Mainstream queer films, especially sapphic films, are notoriously tragic. It’s rare that we get to see lesbians in film get their happy endings, and even rarer that they are fun and light-hearted to watch throughout. Oftentimes, they are set in the eighteenth century where the relationship must be kept a secret and is doomed to end from the start, like in Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019) and The Favourite (2018), or an uncomfortable blend of toxicity and fetishization, like Blue Is The Warmest Colour (2013) or simply, the queer female characters die tragically, a trope we all, unfortunately, know all too well.
The Bury Your Gays trope is seen as a long-lasting effect of the Hays Code, a set of guidelines for film established in early Hollywood, condemning the portrayal of homosexuality. When they were present, they served as a cautionary tale, meeting miserable ends for simply existing. And since it still affects queer women disproportionately, a variation of it known as Dead Lesbian Syndrome was introduced. It can seem as though there cannot be a lesbian character or relationship in film without falling into these conventions, and although most of these films are critically acclaimed and widely enjoyed by LGBTQ+ audiences, sometimes we just want to see ourselves represented on the big screen and have fun while doing it.
So, if the abundance of “lesbians without electricity” or she-wanted-a-man-the-whole-time films has led you to seek out more wholesome and joyful lesbian cinema after seeing the Live Laugh Lesbian programme, here is a list of my favourite recommendations. These films all focus on explicitly lesbian love stories with happy endings, no deaths, and overall fun, happy vibes.
1. But I’m a Cheerleader (1999)
But I’m A Cheerleader follows Megan, a high school cheerleader played by Natasha Leone, as she is sent to a conversion therapy rehabilitation facility, where she meets her love interest Graham. Although the plot is driven by homophobia, the film is a satirical comedy, wrapped in classic teen rom-com fun. The ending is a warm and welcome surprise as the girls actually end up together, and the film overall is a delightfully campy and colourful celebration of queerness, love, and acceptance. It also hilariously features RuPaul Charles as an “ex-gay”.
2. Go Fish (1994)
Rose Troche’s black-and-white art film is a clear labour of love, filled with sincerity and authenticity. It’s music and aesthetic are comforting in the way 90s New Queer Cinema is, and the way the characters interact and talk about love is so endearing to watch. The main storyline is about Max and Ely’s budding romance, despite their differences, but underpinned are various discussions within and about the lesbian community.
3. D.E.B.S. (2004)
D.E.B.S., the story of a star student at a school for crime-fighting teen spies falling for the villainess she must bring to justice, is the definition of camp. The mix of that nostalgic early 2000s teen film aesthetic, the so-bad-they’re-good special effects and the adorable enemies-to-lovers romance deservedly makes this film a lesbian cult classic.
4. Summerland (2020)
A seemingly reclusive and initially reluctant woman takes in an evacuee during World War Two, while her mind is occupied by her writing and a past love. Although this one is a fun, wholesome adventure, you might end up with a few (happy) tears. The love story does take a back seat for a large part of the film, but the found family and heart-warming ending is so worth it!
5. Imagine Me & You (2005)
Starring Lena Headey and Piper Perabo, this film feels like wrapping yourself in a warm blanket on a rainy day and has all the charm of a comforting 2000s British rom-com. Leads Luce and Rachel, who meet at Rachel’s wedding, become close friends and as they get to know each other better, they realise it might be something more. Self-questioning, fun dance sequences and grand romantic gestures ensue.
6. Crush (2022)
While the coming-of-age comedy falls victim to some cringey writing, it’s something you’ll wish you had growing up. It’s a cheesy but fun film, where all the LGBTQ+ characters are already out and all the drama comes from the confusion of being a teenager, not being gay. The sapphic love triangle, stereotypical gen-z character archetypes and silly romance tropes make for an easy-going film to laugh along with (or at).
7. The Watermelon Woman (1996)
The first feature film to be directed by a black lesbian, The Watermelon Woman is an ambitious, smart comedy with a slice of film history attached. It centres on Cheryl Dunye playing a version of herself as she researches and tries to make a film about a black actress from the 1930s, while working at a video store, and blurs the lines between fiction and documentary.
8. Saving Face (2004)
Surgeon Wil has to take in her pregnant mother who has been condemned by their Chinese-American family for being unwed, while pursuing a romance with her boss’s daughter, dancer Vivian. The film explores familial relationships and cultural pressures with a tender and comforting charm, and the quieter moments between characters are just as likely to put a smile on your face as the hilariously witty ones.