It’s that time of year again: time for my perpetually single-on-Valentine’s-Day-self to scroll through my streaming platforms, looking for a Sapphic film to mark the occasion. On the one hand, I want something sappy to speak to the hopeless romantic in me. But on the other, I don’t want to see a couple so perfect for each other that I’ll drown myself in ice cream, wishing I had the same thing.
Unfortunately, most of the lesbian films I’m likely to find do not mirror the romantic comedies I loved as a teen. There are not many queer movies out there with a cheesy meet-cute and a dramatic public declaration of love as I saw in films like 27 Dresses and The Proposal. Instead, most of the queer films I find feature tired tropes and exhausting coming out narratives.
Many lesbian films are focused on sex scenes and thin on character development. Movies like Blue Is the Warmest Color fall into this category with shots that fetishize women for the male gaze. Period pieces such as Carol, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, and Ammonite make it seem like queer romance is a thing of the past and the extent of WLW love involves intense staring at each other.
But what kills me the most is the number of lesbian films where queerness is the crux of the plot. You know the film – it’s a love story between two women, and in many cases, one woman is straight or has never slept with a woman before. Coming out is a difficult process that deserves to be represented in movies … but not every queer film.
Not all films can escape these overdone clichés and give us characters who just happen to be queer without their sexuality being the driver of the film’s conflict. But these six Sapphic movies try their best at mirroring the romantic comedy genre and are perfect for your Valentine’s Day.
Though Desert Hearts is almost 40 years old, its story and characters are absolutely timeless. Loosely based on the 1964 lesbian novel Desert of the Heart, this 1985 romantic drama tells the story of English professor Vivian Bell, who travels to a ranch in Nevada to wait for her divorce to finalize. There, she meets Cay Rivers, and the two embark on a beautiful relationship.
I cannot count the number of times I’ve seen Imagine Me & You. This 2005 romantic comedy stars Piper Perabo as Rachel and Lena Headey as Luce, two women who meet on Rachel’s wedding day, where Luce is her florist. As the two women spend time together, sparks fly, and the subsequent result is queer and cheesy in the best way possible.
If you find yourself missing The L Word and wanting to watch more of Laurel Holloman (who plays Tina Kennard), The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love is the movie for you. This 1995 GLAAD Award–winning independent film stars Holloman as 17-year-old butch lesbian Randy Dean, who falls for the most popular girl in school, Evie Roy (Nicole Ari Parker).
While sexuality drives I Can’t Think Straight’s central conflict, the chemistry between the two actresses is so rich that I couldn’t leave it from this list. This 2008 British romantic drama centers on Tala (Lisa Ray), a Jordanian woman who is about to get married for the fourth time … until she meets a young British Indian Muslim woman named Leyla (Sheetal Sheth).
You’ve likely heard of Alice Wu’s The Half of It, which premiered on Netflix in 2020. But The Half Of It isn’t Wu’s only film with a lesbian romance. In 2004, Wu debuted Saving Face at the Toronto International Film Festival, and it has since become a queer classic. This romantic comedy-drama follows Wilhelmina Pang (Michelle Krusiec), a young Chinese-American surgeon who lives with her pregnant mother and falls for dancer Vivian Shing (Lynn Chen).
Hearts Beat Loud may not be your typical rom com, but with a killer soundtrack and a stellar cast including Nick Offerman (Parks and Rec), Kiersey Clemons (Dope), and Sasha Lane (The Miseducation of Cameron Post), it has become one of my favorites queer films to date. This 2018 film follows former musician Frank Fisher (Offerman) as he tries to convince his daughter Sam (Clemons) to start a band together after a song they recorded goes viral. Sam’s relationship with girlfriend Rose (Lane) is certainly not the focus of the film, but a welcome addition to a touching movie.
Whatever you’re watching this Valentine’s Day, I hope it puts a smile on your face.