What Happens Next?7 May 2019
It’s a Friday night and your day has been a little too straight. Luckily Netflix has that LGBTQ section to fix things up. For the next hour and a half, one of the worst films you will ever see in your life flickers across the screen. It can only be one of the worst, since you would have faced the same problem last Tuesday. Queer cinema is a mess.
Not every queer film is terrible. In recent years, more high-quality, low-death-count films have been made. Love, Simon includes zero queer deaths, one big happy ending and a $17 million budget.Carol, God’s Own Country and Pride are also properly funded and very good. Not every terrible movie is queer either, but there’s a questionable pattern when such a high proportion of such a small group of films are so bad. If you’re not convinced, try to get through the entirety of The Guest House, What Happens Next or The 10 Year Plan.
Academic and social critic Camille Paglia suggests mediocre filmmaking comes from a closure of community. Without fear of persecution, LGBTQ people can now make films which appeal exclusively to them. There is no need to educate the outside population anymore, so these films are average, but desired by an audience who will consume them anyway.
Another possibility is budget. Major film studios have historically had little interest in financing queer films. Many projects – including D.E.B.S., The Way He Looks and Were the World Mine – began as short films. Their popularity eventually enabled them to be financed as feature-length pictures, but the time between each release indicates financial difficulties. Were the World Mine, a gay interpretation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, was released in 2008 – but the original short, drolly titled Fairies, came out in 2003. It’s one of the most popular films from small production company The Entertainment Group, despite making only $123,789 during its run. The movie is laughed at, but with more financing the production quality could have been better, making the film less of a joke.
Many of these films are low-budget and poorly made because they are filmmakers’ first projects. What Happens Next was director Jay Arnold’s first and only directing and writing credit, suggesting that this was his passion project. These filmmakers don’t have the practice or the financial backing to make a high-quality film, but they’re desperate to make something which speaks to them and their experiences. While other directors’ awful first attempts may be hidden away, LGBTQ films are needed, so they remain in the spotlight. The Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson began his directing career with Bad Taste in 1987. It follows aliens harvesting humans from a small New Zealand town, as a part of their intergalactic food chain business. James Cameron first directed Piranha II: The Spawning, also known as Flying Killers. Though these films are obscured from the spotlight, queer first films like Is It Just Me? and What Happens Next have unfortunately had runs on Netflix.
Queer representation may not be ideal yet, but at least it’s stepping away from past portrayals. From Ursula to Scar, from Silence of the Lambs to Basic Instinct, queer-coded villains are rampant and damaging. Ursula was based off famed drag queen Divine, demonising a real-life queer person. While Ariel is sweet and heterosexual, Ursula is a predator, whose octopus tentacles are supposedly seductive and scary, equating queerness to evilness. If the character isn’t portrayed as morally repellent or dangerous, they’ll probably learn from their gay mistakes soon enough. Brokeback Mountain ends in a gay bashing. Lost and Delirious has one character denounce her depraved lesbian ways, while the other commits suicide. Atomic Blonde and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel kill off their queer characters the moment they find happiness. Queer film often depicts the LGBTQ community’s depressing history, and it’s tricky to create AIDS stories with happy endings, but misery and punishment are over-represented.
Passion projects are something of a rebellion – films like What Happens Next are a reaction to negative representation. Queer filmmakers want to create happy stories. Maybe it’s catharsis, maybe it’s entertainment. It might be the film they’ve been waiting years to create.Yes, these films are terrible. Everyone laughs at them, talks about them, gives them the thumb down on Netflix – but these films are obviously necessary and watched by people who need to see themselves represented positively on the screen. People love to hate, but the need for happy endings shouldn’t be dismissed.