What is it about the American character that makes us love the road so much? Maybe it comes from our pioneer history and the vast expanses of undeveloped territory and coastlines.
Travel also brings to mind more interior emotions: romance, adventure, and discovery. Perhaps that journey of self-discovery is particularly important to the queer audience who despite the dangers inherent in traveling while gay, can reinvent and express themselves on the road in the way they can’t necessarily at home.
Like these following road pictures. Whether comic, dramatic, a mix of both, these movies use travel as a metaphor for exploration of the human spirit.
As we head to the travel season, get out of the house and onto the road. You never know what you will find.
1. To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Numar
The movie that gave us action stars Patrick Swayze, John Leguizamo and Wesley Snipes in drag, along with a winning performance from gay icon Stockard Channing and a redux of “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” remains a hilarious gem 20 years after its first release. A comedy about three drag queens on a cross-country journey for a pageant, this dragstravaganza still makes us want to hop in a leopard-print upholstered convertible and hit the accelerator.
2. The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
Another obvious choice here, much like To Wong Foo only better, Priscilla changed the face of LGBTQ road movies. There drag performers shack up on a bus trip across the Australian outback to do a resort drag show, and find Aboriginies, strippers, homophobia, love and themselves along the way. More serious and thoughtful than its American counterpart, Priscilla made ABBA a staple of any gay road trip. High heels remain optional.
3. Y Tu Mama Tambien
Alfonso Cuaron’s drama about two horny friends (played by Diego Luna & Gael Garcia Bernal at their most swoon-worthy) who embark on a road trip through the Mexican countryside with an older woman has its share of laughs and steamy scenes. The scenes of drama between the three leads give the movie real life though, as the film ponders questions about masculinity, and whether sexual competition between men proxies a lust for each other.
Felicity Huffman should have won an Oscar (sorry, Reese Witherspoon!) for her performance as a transgender woman on a cross-country road trip with the gay son she never knew she had (played by Kevin Zegers). The interplay between the two makes the movie both funny and poignant, as the two navigate one crisis after another… like a family. The movie also features some beautiful vistas of rural America, raging from the Midwestern countryside to the deserts of Arizona.
5. My Own Private Idaho
Gus Van Sant wrote and directed this remarkable drama about gay hookers in search of their families, borrowing heavily from Shakespeare’s Henry V. That alone would make it worth a watch, though great performances from Keanu Reeves and the late River Phoenix seal the deal. The two travel from the streets of Seattle to the Italian countryside to the hills of Idaho as the two confront their pasts–and their hidden feelings for each other.
6. Hedwig and the Angry Inch
That Hedwig even qualifies as a road picture goes often overlooked since most of the travel takes place off-screen. But a road movie it is—one that uses its journey as a metaphor for exploring the life of the title character. Just as her tour takes us to cities across the US, Hedwig’s life story traverses Eastern Bloc Berlin to a Kansas army base to the streets of New York. John Cameron Mitchell’s performance ranks as one of the best of the 21st century, while Stephen Trask’s music still makes us want to rock out.
The great Todd Haynes directed this 50s-style melodrama about a wealthy socialite who falls in love with a shopgirl. Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara give wonderful performances as the two women who travel from New York to Chicago in order to escape the stresses of their lives. Romantic, sensual, and with a plot that features a shocking twist, Carol will sneak up on viewers before whisking them away on a dark and erotic journey.
8. Boys on the Side
Long before she landed the desk on The View, and before talking dinosaurs, singing nuns and unfunny comedies harmed her reputation, Whoopi Goldberg knew how to let the world know she’s one hell of an actress. Case in point: this mostly-forgotten 1995 gem which also features Mary-Louise Parker, Matthew McConaughey, and Drew Barrymore. Goldberg stars as a lesbian lounge singer on a road trip from New York to Los Angeles with a pregnant girl (Barrymore) and a secretive real estate agent (Parker). The three unite to escape the pain of their past, and predictably, find love against the backdrops of some of America’s most beautiful cities: New York, Tucson, Pittsburgh and LA.
9. Thelma & Louise
Is Thelma & Louise a lesbian parable? A neo-feminist statement? A work of staggering misogyny? The debate rages on, though we can’t deny falling in love with the titular characters (played by Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis, delivering some of the best work of their careers). We also can’t deny seeing a good deal of lesbian undercurrent in this film about two women on the lam through the American Southwest to Mexico.
10 Little Miss Sunshine
The comedy that enchanted Sundance and the Academy Awards tends to get overlooked when it comes to queer issues. How unfortunate: Steve Carrell gives one of his best-ever performances as a gay college professor dealing with heartbreak amid a mid-life crisis. Actually, everyone in this movie seems to get overwhelmed by crisis on their journey from Arizona to Los Angeles in a vintage Volkswagon van.