7 Romantic LGBTQ+ Films to Watch this Valentine's Day
No matter what your plans are this Valentine's Day, there's the perfect film for you.
I love a good romance film. So many of my favourite films can be fairly classified as a romance of some sort - from the whimsical magic of Kiki's Delivery Service to the mysterious darkness of Vertigo. The only problem is, so many of the most popular romance films are boringly heterosexual. That's not a slight on the films themselves - some of my favourite films are heterosexual! - but so often, I want to see love more like mine on screen, and I know I'm not alone in that.
This Valentine's Day, we at QSO have pulled together 7 of our favourite romantic films, all of which feature characters that are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or otherwise queer. They range from hilarious to heart-breaking, from soppy to sombre, from tearful to thoughtful. They're all wonderful movies that are perfect for your Valentine's, whether you're spending it cuddled up with your partner or happily alone. Dig into the list below, and find a new favourite film (or maybe revisit an old treasure)!
Alex Strangelove (2018)
Straight couples have had a monopoly on soppy romantic comedies for far too long! Enter Alex Strangelove - it’s got all the charm of your favourite John Hughes movie, all the humour of Booksmart, and as unabashedly gay as possible. It’s a joy watching Alex (Daniel Doheny) coming to terms with his sexuality and entering a blossoming romance with his friend Elliot (Antonio Marziale) - just try not to smile as you watch them singing along to The B-52s together, or going on their sort-of first date at a MUNA concert! It’s got some serious emotional heft, too: the arc that follows Alex coming out to his long-term girlfriend (Madeline Weinstein) and the feelings of being pressured to have sex are tackled as sensitively as you’d hope. But make no mistake: the biggest draw here is the soppy romance and silly gags that you so rarely get in gay films. It’s sweet, hilarious, and above all, a really good film with solid rewatchability. - AC
Those who know me will not be surprised that I loved Ammonite; palaeontology being a childhood fixation of mine and, more recently, a surreal and unexpected influence on my creative work, with the story of Mary Anning becoming a particular specialist subject. Francis Lee's fictionalised drama about the famed fossil hunter (Kate Winslet) and her relationship with a young married woman (Saoirse Ronan), like Anning herself, deserved much better during its lifetime; not just because of its mid-pandemic release but also because it seemed destined to be crushed by a landslide of discourse. Should we portray historical figures like Mary Anning as queer despite the lack of evidence? The answer is yes because 1. There's hardly ever evidence of it, (not all historical lesbians were diary keepers or letter writers) and 2. In its absence, implying someone was gay is way less an insult than the alternatives of which historians and Hollywood are so often guilty: inventing a hetero romance or implying she lived her days a spinster.
It's the rebellion against those heteronormative tropes that makes Ammonite so radical in its premise, but the film itself surprised me by being a rare Queer Drama where the drama does not come from being queer. There is no virginity losing, coming-of-age epiphany, nor homophobic threat to burst the passion-bubble of our lead couple. The husband of Ronan's character, for example, drops her off at the seaside in the first act and is never seen again; meanwhile both main characters are implied to have same-sex relationships in their pasts. Instead, the rift between our protagonists is driven by class, the aspect of Anning's life that makes her a fascinating figure in the history of science as well as a personal hero of mine.
Having been invited to a party amongst the upstanding citizens of Lyme Regis, Mary attends hoping to spend time with the upper class Charlotte. Instead she finds herself an alien; she doesn't know how to dress, how to act or how to speak. How could she, when all she knows is work, poverty and the cold mud of the Jurassic Coast cliff face? Watching her crush make conversation with her ex lover from across the room, we linger on Winslet's heart-breaking performance as she confronts the intersectional mental barriers separating Mary from her desire; To want something so badly, but never act on it because deep down, you know it's not meant for you. But it's queerness, of course, that breaks that divide; the two women overcoming their language barrier and connecting in intimacy, romance and sexuality before their separate worlds pull them apart - not by force, it’s worth noting, but by Mary's own choice.
While Ammonite may have had its thunder stolen by giants of Lesbian Period Drama like The Favourite and Portrait of a Lady on Fire, it intricately dissects the intersection of queerness and class while telling a liberating story in which queer love is not the problem, but the solution, however brief. - JC Quick
Brokeback Mountain (2005)
I feel like queer cowboys have made a real resurgence over the last couple years. It’s no surprise, really: even when you look beyond the camp aesthetics of bedazzled and studded, heeled boots and embroidered shirts, the history of cowboys is hugely gay and trans, too. Have you heard of notorious cowboy Harry Allen? He was a transmasculine outlaw living in the pacific-northwest in the early 1900s. Really, it was just a matter of time until our fascination with them went full circle.
Brokeback Mountain may not exactly be embedded entirely in history, but certainly made cinematic history when it was released in 2005. The butt of many a homophobic joke (obviously), the film was largely written off as “that gay cowboy film” (y’know, to use less derogatory language). Thankfully, it’s really had its cultural reckoning since then. Based on a short story by Annie Proulx, Brokeback Mountain is a gorgeous, tender story set throughout the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, about two sheepherders who fall completely in love, in the only way that could make sense to them.
I don’t doubt that you’ve seen Brokeback Mountain, at some point – I’m not exactly treading new ground by suggesting you watch it this Valentine’s Day. But, I am imploring that you watch it with fresh eyes, in an era far removed from the film’s initial release. I rewatched it the first time in a good decade or so this summer, and it was nice being able to experience the film with new eyes, away from the internalised homophobia of my youth (well, mostly, anyway) and the actual out-and-out homophobia attached to its release. The film is so much more than gay cowboys, or pretty boys kissing, or iconic quotes about quitting people – but all of those things are beautiful anyway. - Toni Oisin H.C.
On the subject of Lesbian Period Dramas (a la Ammonite), it’s hard to surpass Todd Haynes’ Carol, in which Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara brought us the queer answer to Brief Encounter that in my household is now a traditional rewatch every Christmas (A Christmas Carol - get it?). And it only took 63 years to make it to the screen, based on a 1952 novel by a pseudonym-ed Patricia Highsmith. Being an adaptation of a contemporary source that is so relevant to modern audiences is just one thing that makes Carol so rewarding (see this years Passing for another fascinating example).
Love in the face of oppression is inherent to our identities and their heritages. Despite justified calls for more normalised gay love stories on screen, above all it is the illicitness and cultural taboo of queer attraction that separates it totally from hetero narratives. Carol weaves an intoxicating nostalgia for pre-stonewall New York where queer romance is just a whisper or a stolen glance or a pair of gloves left on the counter.
Mara is Therese, the shop girl, aspiring photographer and beret-sporting ingenue who becomes infatuated with customer Carol, Blanchett’s high-class divorcee with a fur coat and transatlantic accent who became an instant sapphic icon. To escape a boring boyfriend who sees her mainly as a travel accessory, Therese joins Carol over Christmas and New Year, all but eloping on an indefinite holiday through the motels of the midwest. The romance of this second act road trip is compelling; Who doesn’t want to drop their heteronormative lifestyle, redirect their mail to Chicago and hit the road with their illegal, queer lover?
It is not a simple relationship however, with Carol holding a clear power imbalance over Terese in terms of both class and age difference, as well as withholding her own secrets. Carol is also running from something: the very real morality-clause divorce lawsuit that could see her separated from her child. When the heteronomative world catches up to them, Terese must confront the reality that Carol was just using her as a distraction and, yes, travel accessory. Both characters grasp the agency over their futures, however, in the film’s cathartic third act. While Terese’s life and career take off without her, Carol makes an impassioned plea to her husband’s humanity, refusing to deny her nature and defying her lawyer’s advice (which is, essentially, that she undergo conversion therapy). Having escaped the legal loophole that would keep the two apart, she meets with Terese to propose a life together, but this time it’s Terese’s normal life that interrupts them: the old friend with a party invitation seen in the film’s Brief Encounter-homage opening.
After all her past manipulations, Carol gives her lover the final power to choose. There is definitely an alternate-universe ending where Terese stays at the party, hooks up with Carrie Brownstein (in a perfectly cast, single-scene appearance) and lives as a 50s beatnik lesbian with her more age-appropriate lover. But, of course, she leaves; she doesn’t want the brief encounter, she wants Carol. - JC Quick
Do you remember when Moonlight won the best picture Oscar in 2017? I know I do: it felt inconceivable that a tender love story about gay, Black men could win such a prestigious award - especially when Brokeback Mountain’s Oscar snub remains fresh in my mind. It was a well-earned award, though: Moonlight is one of the most beautiful films of all time in every aspect, from the gorgeous cinematography, to the incredible performances all around. The film is split into three acts, each following lead character Chiron: from child, to teen, to adult. Each third of the film tells its own beautiful story and has unforgettable scenes, but it’s the final third that steals the show for me. The climatic sequence where the now adult Chiron (Trevante Rhodes) reconnects with old flame Kevin (André Holland) at a diner is one of the most moving sequences in any romance film I’ve ever seen. Every actor gives incredible performances, from Ashton Saunders as the teenaged Chiron, to Mahershala Ali as his gentle father figure Juan. Everyone should watch this film - I can’t recommend it enough. - AC
Touch of Pink (2004)
It probably says a lot about the men-loving-men psyche that there are at least two films which feature Kyle Maclachlan staring directly into the camera while monologing about why it’s “okay to be gay, actually”. It probably says even more about my psyche this year that I not only know this, but that I’ve watched both of them. Anyway…
Touch of Pink is a low-key, kitchen-sink style film about Alim (Jimi Mistry), a gay man living in London, and his guardian angel… Cary Grant (Kyle Maclachlan). The film’s writer and director, Ian Iqbal Rashid, takes us on a wholesome journey through Alim’s struggle with trying to piece together his identity, internalised homophobia, and his homophobic mum, Nuru. Alim seems to be, essentially, re-parenting himself with his angel (or imaginary friend) ineffectually helping him along the way. It manages to walk the line between being heart-warming and sickly-sweet carefully, successfully avoiding becoming too saccharine along the way.
The film’s cast is a large part of what makes the film enjoyable. The film is a bit like a “who’s-who” of early 2000s British comedies – it’s definitely a film to watch with IMDB open so you don’t find yourself stopping every two minutes to ask “oh, who was that again?”. Jimi Mistry, perhaps best known for his role as the troublemaking Tony in East is East, plays the lead perfectly, with genuine chemistry between him and his love interest Giles (Kris Holden-Ried) and, uh, Cary Grant. This film is perfect for a cosy watch this Valentine’s Day if you’re looking to avoid “bury your gays” tropes, films with an unhappy ending, and anything that takes itself too seriously. - Toni Oisin H.C.
Your Name Engraved Herein (2020)
It’s rare to find a good romance film that has likeable lead characters, a beautiful plot, tension that doesn’t feel forced, and a happy ending. It’s even rarer to find all these things happen in a gay love story. Your Name Engraved Herein is simply beautiful; one of the most moving films I’ve seen in a very long time. It follows the love story of the two leads Chang Jia-han (Edward Chen) and Birdy (Tsen Jing-hua) navigating societal pressure and homophobia in the wake of Taiwanese martial law. Both leads give dazzling performances, and their chemistry is gorgeous. The homophobia they both face attending Catholic school is relatable, and Jia-han’s interactions with the school priest (Fabio Grangeon) are a difficult but beautiful watch. Without giving anything away, the ending sequence of the film is truly unforgettable, a perfect conclusion to an incredible love story. - AC
AC is the Head of Written Content at QSO Media. Follow them on Twitter.
JC is a musician, graphic designer, and one-third of dinopunk band Nervous Rex. Follow them on Instagram and Twitter.
Toni Oisin H.C. is the Head of Audio at QSO Media. Read more of his writing here.