We saw Paul the other night. Buddy comedy: two best friends from England (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, of Shaun of the Dead fame) visit the U.S. for ComicCon, go on a road trip, and meet a chill, foul-mouthed space alien. Pretty good movie. Cute, funny, crass in a mostly good way, predictable in some places but very original in others. Lots of creative swearing. A good time.
Except for the “no homo” bullshit — the running jokes about how everyone thinks the main characters are gay and it freaks them the fuck out. The movie even used the F-word, more than once: no, not that F-word, the other one, the anti-gay slur. It was jarring, it was exhausting, it was totally unnecessary. So much of the movie was bro-y in a good-natured way, even loving and sweet, and it bugged me that their “nerd-bros don’t have to be reactive shitheads” message didn’t extend to queerness. It almost felt like they had to be heavy-handed with the “no homo” stuff to feel comfortable with the bro-y affection. (The thing came out in 2011, so there’s no excuse.)
And I started thinking: How could they have written this differently?
What if there was a running joke where everyone thinks the main characters are gay — and instead of freaking out, they’re totally used to it by now, and don’t care?
There are lots of funny directions this could go. The guys could roll their eyes and go, “Here we go again.” They could politely explain that they’re not gay, but they’re flattered people think so, since gay guys are awesome. They could go along with it, and make up new fake relationship stories for every encounter. (Or they could elaborate on one long-standing backstory, like Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf but not mean.) They could do elaborate queer-theory and gender-theory education, grilling people on their assumptions about male friendship: I’m imagining them with homemade pamphlets in their pockets at all times, providing five basic points of gender theory and a suggested reading list.
And of course, they could mix it up throughout the movie, in unexpected ways. I’m imagining a confrontation with a local that starts with casual hostility and ends in an hours-long conversation about Judith Butler. I’m imagining them running from a diner where the Feds have caught up with them, and hastily turning back to give the waitress a pamphlet. There could even be a “history of the friendship” montage showing their own evolution, starting with gay panic at age ten and becoming more educated, more chill, and more creative in their responses as time goes on.
The movie could have just left the gay stuff out, of course. That would have been fine. But I like my way better.