Important question: have you ever watched Die Hard and thought, ‘I’m looking for less substance?’ Last issue, we inducted Halloween cult favourite Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, but the season of the witch is sadly over: we are firmly on Santa’s turf now. I previously contended that Halloween is gay Christmas, but what does that make actual Christmas? Depending on your particular indulgences, Christmas can be an equally camp affair.
Picking one classic film that meets our criteria was initially tricky: in my rolodex of useless cultural awareness, I struggled to find a camp Christmas classic with a mindless plot, outrageous production, and subtle queer sensibility. After all, Netflix alone offers countless titles worthy of intellectual discussion (I would recommend 2013’s Christmas in the City starring Ashanti), but most of them fall into the category, ‘so bad it’s actually just bad.’
However, there is ultimately only one title that fits the bill. We present this month’s inductee into The (Not) Gay Movie Club: mid-nineties Christmas action bonanza The Long Kiss Goodnight.
We should preface this celebration by stating that Geena Davis is a movie icon, one that inarguably resonates with queer audiences. She exudes unfaltering confidence and the roles she plays tend to be powerful women who subvert gender stereotypes. And of course, she and the similarly iconic Susan Sarandon made lesbian subtext history in Thelma and Louise.
She has also made a huge impact on gender parity in Hollywood behind the scenes. Tired of seeing how women are stereotyped and hypersexualized on screen, she created the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media to study and enhance positive female representation in film and television. The institute measures how female screen and speaking time is disproportionate to men in film and television. Yet her efforts go woefully underappreciated. In short, we don’t deserve Geena Davis, and The Long Kiss Goodnight captures her star quality perfectly.
Geena Davis plays Samantha Caine, a seemingly normal (and earth-shatteringly beautiful) schoolteacher who lives in upstate Pennsylvania following an accident that left her with amnesia eight years previously. In the middle of her Christmas festivities, she experiences a car crash-induced head injury that reminds her of her former life: when she was a ruthless assassin caught up in some global espionage, naturally. Samantha manages to unlock some of her former skills, as seen when she masterfully chops a lot of vegetables in a short amount of time.
She decides to explore her assassin instincts and, with the help of low-rent P.I. Mitch Hennessey (played by Samuel L Jackson), becomes embroiled in a geopolitical conspiracy in a bid to discover more about herself. Spoiler: the plot is endlessly stupid. Just roll with the complicated logic and unlikely scenarios, and you will not be disappointed. At the time the movie was made, Davis was still reeling from the poor performance of her most recent release Cutthroat Island. I wish that too was Christmas-related, as discussing the gleefully awful pirate romp would be a sheer delight. She had made Cutthroat Island with her now ex-husband Renny Harlin, who also made The Long Kiss Goodnight: what an indisputably creative power couple.
However, the film is wildly entertaining, regardless of whether or not Harlin intended for it to be a camp thriller. For one, Davis brings such physicality to the role, embodying the contrast between the warm, hospitable schoolteacher and the merciless mercenary facets of her identity. It’s an amalgamation of Die Hard and Jekyll and Hyde, but with cheesy dialogue (‘Chefs do that!’ Samantha cries, as she hurls a knife across her kitchen).
The Long Kiss Goodnight is spectacularly camp. One notable moment occurs when experiencing the adrenaline of a car crash leads to Samantha snapping a deer’s neck in a hilariously deadpan fashion. At one point, she throws her daughter through a hole in a brick wall and into her treehouse. The duality of the protagonist is almost met in the movie’s overall balance of camp and action: the set pieces are so bizarre and ludicrous, but their intensity definitely elevates what could easily be a cookie-cutter spy thriller. The special effects and stunts are outrageous and over-the-top, but executed with surprising success. Davis herself is authentically formidable: the audience buys without question that she can ice skate faster than a speeding car, and I want to live in a world in which that is a reality.
The film’s gayest moment is gifted to us in the form of a makeover, when Samantha reverts to her old aesthetic. She cuts her hair into a severe, scraped back bob, bleaches it, and wears black eyeliner and red lipstick. She also starts dressing like Sandy at the end of Grease, if Sandy was a brutal murderer. She then proceeds to perform a bizarre little ritual with a shot glass, in which she rolls it across her face before downing the contents. Why? Not certain. Is it a culturally significant moment not respected enough by the masses? Without a shadow of a doubt.
Like our other entries to the club, The Long Kiss Goodnight isn’t inherently queer at all: there are no evident LGBTQ+ characters to speak of. But what ultimately gives the film our seal of approval is its adherence to the trope seen in countless titles adored by queer audiences. Samantha is a complex and powerful woman, emotionally and physically, and she spends the entire film overcoming the adversity in her life in the pursuit of understanding her identity. At the risk of speaking on behalf of my community, I can’t honestly say I have ever thrown a child through a brick wall, but we can absolutely relate to her complicated quest to understand herself. Even though her past is riddled with trauma and regret, she needs to embrace it in order to live her present life to the fullest. If that doesn’t relate to the queer experience, launch me into the nearest treehouse.
The Long Kiss Goodnight is so much fun. It joins our roster of underappreciated gems with queer subtext for several reasons, but ultimately, it’s the heart Geena Davis brings to Samantha that offers the movie more depth than your average action thriller. Like every gay icon, we are rooting for her to succeed, which in this case means understanding herself more and embracing who she is really meant to be. But who am I to lie and say the unintentionally camp one-liners, ludicrous stunts, and labyrinthine plot aren’t the real selling points?
The Long Kiss Goodnight has earned its place in The (Not) Gay Movie Club unequivocally, and deserves to be top of your Christmas movie list this year.
This article was first published in the December 2020 issue of SNACK magazine. You can read the full magazine below on your smartphone, tablet, or pc.