Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentine's Day

...unless you're an idiot or a homophobe, in which case:

Valentine's Day is about a lot of white people running around Los Angeles on Valentine's Day making fools of themselves in various degrees of undress. Jessica Biel is playing a woman who can't get laid, so right there you know there's going to be an issue of artistic license. The main couple in the ensemble (the one that gets the most screentime, at least) is made of BFFs Jennifer Garner and Ashton Kutcher, who will run parallel arcs of waking up in love, getting their hearts broken and realizing true love for their best friend all in one magical day.

It's completely disposable, and recycled at that. Nobody really cares about this shit, even the people who go to see it. The film is to Hallmark cards what Transformers is to action figures.

But it's worth taking at least a moment to consider the audience I saw this movie with, in a half-full auditorium in one of Chicago's larger multiplexes. I want specifically to record the audience's reaction to the gay characters in the film. Rather than go completely ignored, homosexuality is here reduced to a punchline and a plot twist. There is a "token" gay couple, but we don't know who they are until the final-minutes montage connecting all the people we didn't know were connected (Spoiler Alert: they're all connected! Love actually is all around!).

Let me set this up for you: halfway through the film, a celebrated NFL quarterback (Eric Dane) reveals himself to be gay. If you're paying any attention at all, you know Bradley Cooper, who spends most of his time on a plane to LA next to Julia Roberts, is his lover. Apparently, nobody in the theater I was in was paying any attention.

So the dreamy quarterback has fallen asleep all alone on the couch with nobody to love him on Valentine's Day. In the background, we see a man come in and approach him. He hands him a flower and then kneels down to reveal himself as: Bradley Cooper!

At this point, the theater erupted. There were shocked gasps and nervous laughter. It was loud. This was the most reaction the movie had gotten out of its audience1. There were girls "oooh"-ing and dudes "ohhh"-ing. The whole thing probably only lasted a few seconds, but it felt like several minutes. I was temporarily engulfed in a maelstrom of gay panic.

I want to ascribe this to the audience's apathy - that the scene was successfully functioning as plot twist rather than panic button. But there was a palpable rancor there. I'm sure not everyone in the theater was upset or offended but their knee-jerk emissions certainly revealed a few true colors.

It shouldn't come as a surprise, to me or anyone else, I suppose, that Valentine's Day would fail to treat treat homosexuality with any more substance or nuance or sensitivity than it does heterosexuality (or hispanics, or blacks, or blonde white girls, for that matter). I know I was raised in a liberal community and that everyone is different and for a lot of people, the notion of Gays in the Mainstream is just plain shocking, especially when it's played by the hunky dudes from Grey's Anatomy and The Hangover. But come on, America.

By the way, Dane and Cooper don't get a kiss. Everyone else gets a kiss, even Jamie Foxx and Jessica Biel. And it's nice that interracial kissing is finally okay, but do we have to wait another forty years before the gay panic subsides? Man, what a drag.

1.) Second-biggest reaction: giggling from schoolgirls in response to Taylor Lautner's line about being uncomfortable taking off his shirt in public.[back]


  1. I should state, for the record, that the observation about the two men being denied a kiss wasn't mine, but originated from my VALENTINE'S DAY companion Amy Cavanaugh of Attic Salt.!

  2. I spent half the movie wondering if there would be a gay relationship, and then this is what was portrayed.

    Dane says that he's quitting football to have a family, which he wasn't able to do as a pro athlete. Of course he couldn't - there aren't any out gay football players, and presumably he and Cooper broke up over it. So then he retires and is able to finally embrace being gay in public and what happens? As soon we find out that Dane and Cooper were/are a couple, they aren't granted a second more screen time.

    Every other pairing does something to publicly indicate they have a relationship. What's wrong with having them meet (and kiss) in a public place? Because their relationship isn't, in the eyes of the filmmakers, worth parsing in any way, and has to occur behind closed doors.

  3. Also, how many of the kisses occur on some sort of screen? Foxx and Biel and Lautner and Swift kiss on camera, while MacLaine and Elizondo kiss in front of a film screen. This further drives home that gay kisses aren't worth broadcasting to the world.

  4. Pretty much all Taylor and Taylor do is kiss.