Poor bisexuals. Nobody gets you. And it’s not even your fault. You didn’t ask to be down for all the ways of love, for action with both teams. Nature just built you better.
You’ve got it even worse in movies. Screenwriters love the binary: either hetero or homo, with very little room in the middle. And if you’re a bi character, then inevitably you’re confused, predatory, or destructive. Worse, eventually you’re forced to pick one gender to the exclusion of all others. The end.
Sometimes the movies allow for awesome bisexuals — Bound, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Basic Instinct, Cabaret, Sunday Bloody Sunday, Angeline Jolie at all times in every movie — but when you’re in need of something off the beaten path, try one of these films.
They called this film the Persian Girls, and with good reason. It features a lovably self-absorbed young woman in New York City. But Desiree Akhavan’s autobiographical debut about a twenty-something’s aimless drive into adulthood is looser and more easygoing than the HBO show, and it encompasses the daily grind of being not white and not straight. Its flashes of absurdity and nonchalance feel like what would happen if Broad City elected a sarcastic bisexual mayor.
In French director Claude Chabrol’s 1968 film, two women — Stephane Audran and Jacqueline Sassard (whose character’s name is “Why”) — meet sexily, then run off to the Riviera, where both of them hook up with Jean-Louis Trintignant. But he’s just window dressing; the women are really about the psycho-sexual manipulation of one another in this exercise in style and intrigue. Not exactly progressive, but incredibly cool all the same… and that counts for a lot.
Weekend — Andrew Haigh’s the 2011 film of two young gay men who meet, have sex and talk — got all the acclaim a few years back, casting a long shadow over Tom Shkolnik’s underseen 2012 movie about a struggling stand-up comic (Edward Hogg) torn between his female roommate (Elisa Lasowski) and the boyfriend he met on the night bus (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett). It’s a film about contemporary London that English director Richard Curtis will never make. So, if you must, imagine Love, Actually minus Christmas, minus happiness, minus most of the cast and minus rich people and boom, you have this.
The D Train
The class reunion is about to happen, so organizer Jack Black — the high school loser who stayed in town, married young and still can’t get any respect — wrangles attendance confirmation from the most popular guy of their graduating class, an actor (James Marsden) now living in Los Angeles and appearing shirtless in a sunscreen commercial. How does Black seal the deal? Sexually, of course. And while Marsden’s character is unshakeably, refreshingly, coolly bisexual, it’s Black’s mid-life crisis that steals the show, as he comes to terms with the fact that he had sex with a man and liked it.
Dog Day Afternoon
Based on a real-life incident, married-with-kids Al Pacino attempts to rob a bank with results that spiral out of control. His partner in crime? His boyfriend (John Cazale). Their motive? Get money for the boyfriend’s gender reassignment. Sidney Lumet’s crackling, gritty, New York crime drama is quintessential ’70s cinema, and what makes these characters great is that the film hasn’t got time for heart-to-heart relationship chat. They have a bank to rob. These are Action Queers, and pioneers to boot.
The Pillow Book
In Peter Greenaway’s 1996 oddity, Vivian Wu stars as a young Japanese woman who likes sex and calligraphy. Specifically, she likes to practice calligraphy on her lovers’ bodies. She tries to write a book and is rejected by a publisher, but then discovers that one of her lovers (Ewan McGregor) is bisexual and also currently having an affair with the publisher. A plan is hatched. Never let it be said that bi people aren’t helpful in times of practical necessity. Also, never let it be said that Ewan McGregor is afraid to show off his dick in a movie — he did here and in Trainspotting and in Velvet Goldmine another film on this list.
The most satisfying of all swinger fantasies is realized when extremely horny married couple Lynn Lowry and Gerald Grant smoothly and effectively seduce young marrieds Claire Wilbur and Calvin Culver for what the saucy trailer describes as “mixed doubles” and “fourplay.” Radley Metzger’s 1974 X-rated porn-comedy is audaciously free of shame and is probably responsible for more bi-curious people getting actually laid with a member of the same sex than any film before it. Warning: do not watch the annoyingly coy 84-minute softcore cut. You want the full 91-minute director’s version.
Sex in Chains
Sex in Chains is a 1928 silent film about a man (William Dieterle, who also directed) sent to prison for manslaughter. Away from his wife and miserable, he enters a relationship with another prisoner. No happy endings here, but it’s all very tender and moving. In 1928. Let that sink in for a minute. It’s a film from 1928 and two men in prison are in love instead of raping each other. That’s right, fuck you all over again, Get Hard.
Okay, this isn’t really a full-fledged bisexual film. But that moment where Daniel Craig tells seductive villain Javier Bardem, “What makes you think this is my first time [with a guy]?” is one of the most crackling pieces of dialogue ever to come from 007’s lips. That the iconic super-spy playboy is almost certainly simply playing verbal cat-and-mouse is beside the point: in that moment you could not stop thinking about Bond banging dudes, and that is excellent.
Todd Haynes’ glam-tasia is a wildly tangled semiotic web of horny melancholy, rock-and-roll-based self-determination, mournful memory reconstruction and an exploration of the ways that fandom shapes and distorts the people who participate in it. Its plot follows the mysterious disappearance of Bowie-esque glam-rocker Maxwell Demon, but the film is actually more interested in concepts, and in so many ways it was simply too cool and strange for mainstream success. And then the studio tried to sell it as an utterly confusing murder mystery and it died at the box office. But go find this one and witness Christian Bale, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers and Ewan McGregor falling in (and out) of bed in a satisfying variety of combinations.
Young Man With a Horn
Before the repeal of Hollywood’s Hays Code allowed queer characters to take control of their own identities, there were the “sick” ones like Lauren Bacall’s sophisticated, intellectual, psychoanalysis-driven leading lady, seething opposite Kirk Douglas’ jazz musician (she envies his “horn”). In this 1950 drama, Bacall’s coded bisexual is meant to be tragic, played against Doris Day’s bright, sunny and “normal” jazz singer. But read today, Bacall is the only interesting person on screen. If this film had only been made 40 years later, she would have triumphantly ice-picked them both to death before the closing credits.