Mouse (Mischa Barton) has been sent off to an all-girls’ boarding school after her mother dies. Naturally shy, quiet and introverted, she rooms with two older teens, the more boisterous, extroverted, rebellious, butchy Paulie (Piper Perabo) and gregarious, talky Tory (Jessica Pare).
Paulie is the more interesting of the two roomies, she smokes illegally in the dorms, spikes the punch bowl, crashes parties with loud rock music and dancing, argues with and embarrasses teachers, and generally just rules the school. Tory is the only one who can rein her in and they have a (seemingly) crisis-proof friendship.
Naive Mouse thinks her roommates are just really close friends, until one day when she wakes up, looks out the window and spies her roommates atop one of the schoolbuildings frenchkissing. At first, overcome by innocence and naivete, she thinks they are just practicing for boys, but of course, she realizes later on, when she wakes up and sees them in bed together, and after, waking up in the middle of the night to the sounds of their lovemaking, that they are full-blown lovers.
Mouse is pretty tolerant for a roommate and carries on like nothing is happening behind the closed doors of their room. Finally, one day, Tory’s younger sister and her pack of friends, catches the lovers in bed together which sets off a chain of increasingly tragic events as Tory and Paulie confront and deal with the consequences of the discovery of their relationship. Tory desperately proves to everyone in school that she is not a lesbian, or that Paulie is her lover. She distances herself from Paulie, starts dating a boy in the nearby all-boys school, and sleeps with him, quite awkwardly, out in the woods, just to prove her heterosexuality. While Tory goes the straight route, Paulie experiences a very public, very tragic descent into humiliation and madness as she sees the love of her life turn away from her. She tries to win her back with very public declarations of love, spouting lines from Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra”, challenging Tory’s new boyfriend to a fencing duel, grovelling at Tory’s feet in the middle of the night, in their room – to no avail. When it is clear that Tory cannot and will not take her back, heartbroken Paulie plunges to her death infront of the whole school.
End of story.
I only watched this last year, but I’d read the reviews from afterellen.com, a couple of American lesbian magazines, some webzines and film critic Roger Ebert, when it first came out. Roger Ebert particularly, gave it glowing reviews, partly for how passionate the film came off as, and comparing it to a Thomas Wolfe novel. Ebert had said the film had taken him to a (I paraphrase now, since I can’t recall the exact words – these are my words now) forgotten time of passion and possibilities, of recklessness and “howling at the moon”. I had since then, gotten older (this came out in 2001, I’d just come out then and was coming out of my teens) read Thomas Wolfe (“You Can’t Go Home Again”), and have finally watched the film.
I agree with what Ebert’s observation – this film does harken back to that forgotten time in our lives when everything was full of possibilities, when it was foolhardy and reckless to be stupid and passionate to fight for the one you love, and yes, there is something vaguely poetic and beautiful about this starcrossed lovers and Paulie’s lost cause, but at the same time, a part of me also cringes at having to watch the rebellious, spirited, Paulie’s disintegration at the loss of her girlfriend and bestfriend. Granted this is a fairly accurate depiction of what a teenager goes through – where everything, even a seemingly innocuous love affair, is magnified, amplified to ridiculous heights, but at the same time, when I was watching it, I felt like it was a bit over the top. The spouting of poetry on top of tables, the fencing, the duel, the grovelling – I can’t do those. But then again, I am a product of a different time, and a different culture, and I would rather die than do that for a girl. ^^ At the same time, when you’ve been gay for a long time already, and have accepted it and are quite comfortable with it, it takes on an ordinariness and the drama just isn’t as amplified as it used to. But at the same time, it does remind one to remember to live life passionately, whatever the consequences, for that is when we feel most alive. ^^
That being said, this film is still enjoyable, although painful to watch in some parts (as I’d already mentioned). The cinematography is a dream, the production values excellent. This is Perabo’s post-Coyote Ugly, pre-Imagine-Me-and-You film, and her exuberance at inhabiting Paulie’s character shines through and eclipses those of the other characters. I just had a problem with Mouse’s voice over (which is a frequent comment about this film), since the voice over in this film does not add anything new to the story – in fact it states the obvious and the visual and is hence unnecessary. Another beef I had with this film is the sub-plot of the bird that Paulie adopts, and the fencing she takes up to prove her love to Tory. That was over the top for me as well.
Overall, this is a good, passionate film that, for all its faults, is still worth a watch.
Now,if only the lesbians in films don’t die on me, I think I’d be happy. ^^