I saw Disobedience in the theatres last week. It may have gotten lost for everyone else amid the Avengers: Infinity War hurricane, but I made an effort to seek it out because it stars two of my and my wife’s favorite actresses, Rachel McAdams and Rachel Weisz. Yes, it did have a gay theme as well, which also intrigued me, I confess. But, even with their star power and the subject matter, there was something about Disobedience that just didn’t move me the way I expected it to. I was having trouble putting my finger on exactly what it was that bothered me, so I took some time to write a review.
While I was ruminating on what to say and how to say it, I watched an episode of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert (as we do every night). Stephen was interviewing Jim Parsons and they were discussing Parson’s new Broadway play, a revival of The Boys in the Band. They were discussing the play’s iconic gay status and how far we’ve come since it originally debuted in 1968. I found the interview to be striking, considering that Jim Parsons has been extremely famous for many years now, having starred in the (still) biggest sitcom on television (The Big Bang Theory) and already having won 4 Emmys for playing the role of Sheldon Cooper, who is, undoubtedly, a fixture in many American living rooms. The character is so popular they’ve even made a spinoff called Young Sheldon, which is itself a hit. Anyway, in all the years of watching Parsons do publicity for many things, I was thinking that I’d never seen him discuss gay topics before and with such ease. Parsons only came out himself a couple years ago, but, before then, he was always quite tight-lipped about his private life. He always struck me as a reticent star, someone who’s reserved and shy. But this night, on Colbert, you really couldn’t get him to shut up. It struck me that it was wonderful to see him finally so comfortable with himself and free to discuss gay subjects. I don’t remember how it came up, but there was an inference that maybe there were so many gay plays and movies now that they were losing their effect—essentially, too late? Were people even caring anymore, because being gay and coming out is so “ordinary” now? Again, I don’t remember exactly, but what I DO remember, very clearly, is Parsons getting as animated and passionate as I’ve ever seen him, almost rising out of his seat as he said, “Love, Simon! Did you see it?” Colbert seemed a little surprised by Parsons’ exuberance, but he eventually said yes, and Parsons continued, “Love, Simon is a gay rom-com. A gay rom-com! I mean, how many straight rom-coms do you need? When is it too late for them? Let me get sick of too many gay rom-coms, please!” I am paraphrasing here, but his point was made. It may feel like we’ve come a long way, but we still have far to go. And we are certainly not at the point where gay storylines are as ubiquitous as superheroes. If THAT ever happens, then cancel Pride month because we’re good.
Parsons verbalized exactly how I felt about Love, Simon. I loved the fact that it was a movie about a character who was gay, not about a character BEING gay. And how refreshing that was. And that’s when it finally hit me what had been bothering me about Disobedience. We have gotten so used to movies that portray being gay as something forbidden or taboo that we don’t even notice it anymore! Love, Simon felt so weird because—wait, the gay character doesn’t feel bad about himself? He doesn’t try to hide being gay? The movie has a HAPPY ENDING? I’m not sure anyone knew what to do with that. We’ve been trained to expect every gay mainstream movie to be in some way, shape or form about how unacceptable it is to be gay and how “brave” the characters are to fight society and love who they want to love or just be themselves. But, somehow, it’s always a conflict, it’s never easy, and it rarely ends happily—in fact, most end tragically. Think of the biggest gay movies of the last couple decades: Boys Don’t Cry, Brokeback Mountain, Carol, Far From Heaven, The Imitation Game, A Single Man, Moonlight—just to name a few. Call Me By Your Name, last year’s big Oscar nominee, was better than most, portraying a gay affair as nothing to be ashamed about, but one of the men marries a woman in the end! Not that being bisexual is bad, but, again, kind of defeats the purpose of this movie. And even the movies that seem to totally “normalize” being gay create conflict by having one of the gay characters sleep with a person of the opposite sex (I see you, The Kids are All Right and Chasing Amy). Totally disappointing but something we’ve come to expect and been forced to accept.
So, when I went into another theatre and ended up watching yet another movie about gay characters trying to find love in a world that forbids it, I think I just reached the point where I just can’t see that anymore. It doesn’t matter to me, really, that the movie is as much about the insular world of the Orthodox Jewish faith and not the world as a whole rejecting being gay—the repression is there and the taboo nature of two women loving each other is the central conflict of the movie. And, no matter how good the two Rachels were, I was over it.
Yes, it’s time for Love, Simon to be the new normal for gay movies in Hollywood. It’s time for being gay to be just another character trait, not the only trait and certainly not the forbidden trait. Even my most favorite gay movies of the last 20 years, Brokeback Mountain and Carol, are all about self-loathing and losing everything you have because you love someone of the same sex. I love those movies, but I’m ready to see new stories. We’ve done the taboo/repressed/forbidden/ostracized thing. Let’s make the boy-meets-boy, boy-loses-boy, boy starts a worldwide social media platform to get revenge on boy who dumped him stories. And maybe someone can remake Fried Green Tomatoes with Idgie and Ruth portrayed as what they really were? Come ON, man! It’s time.
Check out the whole Parsons interview with Stephen Colbert here.