Photo by Jiroe (Matia Rengel) on Unsplash

The romcom. Funny dating mishaps. A pessimist won over by love. Family awkwardness, and, ultimately, a happy ending. We all know it by heart. But in recent years, as certain kinds of gay men have become more assimilated into straight society, we've seen them fall subject to this traditionally straight film genre. There are always going to be problems when forging gay men into a genre that is founded on the highs and lows of heterosexual dynamics. This year has seen the release of two romcoms which prove just that.

I can't help but feel like its depiction of life as a gay man is depressing

Netflix's new series, Uncoupled, features Neil Patrick Harris navigating the tragic world of gay dating in his forties after his long-term partner leaves him. I stumbled across the trailer on my homepage (the algorithm's caught me) and thought it would be worth watching from a young gay man's perspective. After all, I'll probably be 45 some day. Yet, whilst the series is obviously meant to portray heartbreak, I can't help but feel like its depiction of life as a gay man is depressing. A bleak look into my future as I struggle to find the rom or the com. According to Uncoupled, older gay men only have two paths to go down. One full of meaningless Grindr hookups and soul-sucking partying. And another which is apparently bland, heteronormative, and destined to fail, as it does. Harris's character is a needy, emotional wreck throughout the entire series. Is there really no in between? Is this the best the Netflix algorithm can offer us?

Universal Pictures' new gay romcom, Bros, feels like Uncoupled: The Movie. It presents the protagonist's awkward attempt to navigate between gay hookup culture and his hidden desire for a monogamous relationship. He works as a curator for an LGBTQ+ history museum, and the film boasts a diverse, although slightly tokenistic, supporting cast. The two lovers bond over their shared realisation that the majority of gay men are shallow, and the LGBTQ+ supporting cast is an array of annoying stereotypes. Where's the gay pride? Where's the celebration of gay culture?

The love in this film - between two middle-class, cisgender, well-toned white guys - blossoms in spite of the queer community rather than within it. I have a hell of a lot more positive things to say for queer films that fully commit themselves to being queer. Or straight films that fully commit to being straight. 

Let's take a look at the teen romcoms Heartstopper and Love, Simon. They're cringeworthy and I struggled to finish them, but they did warm my heart. When gay kids are so used to seeing bleak and violent representations of their lives, these films couple the reality of homophobic bullying with an innocent love story. Of course, they conform to heteronormative narrative conventions of two people meeting, falling in love, and living happily ever after. But they are self-aware in doing this. They're meant to be Wattpad-esque cute high school romances for gay kids. Nothing more nuanced or complex. 

One imagines that, when these fictional characters become adults, they may have to reevaluate their position in straight society. One day Grindr might have its uses. But that's okay. It's not something for them to deal with right now. And hopefully when they do reach this point in life, they'll deal with it a lot better than they do in Uncoupled.

In queer relationships, there is no rulebook

There are many great queer films that free themselves entirely from heteronormative structures. To name a few of my personal favourites, Moonlight, Call Me By Your Name, God's Own Country... These are all, however, heavy going and intense, filled with passion and all the primal emotions. They're hardly Friday night popcorn films.

Hence, I ask myself: can a queer romcom exist at all? I reiterate that the romcom is a genre founded on the comical nature of gender relations and sexual etiquette. But in queer relationships, there is no rulebook - this is literally what it means to be queer! Therefore, poking fun at such rules is always going to feel a little off the mark, exaggerated, or artificial. Sorry if I'm a little fatalistic about the future of the queer romcom, but if I'm in the mood for something cheesy, I would much rather watch How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.