This is the first in a December series of Christmas film playlists, drawing on some popular – and less so – holiday movie tropes. In writing my new book, Analyzing Christmas in Film, I analysed close to 1000 of these films, examining what they reveal about gender, culture and society. If you seek suggestions for my favourites, I nudge you towards my recommendations list. And if you’re after some Australian selections, click here.
Christmas films aren’t the place I’d go for representations of “alternative” lifestyles. While most depictions of the season aren’t overtly religious, nevertheless, most are family-centric, G-rated fare with very little even subtly edgy material.
And yet, non-heterosexuals – shock horror – celebrate Christmas and sometimes want to see themselves on screen. Equally, lots of us watch films for reasons other than having our own lives mirrored back to us.
In this post I offer you a selection of Christmas films with queer themes. These are your choices if you’re seeking to shake of the shackles of the screen’s seemingly straight season but are nonetheless still wanting some Santa and sleighs and snow.
At college Olaf (Keith Jordan) is out and proud and living his best and gayest life. At home for the holidays in his Midwestern small town Olaf is his keeping sexuality under wraps, even going to far as to “date” the girl-next-door. At least until his college boyfriend, Nathan (Adamo Ruggiero) turns up.
It’s a low production value film, but still manages to cram in a host of Christmas cliches including Christmas martyrs and Christmas orphans. It’s also sweet while avoiding the saccharine associated with other holiday films.
Stealing the plot of too many Christmas films, Henry (Arye Gross) heads home from the big city to tend to his ailing grandpa in small town Montana. We know this story – I’ve watched hundreds of versions of it and have a chapter on “home” for this very reason – but there are few places where it’s done as endearing as it is here.
There are few films that I watched while writing my book that I truly loved, Big Eden is an exception. A beautiful if only mildly Christmassy film.
Department stores are the backdrops for a range of holiday films, reminding us of the supreme importance of consumerism during December. In Carol a department store is where the leads – Carol (Cate Blanchett) and Therese (Rooney Mara) – first meet in this story of forbidden love and (in another Christmas cliché) custody disputes.
If I’m honest, I was bored watching it but the ending is nicely subversive and Carol bucks most holiday film conventions. That, and it’s very well produced.
On odd – and at times dark – mockumentary with a Christmastime cameo. The Baby Formula centres on two lesbians participating in a experiment where they conceive a child sans sperm, each using their own stem cells. It’s hard to recommend it but it makes this list because of the intersection of Christmas and lesbians: a true rarity on screen.
Two transexual sex workers – Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (May Taylor) – and an Armenian taxi driver go about their mildly dramatic professional and personal business on Christmas Eve in Los Angeles.
Not a film I’d recommend – it feels “indie” for all the wrong, and rambling reasons – although, it’s worth acknowledging that Rotten Tomatoes scores it very highly so perhaps my views are outlier.
Harvey Fierstein, Anne Bancroft and Matthew Broderick are brilliant in this exceptional – funny and moving – story of Arnold (Fierstein) navigating life and love as a gay drag performer over the course of a decade. Based on Fierstein’s play of the same name.
Still on the topic of drag, the title character (Ving Rhames) is a gay drag performer who takes in a neighbour’s neglected daughter. There’s Christmas and drugs and the excellent (Alfre Woodard). A whole lot better than the mawkish “his life was always full but his home was always empty” pitch of the trailer.
(At the time of clicking ‘publish’, you can watch the whole thing here).
Jonathan (Kevin Isola) is a gay adult who still believes in Santa, the very man-upstairs who he asks for his help to help find true love. The excellent Aida Turturro has a small role and it’s David Burtka’s first film credit: neither are reason enough to watch it though. What lingers as a true mystery is the 6.4 it’s currently holding on IMDb.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)
A highly recommended coming-of-age story featuring a distinctly lovely Christmas exchange scene between friends – including one who is gay – who manage to each achieve the Christmas miracle of perfect present picking.
If Dickens’ A Christmas Carol can be adapted into a porno, a United Nations education tool and a vehicle to showcase the many gifts of Tori Spelling, the material can obviously be tweaked to become a gay-themed film. Tracking down a copy is a challenge; the trailer provides a taster though.
(Somewhat) Honourable Mentions
In the films listed thus far, queer themes are at the front of the narrative. In others, the appearance is more cameo-like in supporting roles or merely brief allusions.
Will You Merry Me? (2008) is a funny-in-parts holiday film; complete with a Christian family seemingly in denial about the sexuality of their son.
Holiday in Handcuffs (2007) is a relatively agonising film about a woman who kidnaps a man so that she can have a date for Christmas. That nutjob (Melissa Joan Hart) has a gay brother.
The Family Stone (2005) is one of my favourite holiday films which involves copious amounts of crying with every viewing. And a gay couple.
Red Lodge (2013) – a film I didn’t manage to get a copy of – unite the Christmas road trip theme with the Christmastime proposal.
A Very Cool Christmas (2004) centres on a sullen teen girl – with gay parents – who gets dragooned into helping Santa with his deliveries.
Rent (2005) is a modern day La bohème on the mean streets of New York in the lead up to Christmas and the dawn of AIDS.
C.R.A.Z.Y. (2005) is a Canadian coming-of-age nostalgia film with a little Christmas, a gay son and a period soundtrack.
The Perfect Wedding (2012) is a gay-themed screwball “comedy” centered on an estranged couple going home for Christmas and doing the well-worn routine of pretending everything is okay.
Breakfast with Scot (2007) is an exception to this “honourable mentions” list: the gay is actually at the forefront but Christmas is severely downplayed in this sweet Canadian film about a little boy predisposed to singing carols.
© Lauren Rosewarne 2017
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