There’s an excellent line in the sitcom Will & Grace that always makes me chuckle.
Here’s a little context: Karen’s nephew Barry (an impossibly handsome 30-something “nerd” who recently came out of the closet) is handed over to Will and Jack for a make over (or, a “gay over”). Aesthetically speaking, this involves peeling off Barry’s bulky Bill Cosby sweater and swapping his pseudo-pedophile glasses for contact lenses and what’ya know? He’s suddenly a living Rodin sculpture shrouded with a Calvin Klein button-down in the bagel aisle at Zabars!
Culturally though, Barry has a lot to learn. There are gay bars to visits, rainbow print beach towels to buy, and a whole glittery world of gay media to ingest.
The line occurs after Barry, having attempted to watch a series of gay-themed movies, places a call to Will. Barry’s distressed – somehow, he didn’t like the movies.
Will sighs into the receiver and in a reassuring tone quips “Let me tell you a little secret we try to keep within the community. Gay movies suck, but until the laws change, we’re obligated to see them.”
This statement obviously isn’t true - not all gay movies suck (however, we are legally obligated to see them. Y’all didn’t know that?) There are many incredible LGBT films and filmmakers, however there’s one sub-category of queer cinema that almost always leaves me queasy: the coming out film.
I’d always claimed to only enjoy films that were hyper-real. Alternate realities, implausible plotlines, and over-zealous production designers - these were the hallmarks of films I had no feeling for. But Her left me with a lot of feelings.
I wasn’t sure exactly what resonated so much for me about the film. On the surface Her is a funny and sentimental drama about a doomed romance, and I liked that. But there was something else about Her that hit me hard; I just couldn’t work out what.
So I saw it again, and this time it was blaringly obvious. As obvious as the fact that, on Will and Grace, under his sweater and glasses Barry was a bona fide hunk of Disney prince proportions.
Her is a coming out film. And a fucking great one.
Okay yes, it’s a film by a straight man, about a straight man, but if Night of The Living Dead gets to be an allegory about race relations, and Blade Runner can be studied as some hybrid Nietzschean/Christian parable then give me this.
If you can, forget that Theodore Twombly is recovering from a painful divorce, forget that Samantha is (on some level) female, and that she’s an operating system.
It’s a film about a protagonist who finds love somewhere, and with someone he didn’t expect. He enters into a non-traditional relationship, first in secret, and then with courage, he asks people for their acceptance of it.
It’s true too, that Theodore doesn’t really have to fight for people to accept his relationship with Samantha. He’s nervous about revealing it (aware other people won’t understand) but it’s a revelation could potentially embarrass him or cause people to pity him, not one that could tear his life apart.
Like Theodore, my coming out was pretty darn vanilla too. I was a city kid with liberal parents and friends. I told my Mum I was gay over a plate of bruschetta before we went to see a Judi Dench movie. Ten minutes later she was buying me a large popcorn and detailing the previous night’s episode of Miss Marple.
Seeing Theodore timidly inform Amy Adams that Samantha is an OS, or having him dejectedly drop the truth about her in Chris Pratt’s lap, and in turn having them accept it (perhaps a little too generously, in that consciously SUPPORTIVE FRIEND way) was so poignant for me. It made me ruminate on my own experience (which I hadn’t done in years) the way a film like Pariah opened my eyes to how fucking lucky I was. How fucking lucky I am.
I’m not trying to present this as a thesis, compiled from years of research conducted within the ivy-covered walls of a university and dripping with dense footnotes to prove my point.
My steadfast decision that Her is my favorite coming out movie isn’t even really a comment on the overall state of queer or coming out cinema, it’s a comment on my own relationship with the experience.
If, a few weeks ago, someone had told me that they had seen an advanced screening of Her and it was their favorite coming out film, I probably would’ve nodded attentively while scoffing like an asshole on the inside.
I know I can’t tell you that Her is unequivocally the most touching and truthful film portrayal of the coming out experience, in the same you can’t tell me that listening to Single Ladies is, without fail, going to make me wanna dance.
But hey, put it on my next mixtape and I’ll keep your point in mind when it comes on the stereo.
by ANTON DE IONNO