the option of a threesome? How would these movies be different if bisexuality or polygamy were acceptable within the scope of the movie?

As a post script, I’ve just noticed that I’ve written both LGBT and GLBT in this post, without realizing the difference. I’m leaving my transpositions intact, but now I’m curious. Is there an accepted, politically-correct version? Are both versions common, or is this a letter displacement that only occurs in my head? And why? Switching around the first two letters makes sense, to indicate that there’s no order preference between the L and the G, but there IS still an order preference that the B comes after both of them (because bisexuals get to cash in on straight privilege, so they’re not as prioritized in the letter scramble), and the T always comes last of all, unless you toss in some more letters, like Q (questioning, or queer), and A (allies) — I imagine there are more. Identifying with the B in this sandwich, I’ve always felt that the GLBT+ label is inherently flawed, in multiple ways. Can anyone shed some light on this?

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2 Responses to “Lesbianism and the Romantic Comedy”

  1. 1 Eli

    Last I heard LGBT is more accepted. The reason is that men have been listed first since forever in western civilization and it was a nice change to have women first.

  2. 2 Anna

    Bisexuality is not presented as an option because, as a rule, it is not a legitimate option in the TV/movie universe except to gain ratings or have a character “explore” her sexuality only to return to one side or the other. Polyamory has a similar status, seeing as Hollywood is massively biased towards the idea of everyone having one true love.

    I think “Imagine Me and You” would certainly have been more interesting to watch if Rachel had tried to date the flower lady alongside her husband. It might not have had such a happy ending. But then, it would not have “created the illusion of social stability”, which, as my Film Studies 101 professor said, is a prerequisite for the vast majority of Hollywood movies.


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