Culture

6 of the greatest – and not so great – LGBT+ Christmas films

Patrick Kelleher December 21, 2021
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Cate Blanchett in Carol, Philemon Chambers in Single All The Way and Kristen Stewart in Happiest Season

Cate Blanchett in Carol, Philemon Chambers in Single All The Way and Kristen Stewart in Happiest Season.

LGBT+ Christmas films – they’re finally a thing!

From Home Alone to It’s a Wonderful Life, there are countless Christmas films that get you into the festive spirit. There’s one for every mood – if you’re feeling nostalgic, maybe Meet Me In St Louis is your cup of tea, or if you have some pent up rage, maybe Die Hard is the right choice.

But you might have noticed there’s something of a lack of diversity in the mix. Most are about wealthy white families celebrating Christmas, often struggling to overcome what are ultimately pretty simple struggles so they can enjoy the festive season. Basically, they’re films about cis, straight privilege.

Thankfully, that trend has finally started to change in recent years. Finally, we have a growing number of LGBT+ festive films to spread queer cheer, acknowledging the fact that Christmas is inherently gay.

It should be acknowledged that the queer Christmas movie is fast becoming its own trope – boy (or sometimes girl) goes home for the holidays and meets someone special, perhaps an old high school crush, or brings a new love interest home to meet dysfunctional, problematic family. Usually, these films are overwhelmingly white and cis, an issue that persists right across the spectrum when it come to Christmas movies (and beyond).

It’s vital that we call out the lack of diversity at the core of these films and implore filmmakers, streaming platforms and major studios to do better. We need to see the full spectrum of queerness on-screen – and we need to stop relying on whiteness and privilege to sell these films to the masses.

Below, we rate some of the LGBT+ Christmas films that have come over the last few years. Who knows – maybe this time next year, we’ll have a few more diverse offerings in the mix.

1. Happiest Season (2020)

Aubrey Plaza and Kristen Stewart in Happiest Season
Aubrey Plaza and Kristen Stewart in Happiest Season. (Hulu)

There was much fanfare when Happiest Season was released in the lead-up to Christmas 2020 – and the excitement was entirely justified. The film quickly became a hit with fans and critics alike, and queer audiences were delighted they finally had the Christmas film they had been craving.

Happiest Season follows Abby (Kristen Stewart) as she and her girlfriend Harper (Mackenzie Davis) return to the family home for Christmas. There’s just one problem – Harper isn’t out to her family, so they must pretend they’re just friends for the festive season.

Our rating: 8/10: It’s hard not to instantly fall in love with this film. Happiest Season captures some of the heartache and challenges queer people often face at Christmas, and it’s not afraid to put a harsh spotlight on family dysfunction. Stewart and Davis sell the film with some help from Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza and Dan Levy.

2. The Christmas House (2020)

Brad Harder and Mean Girls' Jonathan Bennett touching foreheads
Brad Harder and Mean Girls’ Jonathan Bennett in The Christmas House. (Hallmark)

If you’re looking for predictable romantic comedies that will make you smile, then the made-for-television offering is definitely the place to go – and Hallmark and Lifetime’s offerings always provide some much needed festive joy.

The downside is that, historically speaking, these films have tended to be very straight. We all know the formula by now – a successful woman gives up her career to shack up with a tall muscular man with a beard who happens to have a tragic backstory. Fans have been craving an LGBT+ Christmas film from Hallmark for years, which is why there was so much excitement in 2020 when the network announced The Christmas House.

At the centre of The Christmas House are Bill (Treat Williams) and Phylis (Sharon Lawrence), a couple whose two adult sons Mike (Robert Buckley) and Brandon (Mean Girls star Jonathan Bennett) return to the family home for the Christmas season. Brandon is a married gay man who is trying to start a family.

Our rating: 5/10: There’s nothing really wrong with The Christmas House – it does exactly what it says on the tin – but it would have been nice if Hallmark’s first queer festive offering could have at least put the gay couple at the centre of the film. In some ways, it’s empowering to see Brandon and his husband at the heart of the family – but it feels a little watered down when they’re surrounded by straight people.

3. The Christmas Setup (2020)

Ben Lewis and Blake Lee kiss in The Christmas Setup on Lifetime
The stars of Lifetime’s The Christmas Setup. (Lifetime)

Hallmark and Lifetime apparently came to the realisation that queer representation was the way forward at around the same time, which resulted in both The Christmas House and The Christmas Setup airing within weeks of each other in 2020.

The Christmas Setup follows uptight New York City lawyer Hugo (Ben Lewis), who unexpectedly reconnects with his high school crush Patrick (Blake Lee) after returning home for the Christmas season.

The whole thing is masterminded by his mother, who just so happens to be gay icon Fran Drescher.

Our rating: 7/10: The Christmas Setup is a joy to behold. Sure, it doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel, but is that really what anyone wants from a made-for-television festive romantic comedy? The chemistry between real-life married couple Lewis and Lee is palpable, and it’s all made so much better by an instantly iconic performance from Drescher.

4. Single All The Way (2021)

Philemon Chambers as Nick, Michael Urie as Peter, in Single All The Way
Philemon Chambers as Nick, Michael Urie as Peter, in Single All The Way. (Philippe Bosse/Netflix)

It was only a matter of time before we got an LGBT+ Christmas film from Netflix – the streaming giant’s offering of festive flicks has increased exponentially in recent years, and people flock to watch the often ridiculous yet addictive slate of movies.

Needless to say, fans were excited when it was revealed that Ugly Betty star Michael Urie would star opposite newcomer Philemon Chambers in the romantic comedy Single All The Way. The heartfelt film follows Peter (Urie) and his friend Nick (Chambers) as they return to Peter’s family home for Christmas. There, Peter finds himself torn between two suitably attractive men.

That’s enough for queer rom-com fans to be getting on with, but the whole thing is elevated further by the bonafide gay icons Jennifer Coolidge and Kathy Najimy.

Our rating: 8/10: Single All The Way isn’t doing anything new, but it’s still a heartwarming Christmas film that feels authentically queer. That’s not surprising when you consider the fact that all of the film’s gay characters are played by gay actors, and it was written by a gay man too.

If that’s not enough to tempt you, then Jennifer Coolidge talking about Grindr should be enough to rope you in.

PinkNews spoke to Michael Urie and Philemon Chambers about Single All The Way ahead of the film’s release. Read the full interview here.

5. Tangerine (2015)

Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez in Tangerine.
Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez in Tangerine. (Magnolia Pictures)

You’ll probably have noticed by now that when we do get queer Christmas films, they’re almost always about cis people – which is part of the reason 2015’s Tangerine is such a delight.

The comedy drama – which was filmed entirely on an iPhone 5s – tells the story of trans sex worker Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez), who discovers her boyfriend has been cheating on her on Christmas Eve.

Our rating: 10/10: Tangerine manages to straddle the line between being laugh-out-loud funny and also deeply moving at the same time. It’s anchored by crafted performances from Rodriguez and Mya Taylor, and it also has some of the heartwarming moments we need in a Christmas film. It also shows what’s possible when filmmakers commit to diverse storytelling – and it provides some hope for the future that we might see a greater variety of characters on screen.

6. Carol (2015)

Cate Blanchett in Carol
Cate Blanchett in Carol. (Number 9 Films)

We can already hear you screaming “But Carol isn’t a Christmas film!” – and on that, we’re going to have to disagree.

This 2015 period drama follows the titular character (Cate Blanchett) as she falls in love with Therese, a younger woman she meets while buying a train set for her daughter for Christmas.

Carol might not be your typical Christmas film, but it’s impossible to deny it has a wintery aesthetic. There’s also the fact that much of the film takes place at Christmas time.

For these reasons, we’re claiming Carol as a Christmas film. We won’t be taking any questions at this time.

Our rating: 10/10: Carol is an absolutely perfect film from start to finish, and Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara are utterly magnetic. Yes, it might not have the typical festive vibes we’re used to, but there’s no denying its brilliance.

More: Christmas, lgbt film

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