If Molly Ringwald — be she poor and unpopular or rich and revered — had her eye on some dreamboat, you can bet your letterman jacket that John Hughes would stick the two of 'em together in the end. The pair would share a kiss over a flaming cake or outside their incarcerating high school, just in time for the credits to roll and our eyes to tear up. That's the Hollywood ending. The more or less satisfying, albeit sometimes offensively flimsy, conclusion that brings two physically appealing young white people together. Forever. It doesn't matter how little substance backs their teenage love affair, nor how disturbingly misguided their romance might in fact be (remember Can't Hardly Wait? We're supposed to believe she falls totally in love with her stalker mere hours after her very first inkling that he even exists?), audiences just eat up these glitzy, amorous bonds.
It's a time-tested tradition throughout mainstream cinema. Sure, not all movies opt for the schmaltzy, ice cream finale, vying instead for something bleak, bittersweet, and embedded in realism, but we're moreover guaranteed a presence of that Hollywood send-off throughout the industry's rom-com output. Except, for some reason, when it comes to gay movies. Take Tribeca's G.B.F., a bubbly, colorful, pithy high school comedy, centering on the newly outed student Tanner (Michael J. Willett) and his closeted best friend Brent (Paul Iacono). When Tanner becomes the apple of every popular girl's eye, each of the school's queen bees coveting the glimmering accessory of Gay Best Friend, it puts a strain on his longtime camaraderie with Brent, leading — in classic rom-com fashion — to a fight, then a reconciliation, then a kiss, then an infatuation. And if this were your average heterosexual high school movie, you'd likely wind up with a romantic union to tie the story together and warm the audience's hearts. You'd see an eternal adhesion Tanner and Brenda, or Tanya and Brent. It'd be goofy, neglectful of real world consequences, and surface value ecstasy.
All of that would fit just fine into G.B.F., which, despite being sweet, progressive, and insightful at times, is just your ordinary candy-coated high school romp. But for whatever reason, a Hollywood ending is avoided, despite a very Hollywood beginning and middle. The movie wraps with Tanner and Brent agreeing that they're better as friends, dismissing their obvious attraction to one another (or at the very least, Brent's attraction to Tanner), and carrying on perpetually with their platonic affection.
On the one hand, this is reassuring. At least the movie recognizes something rare for show business: just because these two characters both happen to be gay, that doesn't mean they "belong" together. But in this chewing gum reality of G.B.F., these two lifelong best friends do seem to belong together. At least no less than Molly Ringwald and Michael Schoeffling or Ethan Embry and Jennifer Love Hewitt or Alicia Silverstone and her Paul Rudd step-brother. In movies as bright and brimming as Sixteen Candles, Can't Hardly Wait, and Clueless, the Hollywood ending makes sense — the same can be said for the equally fast-paced and sparkly G.B.F.. So why, then, don't we see the credits roll over a long anticipated Tanner/Brent kiss?
Why, in fact, are we so rarely inclined to see this kind of ending in movies about gay couples? Although the film industry is gradually inviting more films about homosexual relationships toward the mainstream, they all seem to vie for the bleak and bittersweet... or just bitter. The most famous entry to date is Brokeback Mountain, which chronicled the passionate love of cowboys Heath Ledger (who totally ended up with the girl in 10 Things I Hate About You) and Jake Gyllenhaal (who totally ended up with the girl in Bubble Boy... sorry for bringing up Bubble Boy), ripping the enamored men apart and killing the latter prematurely. Following in the same vein, we have romantic dramas like Weekend, A Single Man, Shelter all shoot for sorrow and sobriety. While films like these, about straight and gay romances alike, are imporant and valuable, it feels like something is missing. If there is something to be gained from the endings of Clueless and 10 Things, then there would be something to be gained by a saccharine intertwining of G.B.F.'s heroes.
But that's not what we get, despite all the signs pointing to it as the logical shot for the film's final moments. Is it simply that Hollywood is still afraid of tackling a gay romance under the guise of a mainstream movie? Even when presenting a movie that is about being gay and celebrates open-mindedness and tolerance and disparages objectification, we run into this aversion. And it's frightening — if G.B.F., a movie tailor made for the sort of Kat-and-Patrick wrap-up, is afraid of or otherwise opposed to this kind of closer, then where on Earth are we going to find it?
Sure, you'll find no shortage of filmgoers who can't stand the rom-com genre. It's fake, vapid, superficial. But it's a tradition, and one that seems to make everyone else happy. These movies, in delivering shiny stories as thick as cardboard, foster the belief in true love. They sell romance in the simplest of forms, begging viewers to buy into the mentality, if only to pony up the dough for the next big picture release. But capitalistic intentions aside, the same process should be afforded to same-sex rom-coms. The same sort of flimsy, chocolate-chomping "true love" should be touted in regards to the likes of Tanner and Brent. Gay moviegoers deserve to see themselves in the same light as the Ringwalds and Silverstones, deserve to be fed the same line of Fluffernutter as their straight counterparts. Movies like Can't Hardly Wait, 10 Things I Hate About You, Clueless, and everything by John Hughes might be hokey and ill-fit for realistic expectation, but they serve a purpose: they purport something people want to believe in. And that needs to happen for the G.B.F.s of the world, too.
Follow Michael Arbeiter on Twitter @MichaelArbeiter
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A decade-long gap between sequels could leave a franchise stale but in the case of Men in Black 3 it's the launch pad for an unexpectedly great blockbuster. The kooky antics of Agent J (Will Smith) and Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) don't stray far from their 1997 and 2002 adventures but without a bombardment of follow-ups to keep the series in mind the wonderfully weird sensibilities of Men in Black feel fresh Smith's natural charisma once again on full display. Barry Sonnenfeld returns for the threequel another space alien romp with a time travel twist — which turns out to be Pandora's Box for the director's deranged imagination.
As time passed in the real world so did it for the timeline in the world of Men in Black. Picking up ten years after MIB 2 J and K are continuing to protect the Earth from alien threats and enforce the law on those who live incognito. While dealing with their own personal issues — K is at his all-time crabbiest for seemingly no reason — the suited duo encounter an old enemy Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) a prickly assassin seeking revenge on K who blew his arm off back in the '60s. Their street fight is more of a warning; Boris' real plan is to head back in time to save his arm and kill off K. He's successful prompting J to take his own leap through the time-space continuum — and team up with a younger K (Josh Brolin) to put an end to Boris plans for world domination.
Men in Black 3 is the Will Smith show. Splitting his time between the brick personalities of Jones and Brolin's K Smith struts his stuff with all the fast-talking comedic style that made him a star in yesteryears. In present day he's still the laid back normal guy in a world of oddities — J raises an eyebrow as new head honcho O (Emma Thompson) delivers a eulogy in a screeching alien tongue but coming up with real world explanations for flying saucer crashes comes a little easier. But back in 1969 he's an even bigger fish out water. Surprisingly director Barry Sonnenfeld and writer Etan Cohen dabble in the inherent issues that would spring up if a black gentlemen decked out in a slick suit paraded around New York in the late '60s. A star of Smith's caliber may stray away from that type of racy humor but the hook of Men in Black 3 is the actor's readiness for anything. He turns J's jokey anachronisms into genuine laughs and doesn't mind letting the special effect artists stretch him into an unrecognizable Twizzler for the movie's epic time jump sequence.
Unlike other summer blockbusters Men in Black 3 is light on the action Sonnenfeld utilizing his effects budget and dazzling creature work (by the legendary Rick Baker) to push the comedy forward. J's fight with an oversized extraterrestrial fish won't keep you on the edge of your seat but his slapstick escape and the marine animal's eventual demise are genuinely amusing. Sonnenfeld carries over the twisted sensibilities he displayed in small screen work like Pushing Daisies favoring bizarre banter and elaborating on the kookiness of the alien underworld than battle scenes. MIB3's chase scene is passable but the movie in its prime when Smith is sparring with Brolin and newcomer Michael Stuhlbarg who steals the show as a being capable of seeing the future. His twitchy character keeps Smith and the audience on their toes.
Men in Black 3 digs up nostalgia I wasn't aware I had. Smith's the golden boy of summer and even with modern ingenuity keeping it fresh — Sonnenfeld uses the mandatory 3D to full and fun effect — there's an element to the film that feels plucked from another era. The movie is economical and slight with plenty of lapses in logic that will provoke head scratching on the walk out of the theater but it's also perfectly executed. After ten years of cinematic neutralizing the folks behind Men in Black haven't forgotten what made the first movie work so well. After al these years Smith continues to make the goofy plot wild spectacle and crazed alien antics look good.