[Note from Frolic: We are so excited to have author Casey McQuiston on the site today. Take it away Casey!]
I’ve been a romcom scholar for most of my life. I remember the first one I saw in the theater: You’ve Got Mail. There I was, seven years old, and there Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan were, being beautiful and stubborn and petty and in love. It was magic.
I watched whenever a romcom got replayed on cable: Julia Roberts jumping in that Fedex truck in Runaway Bride, Julia Stiles and Heath Ledger both providing some extremely formative crush material in 10 Things I Hate About You. To me, these stories were fairy tales that actually seemed somehow attainable—as if, under the right circumstances, one day I could get kissed at the end of an improvised musical number, too.
But here’s the thing: sometimes, it’s harder to love romcoms when you’re not straight. It’s hard to hold both those parts of your heart together when the genre often disregards queer people. When I set out to write Red, White & Royal Blue, I thought, what if I took all the shiny things I love about romantic comedies and wrapped it around a queer love story?
So, indulge me in this thought exercise. I’m imagining what a few beloved romcoms from my list of personal faves could look like if they were retold, reframed, or remixed to center on a queer love story instead. Turns out, it doesn’t take many changes to make a queer romcom work.
When Harry Met Sally
Obviously, the crux of this all-time great romcom is the question: can a man and a woman be just friends? An incredibly complicated question, for sure, if a little less culturally relevant in 2019. It’s a lot easier to maintain the boundary of friendship between a man and a woman who once dated if one (or both) of them figures out they’re queer—also known as, half the couples I knew in my early twenties.
So let’s say: Harry and Sally break up for the first time. Sally’s already openly queer (very believable that a queer woman in New York would find herself dating a smartass guy with a beard and light wash jeans), and six months after their breakup, we find them on opposite ends of the phone as Sally talks Harry through his spiral into bisexual panic. The Queer 101 experience cements their platonic life partner status, especially since Sally has bigger problems: namely, realizing she’s in love with her extremely messy best friend who is hung up on a married dude and looks just like a young Carrie Fisher
It’s no secret that I love a good enemies-to-lovers story—after all I did center my debut novel on one. And Chris O’Dowd is endearing in his own sad Basset hound sort of way in this movie. But to me, the most compelling dynamic in the entire film is the one between Annie and Helen, played masterfully by Kristen Wiig and Rose Byrne.
So, leave the rest of the movie as is—the bitter rivalry, the screaming meltdowns, Annie jealously accusing Helen of being a lesbian, Helen being unhappy in her marriage to a rich dude—but add in the twist that, while searching for their runaway bride friend, their feud culminates in a hate-makeout. New ending: Helen divorces her rich husband, takes her money, and uses it to help Annie launch her new bakery.
Sweet Home Alabama
This movie may not be on everyone’s all-timers list, but growing up in the south with a family full of women, Sweet Home Alabama was on heavy rotation. Released in 2002, it joins other late ‘90s/early ‘00s classics that feature a tertiary gay characters (see also: Rupert Everett in My Best Friend’s Wedding). Ethan Embry’s Bobby Ray is outed halfway in (yikes), but to the movie’s credit, he’s never treated as a stereotype and his small town is shown to be pretty accepting of him.
The pitch: we condense Reese Witherspoon’s plot to the first half hour of the movie and center the whole thing on Bobby Ray instead. He’s just trying to mind his gay business in rural Alabama when his childhood friend bursts into town, ditches her fiancé for her old sweetheart, and leaves Patrick Dempsey too ashamed to show his face in New York after his high profile dumping. Enter: a gorgeous opportunity for the country-meets-city trope, Patrick Dempsey trying to drown his sorrows in cornbread, and Bobby Ray discovering he didn’t have to leave his hometown to find what he was looking for.
While You Were Sleeping
If any classic romantic comedy is begging for a queer retelling, it’s this one. There are a million stories out there that play, almost always subtextually, with triangulating desire: the trope in which a super homoerotic relationship is no homo’d by one of the characters ending up with a sibling of a more appropriate gender. Picture that, but in reverse.
We’ve got a lonely, bisexual transit worker who becomes infatuated with Mysterious Handsome Guy, saves his life, and has to spend the holidays with his big Chicago family pretending to be their comatose son’s fiancée. But then, quelle surprise, she discovers Mysterious Handsome Guy is actually kind of a d-bag and that she has much more in common with his surly sister who makes furniture and wears jean jackets. You barely have to change Jack Callaghan as a character to make him a grumpy lesbian with a heart of gold, and Sandy Bullock’s energy in this movie is very chaotic bisexual. They get engaged via tollbooth at the end! It’s adorable!
10 Things I Hate About You
Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles are one of my most favorite onscreen couples in history, so I won’t split them up in this one. And the whole paid-to-seduce-you-but-I-caught-feelings trope? So good. Untouchable. But what we do have in this movie is a fantastic ensemble cast to play with.
So here’s my suggestion: sticking to the original plot, Cameron (JGL) hires Patrick (Heath) to win over Kat (Julia) in order to get a date with Kat’s sister, Bianca. Real feelings develop between Patrick and Kat, but instead of being thrilled that his plan is working, the more time Cameron spends with Bianca, the more pangs of jealousy he feels watching Kat and Patrick together. After all, he did spot that Patrick was the hottest guy in school. Things boil over at the prom where it’s finally revealed that Cameron has fallen for both Kat and Patrick and Bianca was only using Cameron as a beard so she could date her best friend Gabrielle Union in peace. Everybody wins, and it’s a story not just about unlikely entanglements. It’s about how love can come in a million different forms.
About the Author:
Hi, I’m Casey!
I’m a writer—books, essays, books, articles, books. I live at the intersection of fun, escapist romantic adventure and smart-mouthed characters with bad manners and big hearts. I was born and raised in the Deep South, which taught me how to love a good story and a great biscuit, and now I live and work in northern Colorado with my dog, Pepper.
Find Her Here: https://caseymcquiston.com/
Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston out now!
What happens when America’s First Son falls in love with the Prince of Wales?
When his mother became President, Alex Claremont-Diaz was promptly cast as the American equivalent of a young royal. Handsome, charismatic, genius―his image is pure millennial-marketing gold for the White House. There’s only one problem: Alex has a beef with the actual prince, Henry, across the pond. And when the tabloids get hold of a photo involving an Alex-Henry altercation, U.S./British relations take a turn for the worse.
Heads of family, state, and other handlers devise a plan for damage control: staging a truce between the two rivals. What at first begins as a fake, Instragramable friendship grows deeper, and more dangerous, than either Alex or Henry could have imagined. Soon Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret romance with a surprisingly unstuffy Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations and begs the question: Can love save the world after all? Where do we find the courage, and the power, to be the people we are meant to be? And how can we learn to let our true colors shine through? Casey McQuiston’s Red, White & Royal Blue proves: true love isn’t always diplomatic.