Over Valentine’s Day weekend, Freeform premiered their first LGBTQ+ romantic-comedy, The Thing About Harry. Penned and directed by Peter Paige, the creator of The Fosters and Good Trouble, the film hits the notes of trope-filled romances we know and love while also being funny, sometimes painful, and hella relatable.
WARNING: Spoilers below!
One synopsis goes like this: High school enemies are forced to share a ride to their hometown for a Valentine’s Day party, but things take a turn when the other comes out.
This is simpler than the actual unfolding of events, but it gets the job done; giving just enough info to make you want to tune in to see how these unlikely trip-mates get to their destination in one piece (spoiler: barely). Armed with a drink and Valentine’s Day chocolates, I joined the ride with high expectations; confident that they’d be met considering the hands from which The Thing About Harry was being delivered.
THE THING ABOUT THIS STORY’S IMPORTANCE
What’s wonderful about Freeform is that it has a wide range of representation from identity to ethnicity, and makes a point to highlight our differences under the umbrella that we’re all people who deserve love, respect, and fair treatment. As “Love however the ff you want” proudly displays on-screen, The Thing About Harry plays out with those key factors in mind.
For lack of better phrasing that no doubt everyone is using, it’s the normalization of a same-sex love story that doesn’t rely on overcoming harassment and trauma to propel it forward.
It dances with stereotypes without pigeonholing them; and at the same time, recognizes the variance in experiences from the typical heteromance.
That isn’t to say that it ignores issues of bullying, being closeted, and other toxic relationships and patterns; but these things aren’t the focal point. Most of these characters are coming up on the other side of their shit or have overcome it altogether and grown.
THE THING ABOUT BREAKING STEREOTYPES
Sam, our lead played by Grey’s Anatomy’s Jake Borelli, is months-free of a long-term relationship that ended in heartbreak and internally coming to terms with it. This isn’t treated like a one-off plot device for an emotional connection with the character, but rather explains his reasoning for certain actions and why he has specific thoughts about what makes for a good partner, both consciously and subconsciously.
It’s a reminder that some things we go through cut us so deeply that even when we’ve bounced back to functioning humans after the initial heartache, we may still put in mental safety precautions in order to protect ourselves.
Meanwhile, love interest Harry (newcomer Niko Terho) is presented in every way as the former popular jock from high school. He has a string of relationships in his wake, moving from one to the next as long as he can find someone who wants him, which… obviously, isn’t hard to do. However careless Harry often can be, he’s not out of touch with his emotions, owns up to his missteps, and consistently strives to be a better person for himself and those he cares about. It would be easy to write him off as irresponsible and foolish; but that would be doing a disservice to his character, who is more intelligent than he seems.
Harry’s emotional translucency and openness about his life choices inevitably act as a catch-22. Knowing ourselves doesn’t necessarily mean escaping our past and how others may view us; even if it goes against the person we actually are.
Traditionally, a character like Sam would likely be the one pining over Harry if we only look at the surface. Sam has the “gay guy next door” good looks going for him in contrast to Harry’s “trying to look like I’m not trying” straight?-guy vibe. Their first car ride shatters the notion as Sam is literally in the driver’s seat, and the more they get to know each other on the way to their hometown, the more it’s revealed that Harry is the true head-in-the-clouds romantic. Sam, on the other hand, is career-driven, guarded, and quick to pass judgment — though he’s not above being proven wrong.
Sam’s best friend, Stasia (Britt Baron of GLOW), rounds out the main cast and is the one who comes closest to being one-sided if you were to assume her character’s path from introduction.
She’s a woman who owns her independence and sexuality, unafraid to ask for and take what she wants.
Often, emotions are sacrificed in lieu of “thinking like a man” when these types of characters are underdeveloped, but that isn’t the case here. Stasia doesn’t come off as allergic to feelings and showing that she cares. She’s granted the ability of being her best friend’s almost-perfect wingman and still appreciates a good cuddle session. Women like Stasia don’t lose their humanity just because they don’t fit into a soft and delicate space. Women like Stasia don’t deserve to be punished in plot for not being subservient and demure. Stasia talks confidently, but doesn’t know everything, and that shines through in her side of the story.
THE THING ABOUT IDENTITY & RELATIONSHIPS IN THE FILM
The Thing About Harry doesn’t stray too far outside of relationships between friends, roommates, and couples. It’s centered on twenty-somethings in Chicago who are figuring out what they want in life; so it’s only natural that they have that independence from family ties to make room for their own wings.
The characters are old enough to have a grip on themselves and have already experienced their fair share of partnerships; allowing for more room to realistically explore what their ideal futures would look like and who would be in them.
Early on, the film touches on bisexuality and pansexuality; and how a person might come to identify as one or the other when the two are closely-related. As someone who’s tried on both hats to see which one fit, it was a breath of fresh air to see it represented not as an identity crisis that a character was struggling with but one they had figured out and wholly accepted. The movie also doesn’t shy away from the stereotype of bi and pan people being perceived as “more promiscuous;” channeling remarks into conversations rather than hook-up after hook-up depicted on screen.
The idea of “losing someone twice at once” — in love and friendship — comes up a couple of times in the script as well, standing out to me not because I was hearing it for the first time, but because it was a form of heartbreak I’d gone through and put into words damn near the same way. It was cathartic to see that, relationship-wise, the film taps into the very core of what we can all relate to, LGBTQ+ or not. It doesn’t paint a picture of gay relationships being this way and straight couples being that way because at the end of the day, the heart doesn’t discriminate. Heartbreak is heartbreak and love is love.
THE THING ABOUT TROPES, TROPES, AND MORE TROPES
Through the trailer alone, it’s clear that The Thing About Harry is full of romantic-comedy tropes. Enemies-to-lovers is a forever fave in LGBTQ+ tales of love, but here’s a rundown of that one and a few more built into the plot:
The trope to rule them all: enemies –> friends –> lovers. The pacing of its development was faster than anticipated, but not in a bad way. The summary I read gave the illusion that the entire story would take place on this hometown trip, but the trip is only the beginning of a budding, then blossoming, then bursting romance.
Slow Burn / Pining
Another surprise: The story takes place over the course of a few years. Each moment in time presents an opportunity for something, anything to happen; and it doesn’t disappoint. Fans of slow burn know the heart-wrenching satisfaction of the journey, and this one is definitely worth the wait.
Soft Jock (Also known as “lovable jock”)
To be fair, Harry is well-past his days as a high school athlete, but some characteristics remain. He’s not what he seems; and it’s a refreshingly endearing take that makes it clear why he’s easy to fall in love with.
Miscommunication / Misunderstanding
One character asks a question that means one thing, and the other answers thinking of it from a different angle… Yikes. The misunderstanding that results leads to even more pent-up tension, questionable decisions, roadblock consequences, and those longing looks that both Sam and Harry pull off so well.
Big Romantic Gesture
Of course this one made it in, it’s romantic-comedy 101. When it comes down to a last resort, you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do. Think of the consequences later!
Desperate Love Confession
The delicious angst of it all! That’s all I’m going to say.
Without giving too much away, some may argue that a Cory/Topanga decision was made here. (See: Topanga seemingly breaking character and choosing Cory over her dream college in Boy Meets World.) However, think back to the very first notable conversation between our OTP, and you’ll see it’s very on-brand and nothing short of perfect.
THE THING ABOUT WHAT’S NEXT
The Thing About Harry was easily my favorite romance of the 2020 Valentine’s Day weekend. It’s good start to what I hope is more to come in LGBTQ+-driven media that portrays people as people. I’d love to see more people of color, namely black women, at the forefront of these stories; but it’s still incredibly refreshing to see a film that doesn’t channel its plot through struggles with isms, phobias, religion, and hate. Exploring heavier issues is definitely important; but it’s just as important to see that we as people of the LGBTQ+ community can experience beautifully shameless love and wholesome happy endings.
Have you watched The Thing About Harry?
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