On Valentine’s Day, who doesn’t want to cuddle up with a partner and some popcorn for a romantic film?
For comedy and romance, last year’s charming “Fire Island,” (on Hulu) puts a queer twist on Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” as Noah (Joel Kim Booster, who penned the screenplay) unexpectedly falls for Will (Conrad Ricamora) during his week summering in the gay mecca. Watching them trying not to couple up is highly satisfying.
Writer/director Ray Yeung’s fabulous “Front Cover,” (on Netflix) has Ryan (Jake Choi), a gay, American-born Chinese fashion stylist, assigned to work with Ning (James Chen) a Chinese actor promoting his new film in New York. The two men are “like fire and water,” with Ning telling Ryan, “Not to show his homo side.” Of course, as the guys grow closer, an attraction develops between them that changes both of their perspectives on sexuality and ethnicity.
Another amusing romcom is gay writer/director Mike Mosallam’s fabulous “Breaking Fast” (Hulu). Mo (the charismatic Haaz Sleiman) is a heartbroken gay Muslim doctor who meets Kal (Michael Cassidy), an actor, during Ramadan. Because the Holy Month forbids impure thoughts and activities, Mo is forced to practice self-control despite his increasing attraction to the actor. Mosallam’s clever conceit allows Mo and Kal to fall in love as their relationship develops over numerous dinners and dates.
“Kissing Jessica Stein” (Hulu) is the charming romcom about the bi-curious title character (Jennifer Westfeldt), who unexpectedly finds love — or something like it — with another woman (Heather Juergensen) when she decides to give up men.
One could almost never get tired of watching two lesbian classics. Writer/director Céline Sciamma’s “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” (Hulu) is an exquisite, romantic drama. Set in the 1700s, the film is an extended flashback to Marianne (Noémie Merlant) being commissioned to paint Héloïse (Adèle Haenel). As Marianne observes Héloïse, escorting her on walks along the cliffs and shoreline, the two young women slowly get to know one another. which builds the sexual tension between them. When the two women finally kiss, it is swoon-inducing. So too, is this exceptional film.
“Carol,” (Kanopy) Todd Haynes’ outstanding adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s classic lesbian novel “The Price of Salt,” is a piercing study of the title character (Cate Blachett), while also showing Carol as a catalyst for her lover Therese’s (Rooney Mara) sexual awakening. This lush, gorgeous film is, indeed, both a heart-rending drama and a stirring romance about two women coming to terms with their sexual identities in the conformist era of the 1950s.
A gritty, enjoyable romantic drama, “Haymaker,” (Prime) has transgender performer Nomi (Nomi Ruiz) rescued from a sexual assault by Nick (writer/director Nick Sasso), a retired Muay Thai fighter. When Nomi hires Nick to protect her, he is captivated by her allure, and during one stop on her tour, they become affectionate. It quickly impacts their professional relationship. Ruiz, makes a strong impression as Nomi, a woman who is both a diva and down to earth, and Sasso creates a nifty low-budget riff on “The Bodyguard” formula.
Trans actress Leyna Bloom makes an auspicious film debut as Wye, a New York kiki ballroom dancer in writer/director Danielle Lessovitz’s absorbing romantic drama, “Port Authority” (STARZ). Wye catches the eye of Paul (Fionn Whitehead), a fresh-off-the-bus 20-year-old. Their budding romance is sweet, but it hits a snag when he learns she is trans. Although “Port Authority” is Paul’s story, Bloom commands the screen in her scenes — especially when she is performing.
“My Fake Boyfriend” (Amazon) is a cute but corny romcom about Andrew (out gay Keiynan Lonsdale) a stuntman/self-defense instructor in New York City who needs to quit his toxic ex, Nico (Marcus Rosner). Andrew’s bestie, Jake (Dylan Sprouse) takes drastic action by inventing a fake boyfriend, Cristiano Maradona, which helps Andrew improve his life. Of course, Andrew quickly falls in love for real with Rafi (Samer Salem), a restaurateur who is a snack and a half. Directed by Rose Troche (“Go Fish”) this predictable comedy is as adorable as it is strained.
“Crush” (Hulu) is a fabulous, high energy romcom about Paige (Rowan Blanchard) an anti-social lesbian teen who dreams about her classmate, Gaby (Isabella Ferreira of “Love, Victor”). While Paige is awkward in her face-to-face encounters with Gaby, “Crush” is thoroughly charming throughout. The appealing supporting cast includes Megan Mullally as Paige’s super-supportive, sex-positive mom, and Michelle Buteau as her principal, but it is the teens who shine in this refreshing, feel-good film where queer sexuality is embraced with only minimal angst.
Billy Porter’s “Anything’s Possible” (Prime) has trans teenager Kelsa (trans actress Eva Reign) falling in love with her classmate Khal (Abubakr Ali). Their relationship is adorable, but it does cause Kelsa trouble with her friend, Em (Courtnee Carter). Moreover, Kelsa’s overprotective mother, Selene (Renée Elise Goldsberry), gets upset when one of her daughter’s videos about being trans goes viral. Porter’s film, written by Ximena García Lecuona, makes salient points about gender but “Anything’s Possible” is more tender than preachy.
“Straight Up” (Netflix) is out queer writer/director James Sweeney’s terrific romcom about Todd (Sweeney), who drops a bombshell when he tells his friends, “I think I’m not gay.” This nervous, hyper-verbose, OCD guy soon meets Rory (Katie Findlay), a budding actress who shares his hyper-verbosity, and his desire not to have sex. Sweeney wrings laughs from gay stereotypes and pop culture references, and he infuses his film with poignant moments as well as perceptive insights about love and relationships. In addition, the filmmaker employs inventive visuals that frame the characters to comment on the action and their emotions.
And don’t forget the British gem, “Weekend,” (Criterion Channel) a truly great gay romance about Russell (Tom Cullen) who picks up Glen (Chris New) at a bar one night. But this is no simple one-night stand. Over Saturday and Sunday, the two men get to know each other, and they fall in love. Writer/director Andrew Haigh’s (“Looking”) observational approach chronicles Russell and Glen’s palpable attraction and emotional attachment.
Lastly a trio of personal favorites from Latin American are available on Apple TV, Amazon, and other platforms.
“End of the Century” is writer/director Lucio Castro’s absolutely hypnotic romance about Ocho (Juan Barberini), who hooks up with Javi (Ramon Pujol of “Smiley”) in Barcelona. Their tryst is erotic, but it becomes something more complicated when Javi confesses: “We’ve met before.” The film plays with time, memory, and imagination in ways that will provoke viewers. It also features a scene of the guys dancing that is pure magic.
“Hawaii” is Argentine auteur Marco Berger’s sensual drama about Eugenio (Manuel Vignau), a writer, who hires Martín (Mateo Chiarino) to do odd jobs around the estate. Eugenio is instantly attracted to Martín and Martin entices Eugenio. Berger’s ability to capture the men’s subjugated passions keeps viewers on tenterhooks until the last scene.
From Chile, the passionate drama, “The Strong Ones,” by writer/director Omar Zúñiga Hidalgo, chronicles the intense relationship that develops between Lucas (Samuel González) and Antonio (Antonio Altamirano) in a coastal town in Southern Chile. The attraction between the two men is electric; the actors have tremendous chemistry as they delicately negotiate their romance.