This is my very first post here at Much Ado About Cinema, and because I’m a fine upstanding member of the community, I thought I’d use this opportunity to highlight some true saviours of the film industry – the handful of lesbian movies that actually provide us with light-hearted relief. As many social media posts of late have picked up on, sapphic films are often incredibly serious and/or depressing, regardless of their artistic merit. As the following five movies prove, however, not all is lost for us; gay women can indeed hold their own when it comes to awful chick flicks.
But I’m A Cheerleader (2000)
As one of the more well-known entries on this list due to its status as a cult classic, “But I’m A Cheerleader” follows the story of a high school cheerleader, Megan, who is sent to a residential camp to be cured of her rampant lesbianism – hence the name. It’s a crude, tongue-in-cheek comedy that wasn’t exactly well received by critics at the time of release, but the film takes its difficult and serious topic to a farcical level, allowing a fair amount of laughs at the ridiculousness of the assumptions people make about sexuality, whilst incorporating a cutesy gay love story to boot. Starring a young Natasha Lyonne, who later went on to become lesbian royalty as Nicky Nichols in “Orange is the New Black”, and the always appreciated Clea DuVall, there’s a lot here for fans of lesbian culture to enjoy.
Saving Face (2004)
“Saving Face” is truly a gift sent from the cinematic gods. In the film world, a well-made rom-com only seems to come around once in a blue moon, so to find a movie that manages to be a great example of film-making and contains plenty of happy gay content is pretty much the equivalent of Christmas come early. “Saving Face” explores the harsh realities of exclusion in a judgemental world, revolving around the experiences of lesbian doctor Wil and her mother as they navigate the cultural expectations of their Chinese-American community. It’s probably more of a dramedy than a comedy, and there are definitely a few tears to be shed in scenes that may hit too close to home for some viewers. The realistic nature of such moments, however, only adds to the poignancy of the humour and the sweetness of the love stories that lie at the heart of the film.
D.E.B.S. is a personal favourite of mine, not only because it pulls off a completely hilarious parody of the spy genre, but because the movie centres its narrative conflicts around a villain/hero romance, whilst largely overlooking the fact that these two characters are female. It’s a refreshing approach to take, and leads to an absence of the usual depressing scenes that frequent gay movies, whether they involve personal struggles with sexuality, pressure from a homophobic society, or difficulty in coming-out to friends and family. Instead, D.E.B.S. allows us to enjoy the love story at the heart of the parody, in which superstar spy Amy falls for renowned criminal mastermind Lucy Diamond (played by Jordana Brewster ft. an amazing choice of fringe). It’s a truly underrated gem, and there’s plenty of laughs to be found here – but, thankfully, never at the expense of the characters’ orientation.
The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love (1995)
If you want adorable 90s baby gays, this film is a dream come true. Randy, a lesbian tomboy who is mocked at school for her status as a “freak”, and Evie, a popular rich kid with a wealth of family issues, come from two starkly contrasting backgrounds. Yet, their meeting at Randy’s workplace leads to typical high school flutters, and they begin a tentative romance. The film covers the angsty difficulties of high school as an outsider with an added layer of comic relief – Randy’s family, for example, consists of three sapphic women who can oft be found arguing about the protein content of tofu – and the sickly sweet scenes between the focal pair are reassuringly reminiscent of many a popular coming-of-age rom-com. Still, “The Incredibly True Adventure…” never loses sight of the contradictions at its core, as it recognises the pain caused by oppression, whilst simultaneously providing a youthful buoyancy in the devotion of its protagonists.
Imagine Me & You (2006)
Probably the queen of all lesbian rom-coms, “Imagine Me & You” provides everything we want for a trashy movie night in. Perfectly timed exchange of love-at-first-sight glances? Check. Running through traffic whilst cheesy 60s music plays in the background? Check. A script you know is damned awful, but you can’t stop quoting it all the same? Definite check. “Imagine Me & You” takes the simplest of crappy rom-com tropes, telling the story of a newly married woman who falls in love with a stranger, and instead applies these ideas to a same-sex relationship, adding a brand new spin to the old cliches. In addition to this, it’s delightfully British, the romance is sweet and gentle, and Lena Headey plays a gay ginger florist. What more could you want?
Although this list pales in comparison to the seemingly endless amounts of heterosexual rom-coms out there, it is uplifting to know that we do have a few slim pickings available. Though we joke about how awful gay cinema can be, we have every right to the exact same popcorn movie experience as our heterosexual counterparts, and it’s a relief to be able to laugh sometimes, especially when life can be incredibly difficult for our community off-screen. Many major works of LGBTQ+ cinema amplify our struggle, and although calling attention to this pain is not necessarily a bad thing overall, it can become quite draining when tragedy is the only form of media on offer. I think I speak for most of us when I say that sometimes it’s nice to take a break from all the angst, and its for that reason that these truly terrible lesbian movies hold such a special place in the hearts of our community.
A/N: If you have more suggestions for lesbian/sapphic films, please send me a tweet at @angiebouchards or @muchadocinema, or reply below! If I get enough recommendations, I’ll be sure to make a part 2 to this list.