For Your Queersideration: Charlie’s Angels (2000) and Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle (2003)

For Your Queersideration is movie review series highlighting films that were made for straight audiences and why they might appeal to the modern LGBTQ+ person. This review is about the 2000 movie Charlie’s Angels starring Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, and Lucy Liu.

The Charlie’s Angels film set to debut in 2019 is a fairly obviously queer film. It stars Kristen Stewart’s butch undercut, and the trailer was scored to “Make Me Feel” by pansexual artist Janelle Monae, which is the second-most queer song off of her new album Dirty Computer (the most queer song is “Pink,” which is about loving vaginas).

What is less explored is whether other entries in the Charlie’s Angels franchise are also queer. This is probably because the TV show and movies, which are all officially part of one continuous timeline, center around a mysterious man named Charlie using 3 gorgeous “Angels” as private investigators. It’s a premise that centers around women being bossed around by a man, and managing to somehow be perfect supergeniuses while still being dumb enough to be sexually desirable, which is not very sapphic of them.

Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, and Lucy Liu in a more conservative set photo from Charlie’s Angels.

2000’s Charlie’s Angels knows, very explicitly, that it exists for the male gaze. There is a scene where the girls go undercover as a racecar pit crew, and the zippers on their jumpsuits have all gotten stuck at their bellybuttons. (At one point, a steering wheel is sexually licked to distract a target.) There are several jokes about how Cameron Diaz’s character is just unthinkingly pornographic. There’s some Asian “disguises” at a spa.

The thing is, though, that the film is about three women who are best friends, world-class spies and detectives, and played by some of the best starring actresses of the early 2000s. Cameron Diaz is at the absolute top of her dimpled game, Lucy Liu is effortlessly fun, and Drew Barrymore gets to play a sort of alternative culture, burnout skater girl that is refreshingly out of type for the usual romcoms she was doing in this period. While the male gaze-ness of the film is distracting and at times a bit gross, the film also works hard to focus on the women as characters, and lightens a lot of the sexy aspects with a sort of surreal, silly humor (one of the writers, Ed Solomon, has also worked on the Bill and Ted films, the original Men in Black, and both Now You See Me movies). There’s a dinner party scene early in the movie where Cameron Diaz’s Natalie has met a dopey-faced bartender played by Luke Wilson, and is of course smitten. Lucy Liu hisses over their secret mics for Diaz to “flip [her] goddamn hair”–and when Diaz does, the camera instantly slows down and goes into soft focus, a move the original TV show made famous. It frames the sexiness less as something for the male audience than as a weapon in the Angels’ arsenal.

The sequel, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle (2003), amps this up to 11. While both films are fairly clearly action-comedy, the sequel is goofy on a whole new level. There is a subplot about how Bill Murray (the character Bosley) in the first film) and Bernie Mac (Bosley in Full Throttle) are brothers. John Cleese plays Lucy Liu’s father, who in a series of misunderstandings comes to believe that Liu is a prostitute (“We took on twenty men at the same time, Daddy!”) It’s not necessarily a better movie (more of the jokes are duds), but it acknowledges the goofiness better and has a few fewer outright softcore scenes.

So, why would these films appeal to queer people? Well, they’re silly, sexy, and action movies that revolve around women and their relationships, with men at best as a loveable distraction. Crispin Glover appears in both movies as The Thin Man, who likes to rip the Angels’ hair out and rub it against his face while screaming, which gives him a very Babadook sort of queer energy. There’s also an extended sequence in the first film where Lucy Liu goes undercover as an “efficiency expert” (i.e. business dominatrix) and Diaz and Barrymore go undercover in drag. There’s motocross, Carrie Fisher as a nun, Lucy Liu manning a flamethrower, and a scene where Demi Moore is about two inches from giving Cameron Diaz a hickey.

It’s made for straights, but it’s a fun, diverting series about female relationships that almost always succeeds in being sexy without turning its protagonists into subjects. The three Angels are easy to care about. It’s enjoyable in the most popcorn flick of ways and refreshingly free of 90% of the macho male bullshit that usually comes with a good, overdone action blockbuster.

Drew Barrymore as Dylan Sanders in Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle.

Queerest Thing: Drew Barrymore’s character Dylan Sanders, a burnout, scruffy type with smudged eyeliner who dresses in logo t-shirts, had a previous career as a David Bowie themed wrestling act, and a tendency to fall in love with all of the bad guys. She comes off as the kind of character who keeps sleeping with evil dudes because she’s still broken up about that roller derby team captain who moved and didn’t want to do long-distance.

Possible Bummers: There’s some alright male performances, but any scenes only featuring men suffer greatly and are kinda boring. The Asian spa scene in the first film is problematic in that 1999 sort of way.

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