12 things I’ve learned from watching lesbian films

So I came across this blog post “17 Things I’ve learned about life from watching movies and TV“(good post, check it out). The blog post inspired me so much I’d like to do my own, except it’s the top things I’ve learned from watching lesbian movies.

1. Character. The leads will always be extreme opposites. One of them will usually be a) some repressed, conservative girl who gets attracted to the b) rebel without a cause who likes to drink, smoke and generally be her exact opposite.

Examples:

  • Lost and Delirious. Tory (Jessica Pare) is the nice girl-next-door who falls for orphan rebel smoker Paulie (Piper Perabo).
  • The Secrets (Ha Sodot) – The repressed Israeli student falls in love with the girl who just came from Paris.
  • The World Unseen – Lisa Ray’s repressed Indian wife  falls in love with the feisty (aren’t they always?) cafe-owning, liberal Amina (Sheetal Sheth).
  • I Can’t Think Straight – Lisa Ray and Sheetal Sheth reverse roles.
  • But I’m a Cheerleader – Natasha Lyonne plays the All-American cheerleader who falls in love with the goth-ish rebel without a cause trust-fund hottie, Clea Duvall.
  • When Night is Falling – Repressed Christian professor falls in love with the free-wheelin’ circus hottie.
  • DEBS – Hot, repressed, uptight top, perfect scoring DEBS spy falls in love with equally hot, uninhibited, liberal, very gay Jordana Brewster character.
  • Show Me Love (Sweden) – Promiscuous, rebellious teenage girl who’s slept with most of the teenaged male population of the town falls for geeky, mousy, teenage girl.-

2. The more “butch” lead will almost always be smoking.

3. The “femme” lead will almost always love Walt Whitman, opera and walks under the moonlight or in wide, open spaces.

4. The repressed latent homosexual will almost always be attracted to the outsider/rebel/sexually ambiguous and/or lesbian in the school because said repressed homosexual is sick and tired of boyfriend/fiance/husband or has slept with the whole male populace of the town or city.

5. The would-be lesbian lovers will have a series of meetings that may either begin with a) hostility or b) bonding but will almost always end with c) them hitting it off and then having trips to some exhilirating place where they realize they are meant for each other: the soccer stadium (Imagine Me and You), the gaming room (Imagine Me and You), the bar/pub, the circus, hang gliding, Oxford, some god-forsaken wide open space in the middle of nowhere where the two leads will then proceed to

6. Have a montage of talking, listening to music, reading, looking at each other with those longing looks that can either look like either or both are a) really into each other or b) constipated.

7. This montage will eventually lead to a mounting sexual tension which will then lead to a lot of vigorous making-out or a really contrived but inexplicably hot love scene featuring really dark lighting, red sheets, stock footage of the moon and stars, and some music by a band known only to the producer and director.This scene will end with both characters professing undying love to each other until

8. The  love struck lesbian  leads are discovered by any of the following: a) family, b) friends and/or c) complete strangers buck naked in bed which lead to the climax of the movie.

9. The  love struck lesbian  leads will almost always forget to lock the door whilst making love even though both are not out to their family, friends and/or complete strangers.

10. The inevitable tension mounts when family, friends and sometimes even complete strangers express disapproval over the lesbian relationship. Said family, friends and complete strangers will try to break said  love struck lesbian  leads.

11. Either leads will try to be straight.

12. One of them will almost always go crazy, end up in a mental asylum, or be married, or dead. And sometimes, they come back as ghosts and haunt the living daylights out of the ex-lover (Memento Mori).

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Retro-mad film review: Fingersmith (UK, BBC, 2005)

There is a line from Rupert Evans’ villainous character, Mr. Rivers, that sums up my whole experience of this BBC movie: “I cannot find the words”.

I know that’s being melodramatic, but it is true. I watched this yesterday, after months of ignoring it because I’d heard it was a) a Victorian drama with b) lesbians so I thought that c) it would end badly. Plus I’d read enough Victorian, semi/pseudo/quasi-Victorian books to know that anything with two women in it would not be good.

I digress. Lesbians in a Victorian London – I had low expectations about “Fingersmith”, and prepared myself to be disappointed, and be horrified at the fates of a pair of star-crossed lovers.

Imagine my pleasant surprise when this TV movie by the BBC, adapted from British lesbian author Sarah Waters’ novel of the same name, turns out to be good, nay, better than I expected. I was so taken by it that I almost didn’t want to review it, reduce it to an academic and/or technical dissertation. It felt like I’d discovered some treasure long buried in this movie and I wanted to hoard it for a little while longer, savor it, as it were. Mind you, I’d watched “It’s in the Water”, “Out at the Wedding” and “Desert Hearts” before this, so finding this little gem was like a breath of fresh air. Where the movies I’d mentioned previously were bad (on many levels) – this movie boasts of a stellar cast, led by Golden Globe winner Sally Hawkins,Academy Award nominee Imelda Staunton and Charles Dance, so that also was kind of like icing on the cinematic experience as well. ^^
This is a three-part BBC TV movie series, directed by Aisling Walsh from a screenplay by Peter Ransley based on the book by Sarah Waters. So, here goes the review…

The story (Warning – spoilers!):

fingersmith1The movie opens on Victorian London in the 1800s (the London of Charles Dickens times), and begins with Susan “Sue” Trinder (Sally Hawkins). Sue has grown up an orphan and has been raised in the squalid, slums of London, in Lan Street, looked after by the crime ring leader, Mrs. Sucksby (Imelda Staunton). Sue is an illiterate, streetwise,  fingersmith, a kind of female version of Dicken’s Artful Dodger to Mrs. Sucksby’s Fagin. Life is hard, but Sue is comfortable and unambitious.

Enter Richard “Gentleman” Rivers (Rupert Evans), a young middle-class penniless gambler and swindler who has discovered that in the middle of countryside, in a place called Briar Court, a young woman is set to inherit some £40,000 from her long-dead mother, but only if she gets married. The young woman, Maud Lilly (Elaine Cassidy) has been plucked out of an orphanage by uncle, Mr. Lilly (Charles Dance), when she was a girl, after her mother died, and he has brought her up as his secretary and has effectively kept her isolated and hence perpetually single so she could not get her inheritance. Gentleman’s plan is simple: woo the naive girl, marry her, throw her in a mental asylum, and get the £40,000 for himself. For the plan to work, he needs an accomplice, an ally who would act as Maud’s maid, somebody who could convince Maud to elope with Gentleman. This is were Sue comes in – Sue will, for an agreed £3,000, be Maud’s maid. Her agreement to the plan sets in motion the events that follow.

Sue has initial apprehensions about pulling off being a maid – she is, afterall, only a fingersmith, a thief, but Gentleman trains her to become one. But she meets Maud and she realizes that it is going to be easier than she thinks: Maud looks properly naive, innocent, sweet, sheltered, that deceiving her would be easy.

fingersmith3Everything is supposed to go well – but Sue does not count on the unexpected: she actually likes the young woman, and as Maud seems charmed by her as well, they strike a friendship with each other. Sue becomes not only a maid, but companion and confidante. From nightmares, to toothaches, to learning how to dance, Sue goes through everything with her. Sue forgets that she is about to betray this girl that she has come to like, until Gentleman comes back to reap  what Sue has sown. This complicates matters for her and provides an interesting tension in the story. Sue admits that she hadn’t realized until Gentleman arrived, how happy she was, and how much she hated Gentleman.  As Gentleman woos Maud on the pretext of teaching her painting, Sue is wracked with guilt and doubts. As the impending marriage looms, the intensity and tension between Maud and Sue increase, culminating in a scene where Sue starts out teaching Maud how to kiss Gentleman, which ends up being a full-on love scene. It starts out funny, even amusing, but as the intimacy deepens, there is a tenderness and sweetness. There is nothing exploitative or sexy about the scene, but it is a very gentle scene and reveals much about how the two feel about each other. Interestingly, Maud responds to her as well. And thus is an already complicated situation made even more complicated, the balance of power, the relationship between the two has shifted, and makes what follows after even more unexpected. Sue already knows that she is in love with Maud. But the shame and embarrassment of failure, of being laughed at for falling in love with another girl, of going back to Lan Street empty-handed, pushes her to go through with the plan. She finds the heart to assist Gentleman and Maud in eloping.

The beginning of the second part shows Sue assisting Maud to escape Briar Court in time for her wedding with Gentleman. Before Gentleman’s wedding night with Maud, Maud and Sue have an intimate moment again. Sue is on the brink of breaking down. Gentleman arranges for pseudo-psychiatrists to evaluate Maud’s mental state and they interview Maud and Sue separately for this. Sue breaks down in the middle of the interview, revealing how much she cares for Maud and how horrible she feels at betraying her.

Gentleman and Sue bring Maud to the mental hospital, and as the carriage door opens, a second passes, and then it is Sue that is pulled out by the doctors and nurses, not Maud. When Maud speaks in Sue’s accent, it is revealed that she is in on the plan as well and had planned to betray her and put her in the asylum. It is this part that completely took me by surprise and had me hooked. I thought it was brilliant. ^^

During this part, Maud reveals her side of the story: Gentleman had come to Briar Court proposing a plan to Maud. Gentleman knew that Maud had a fortune that she can only inherit if she marries and he proposes they elope so that she can get her inheritance, in exchange for a portion of her wealth. In order to pull it off, they must get rid of her existing maid and replace her with a more compliant one: Sue. Maud is to become Sue, and she will be thrown in the asylum, so that Maud can escape to London. Maud is initially reluctant, but the thought of being stuck in Briar Court, with her stern, pseudo-academic uncle, reading pornographic books to him and his friends, forever, won over her need to stay, and she agrees to his plan. Maud is revealed to be manipulative, cold and calculating, which makes her an actually more effective villain than Sue. I find Elaine Cassidy perfectly cast as Maud Lilly – she has that perfectly innocent, naive, deer-in-the-headlights look, which makes her betrayal of Sue all the more compelling. While Sally Hawkins has gotten more critical praise for portraying Sue – and well she should, since Hawkins reveals an impressive acting range all in the space of a heartbeat, conveying a range of emotions from cockiness, to goofiness, to guilt, to doubt, and love. This is made more so as her feelings for Maud deepen and I found her acting to be quite excellent. But anyone who is familiar with Victorian society would know that the women of the middle and upper-classes are trained to be reserved, to be inscrutable . And hence, Maud’s portrayal of a reserved, inscrutable young Victorian lady who reveals herself to be cunning and scarily manipulative, is brilliant. Cassidy’s Maud is thus an effectively complex character, the more fascinating one of the two, since she is the one who pulls of a deception more.

fingersmith2But as with Sue, she does not count on liking Sue as well. Sue’s charm, the development of their relationship, gives her doubts about their plans. Sue’s presence in her life awakens something in Sue, and gives meaning even to the books she reads for her uncle. In the pivotal love scene, Maud narrates, “She has touched the life of me, the quick of me” (Ah! I’ve always loved how the British use words! that line always kills me) But her determination to leave Briar Court and be free of her uncle,wins over her love for Sue. And so, wracked with guilt, she betrays Sue.

When she gets to London, Gentleman brings her to Lan Street and it is revealed there, by Mrs. Sucksby, that their little scheme is part of an even bigger scheme, a plan that Mrs. Sucksby has been planning since Maud and Sue were children. Apparently Maud isn’t really the daughter of her uncle’s sister. Sue is the real daughter and her dying mother had not wanted her to be put in the care of her uncle. So, Mrs. Sucksby gives away Maud, a young orphan Mrs. Sucksby comes across and she takes in the young Sue. The mother makes a will where Maud and Sue both inherit money the minute they both turn 21, and Maud realizes not only that she is way in over her head, but the full extent of her betrayal of the woman she loves.

The third part shows Sue’s life in the asylum, how she escapes. It is also revealed that Mrs. Sucksby is Maud’s mother. The third part sustains the tension, culminating in the confrontation scene where Mrs. Sucksby, Maud, Sue and Gentleman confront each other. A tussle ensues, during which Gentleman is stabbed and killed. Maud attempts to confess, but Mrs. Sucksby takes the blame and is hanged. Maud and Sue part and that would have been the end of it, except Sue gets hold of her real mother’s will and finds out who she and Maud really are. Sue looks for Maud, finds her and find a way to forgive each other.

Whew!

What can I say? I love, love this film. I loved the story, I loved the plot, I loved the characters, I loved the costumes, I loved this film. ^^

The first part is a a delight to watch, a kind of guilty pleasure. It starts out slow, languid, demanding you to enjoy it, to savor everything. The  background, the characterization is laid out perfectly. The dramatic, sexual and romantic tension between Maud and Sue are so engaging you find yourself rooting for these two. It establishes the two main characters as emphatic and as victims, and what happens next, in the second part, is unexpected and thus compelling.

By the time I was watching the second part, when Maud’s thoughts are revealed,and she shows herself to be a clever, scheming young lady, I was fascinated! Why did I not see that coming? I think to myself.  And when Mrs. Sucksby reveals that she has always been a small part of Mrs. Sucksby’s bigger scheme, I thought it was positively diabolical. It was so wicked, I must admit I liked it. Imelda Staunton’s Mrs. Sucksby is f*cking diabolical. To have planned such an elaborate scheme that extends for 20 years- that’s just frigging remarkable.  And to be able to make her own daughter scheme with her unwittingly, that is even more fascinating – Maud is thus her mother’s daughter after all, even though she has grown up in a different environment.

I love how complex and complicated the two main characters, Maud and Sue,  are, how three-dimensional they are, how intense  they are. I love that this being the Victorian era, you have to rely mostly on their actions, their facial expressions, because even their voice overs don’t necessarily speak the truth.

I find myself invested in the two main characters. I’ve never had that feeling in a long time. I wanted to know what was going to be happen next. I was excited to know. It was a refreshing film. It is a testament to the writing, the acting,and most especially 2 relatively unknown actresses who turn out to be really good (Sally Hawkins moves on to win awards, including the Golden Globes for a movie in 2009).

I like the symmetry of this film as well. It begins with a hanging, it ends with a hanging, Sue’s mother was in the madhouse, and she is sent to the madhouse as well. I love the climax, in the third part – when Maud and Sue finally confront each other. It’s like some fucking brilliant lover’s quarrel. ^^ But that climax – is paradoxically anti-climactic as well. All that build-up and a brief tussle and Gentleman is dead.^^

This is excellent storytelling (I bet the book is even better), and I loved every minute of it.

I did, however, find the voice overs a put-off. I realize now why some critics don’t like them – they are a bit condescending and operate on the assumption that the viewers are idiots who need a step-by-step, point-by-point account of what is going on, when the 2 leads are talented enough to carry the movie without either the voice overs or the shrieking music: they succeed in creating a a sustained romance, chemistry that is deeply heartfelt.

But the voice over succeeds in one thing: establishing the difference between Maud and Sue’s characters. Maud is literate and more educated and therefore more articulate about how she felt. But she is also very good at justifying her actions. Sue reveals herself not to be as streetwise as she thought herself to be, and all the more innocent.

The other thing is the music. That annoying tinkling piano and the shrieking violin – I can’t take them seriously since reading Adrian Mole’s Cappucino Years (long story – suffice it to say that apparently this kind of music is typical of BBC productions). They are just so effing unnecessary.

Anyway, other than that, this is a proper story, with a proper ending, with the proper comeuppance for the proper villains – none of that villains-are-human- too crap from other films.

The reviewer at afterellen.com noted that this film would leave the viewer cynical about the world…I say, on the contrary. It actually restores your faith in humanity and your natural sense of order and justice: the evil ones get punished, the good ones end up together in the end.

It is an old-fashioned story with post-modern sensibility. One would find one’s life a bit enriched by the insight into humanity that this film provides. ^^

the voice overs are a put-off but other than that

Retro-mad movie marathon review: Out at the Wedding (US, 2007)

The story:

Cosmopolitan New Yorker (isn’t that an oxymoron?) Alex (Andrea Marcellus) is engaged to Dana (Mystro Clark), an Jewish African-American pilot. She has deceived Dana into believing that her whole family is dead, as the family is a typical wealthy small town family from the South whom she thinks are conservative and too embarrassing to introduce to her fiance (poor Southerners, always getting bad rap from lesbian movies. ^^ Please see “It’s in the Water” for similar setting). She is estranged from her distant father, and equally estranged from her younger sister, Jeannie (Desi Lydic) with whom she has a love-hate relationship, since the younger sister has a rep for always stealing her boyfriends (glad I don’t have that problem with my sib). However, when Jeannie gets married, Alex attends the wedding, dragging her gay best friend, Jonathan (Charlie Shlatter – whose film credits include “Police Academy: Mission to Moscow” – heheh I thought he looked familiar! I only remember him because that film featured a very young Claire Forlani – crush!) along. When Jonathan has a conversation with a drunken wedding guest who mistakes his coming out to mean that Alex is a lesbian and that Dana is a woman (stupid wedding guest!), the misunderstanding turns into gossip that spreads like wildfire and Alex finds herself being outed. Surprisingly, her fake lesbianism becomes a way to be closer to her father, who, though disapproving of it, grudgingly accepts her, and to be as close to her younger sister, who suddenly displays a sudden interest in her (and I quote) “lifestyle” (you can so see where this is going, can’t you?).  Alex doesn’t find the heart to tell them that she isn’t gay and that Dana isn’t a woman, but a Jewish African American man, because it’s the first time she’s ever connected to her sister and father. She thus hires, against her better judgment and at the suggestion of her best friend, a lesbian, Rissa, played by Cathy de Buno, who, in typical lesbian fashion, is an electrician by day, and an artist by night who doesn’t do coffee, processed food, processed sugar, meat or milk. Alex walks Rissa through her life and helps her to be more like Dana, while Rissa familiarizes Alex with the gay scene (lesbian actress Jill Bennett and lesbian stand-up comedian Julie Goldman make an appearance here). There’s an awkward scene where Alex tries to be more butch by wearing flannel shirts, jeans, a mullet and a neck choker – which is just not that good (I like flannel as well, I don’t know. It must be a gay thing). Anyway, things start becoming complicated when Alex’s future father-in-law runs into her while she’s with Rissa, and Rissa confuses him with her real family, which complicates things even further. Things get worse when Jeannie the sister comes for a visit and starts flirting with Rissa. Alex is horrified that Risssa is flirting with her as well. To make matters worse, the future in-laws start suspecting that Alex is hiding something and start investigating her “lifestyle”. An awkward scene ensues, where Rissa, Jeannie and Alex are in the living room trying to explain away the misunderstanding to the future in-laws which gets even me confused. To distract everyone from Alex’s deceitful ways, her befriend pulls them into a ballroom dancing competition, a bad idea, since Rissa and Jeannie become even closer – culminating in a kissing scene on the streets and a thwarted make-out scene in Alex’s apartment, thus effectively outing Jeannie and complicating things even further – effectively stretching my patience too much, as well. Of course, the future in-laws come, the fiance comes, father and Jeannie’s new husband come and oh, joy, more drama and complication! Suffice it to say that things get sorted out and everyone goes to bed with the one they really want and the wedding takes place as planned. The end.

Verdict: This is actually better than “It’s in the Water” – it’s a bit less awkward, the acting is a bit better, the storyline is a bit more plausible, but I find the complications, the ensuing lies (the lies that beget more lies)  that pile up one after the other to get tedious to the point of annoying. It feels a bit like it wants to be a Woody Allen movie, complete with the jazzy/bluesy soundtrack (it is, after all, set in New York), or at least wants to be its erstwhile, far superior sister film, “Kissing Jessica Stein”, but where “Jessica Stein” succeeds in its artsy, classy, intellectual approach to the idea of a single New York woman trying to find love in the Big Apple, “Out at the Wedding” feels like it tries too much to be something it’s not. However, it does gets points for trying and it is still fun to watch. 🙂

I am now off to watch another lesbian film. 🙂

Indie film retro-review marathon: It’s in the Water, Out at the Wedding (US)

Watched three lesbian movies today. Without further ado, let’s go to the first one.

In the Water – The story:

Pretty Alexandra is the only child of wealthy parents in a small southern town. Like a proper southern wife pre-recession times,  she fills her time with meetings with the other housewife socialites, volunteers at the local hospice for AIDS survivors, and is married to a big gorilla of a man who gives her a hefty allowance, bank account and a really, cool silver convertible.

Things start rolling when this same hospice becomes the subject of scrutiny and opposition from the conservative, intolerant town, made more so by the fact that a drunken gay man has spread a rumor that it’s the town water that makes people gay. The rumor prompts the town to start buying bottled water, demand that the water be tested, and close down the local hospice. As the small town becomes polarized, Alexandra is beginning to think how bigoted and homophobic her town really is. As family and friends insist she abandon her cause, she wholeheartedly embraces it, and quits the women’s league to prove her point. She strikes a friendship with one of the nurses, who just happens to be a childhood bestfriend of hers, and as the controversy intensifies, so do their friendship, especially when the bestfriend comes out to her and tell her she’s gay. When she gets caught kissing her bestfriend, in the closet (how apt), one of her friends catches her, and this sets off a string of events: her husband leaves her, he closes all but her personal savings account and gets her convertible back. But she remains adamant in her convinctions and the town has no choice but to accept her.

Two words: Semi-bad movie.

Explanation: When you’re gay, and you’re desperate for representation, you’ll watch anything. And I mean anything.

First off, this “it’s-in-the-water” premise is totally over-the-top and doesn’t really fly with me (it flew by me, yes), mostly because the underlying satirical and ironic tone isn’t as sustained as that of “But I’m a Cheerleader” and other social satires about lesbians. Also, this is I think early 90s, so the fashion is awful, lots of teased hair, high-waist jeans that taper down and hug the ankles, vests and other horrid clothing.

However, this film has a bit of charm  – it gets points for referencing all the classic lesbian films in one scene (as part of research), which I applaud, since I did the same thing (except mine was the artsy indie ones, like Patricia Rozema’s “When Night is Falling” – a personal favorite). It also gets points for casting attrative women to act as lesbians –  really just to distract us from the acting. Some of the dialogue is clunky,the acting is wooden, but there are really laugh-out-loud unintentionally funny lines:

Alexandra: I want to kiss you.

Bestfriend: You won’t like it. (Nyahahahaha! how cheesy is this?!?)

Stab me now. Stab me now. I have only myself to blame.

Retro-mad film review: What’s Cooking? (US, 2000)

“What’s Cooking?” by Kenyan-born Londoner Gurinder Chadha is not so much a movie as an extended version of a Food Network special on thanksgiving, but with a story, a lot of drama and a enough family issues to keep Dr. Phil busy ’til the next century.

cookingAnd if it were a food special, I imagine the title would be something like: “How different American families from different ethnic backgrounds celebrate thanksgiving” – which pretty much sums up the movie for me. In fact, a bulk of the scenes emphasize this, and there is always dialogue that casually drops such words as “Jewish”, “African-American”, “black”, to emphasize the ethnic backgrounds (in case you miss them). And if the appearance doesn’t clue you in on what race each family is from, then the dialogue will help you along: people speaking in Spanish, or Vietnamese. If you’re really slow, then how each dish is prepared will give you an idea, and the music will guide you along as well. But of course,the best way to help you identify the families would be the stereotypes, token characters and drama that litter this movie (there is nothing like stereotypes about each member of the family to really help you muddle along this one big confusing movie). In fact, There are so many things happening, so much drama going on behind thanksgiving dinners, it’s so hard to keep up (this is not surprising, as the writer-director probably grew up on a healthy diet of East Enders and Emmerdale). Think of it as an American version of the British fave “Love Actually”, but about thanksgiving, not Christmas, minus the charm. I saw so much turkey here I almost swore off turkey for the rest of my life!

The story:

Where to begin? Let me attempt to break it down for you:

There is a Jewish-American family, a Latin-American one, African-American and a Vietnamese-American family (this one’s a bit dodgy – Joan Chen is Chinese and Wil Yun Lee is Korean-American, so I thought it was a Chinese American film at first. The only ones who looked Vietnamese were the two younger kids).

The Jewish American contingent is headed by Lainie Kazan as Ruth Seelig and Maury Chaykin as Herb Seelig, the nervous parents of lesbian daughter Rachel (Kyra Sedgwick) and her hot-in-a-dark-horse-kind-of-way girlfriend, Carla (Juliana Marguiles, ER). The parents are struggling to accept the lesbian daughter and partner, and are basically worried about the stability of the relationship. Kazan’s Ruth is worried that if they break up, Rachel will end up with nothing as the house they stay in is in Carla’s name. Ruth valiantly tries to make the couple welcome, even bravely giving them breakfast (well, cappucino really) in bed, although you can tell she was not happy about it. Things make a turn for the worse when Rachel’s horrid aunt  (we’ve all had at least one of those) comes for thanksgiving dinner and proceeds to grill Rachel on her single status, which pushes Rachel further and further up a wall. This prompts her to blurt out that she is with child, which prompts an outburst from her usually tepid father that she can’t have a baby, she’s a lesbian! effectively outing her to her aunt.

The Vietnamese-Americans, the Nguyens, have their own video shop. But that is not their problem (I personally think the problem is getting Chinese Americans to play Vietnamese Americans and asking us to suspend disbelief and think Joan Chen is Vietnamese…Do you ask white people to play black people? and vice versa? Robert Downey Jr is the exception of course. But that’s just me and I digress.). The Nguyen parents’ problem is their children. Eldest son Jimmy (Wil Yun Lee) is not coming for thanksgiving, on a pretext of midterm exams, but really, he’s just across the road from their house, having dinner with his Latina girlfriend,whom he can’t bring to their house because they’re “conservative”.  Their youngest daughter, a snivelling, whiny little teenager who’s screaming half of the movie (I wanted to slap her so bad she’d go out of every frame of the film. I wanted to slap her so bad she’d get that voice of hers, especially when it was whining, and that acting, to a tolerable level). Anyway,the screaming starts when a condom is found in her coat. It continues to when the family discovers a gun in her gangster wanna-be younger brother’s room and for some inexplicable reason, she manages to sustain this screaming to excruciating levels (but not as excruciating as the acting) when her younger brother’s homies come and collect the gun. I’m surprised the younger brother didn’t have enough sense to get the gun and shoot her. Hell, I’m surprised he didn’t have enough sense to get acting lessons first.

I actually missed the well-adjusted Chinese daughters from “Saving Face” and “Red Doors” (yes, even the bland lesbian one) while I was watching this film.

The African American contingent have their own shit to deal with. Father Ronnie Williams (Dennis Haybert) and other Audrey Williams (Alfre Woodward), they be harboring some kind of African-American middle class guilt. Recovering adulterer father works for a politician working against African American welfare, mother is underappreciated daughter-in-law to an overly critical mother-in-law, and they have a son whose middle class guilt is as palpable as theirs, so palpable in fact, that he has dropped out of business school because well, “there be no blacks in that school!” (and infront of their embarassed white guests no less!). He, of course, wants to major in African American studies. If they make a sequel, he’ll probably come out as gay. Never seen anyone straight act so gay before. ^^

The pressure on Audrey/Alfre to keep the family together becomes so unbearable that when the turkey crashes to the floor and she screams out her nervous breakdown, I thought she should have been more expressive of her breakdown. I actually I wanted to scream with her, but for another reason: scream out my frustration about the flimsy material she has been given. I actually missed her in that Robert Downey Jr. flick “Heart and Souls” (absolutely adore that film!).

Of course the stereotypes pile up when we get to the Latin-American film. By this time, the director (who also happens to be the writer), doesn’t even try anymore. The macho males stay out of the kitchen, watching football, ordering the women to get them more beer, and grunt their joy at a superb tackle or goal. Meanwhile, all the women toil in the kitchen (the stereotypes just keep coming!) making turkey and exchanging gossip. The queen of this casa is Mercedes Ruehl (Lizza Avila), who is recovering from a husband who cheated on her with one of her cousins, and has now moved on by dating a white man. Her daughter is the one dating the Vietnamese American, and of course, they mistake him for Chinese and start talking to him and joking about Jacky Chan and Bruce Lee (the scenes that depict this are almost unbearable to watch). Her son is macho male Tony Avila (an unrecognizable Douglas Spain – whom I completely adored as Andre in the satirical lesbian film, “But I’m a Cheerleader”. Range, people!) who is on his way to being just like his father. Of course, tension mounts when the ultimate Alpha Male of the family, Lizzy’s ex-husband, comes storming back to their lives via thankgiving dinner, asking for Lizzy back. Except Lizzy already has a boyfriend, so you, of course, brace yourself for a major confrontation scene. Actually, I liked Mercedes Ruehl the most in this film. She played it cool, not hysterical and she was in charge of every scene.

But the real star of this show is the turkey. I have never seen so many sizes, so many different ways of cooking turkey in my life. You know this is bad if you appreciate the many possible ways of shooting a turkey (angle, lighting, shots) more than the film itself.

Take your pick from any of the many possible themes/metaphors I’ve culled from this film: Is life one big feast? One big thanksgiving party? Do we adapt the feast to our culture? There are many different interpretations of culture? I don’t know. Do I really care?

Lessons learned: Thanksgiving make you hysterical. Full stop.

This movie is as painful as a hangover. I’m going to go sleep it off now.

Retro-mad review briefly: “A Girl Thing” (US, 2001, TV movie)

There are just so many things wrong with this film, despite the positive reviews from the American media – admittedly from the gay media – but the one thing I’ve realized is gay media will lap up any TV show or film about GLBT people for as long as it portrays GLBT people. Never mind that it is mediocre, or just plain awful, it’s the visibility that matters. Well, I don’t agree with that mindset, and if I find mediocrity in any show or film featuring GLBT people, I would be ruthless.

I came across “A Girl Thing” whilst bored and surfing the internet for more lesbian or lesbian-themed films I can forcefeed down my unsuspecting readers (^^) and saw this one. Like I am wont to do, I surf other sites to see what they thought of it (not because I have no mind of my own, but because I don’t want to waste my time on crappy films). There were positive reviews on this one. Besides, it has a supermodel (Elle McPherson), Steven Spielberg’s wife (Kate Capshaw) and Stockard Channing. What could go wrong, right? Supermodels were a rite of passage for me – while other young girls were busy acclimating to their assigned gender and heterosexual roles, I was busy oggling Cindy Crawford covers on Cosmopolitan (this was before they were franchised and started showing Filipino models instead). This is thus an excuse to show my favorite Supermodel music video of all time, George Michael’s “Freedom 90”:

Anyway,as I mentioned, since there were positive reviews I happily sat down bereft of a sense of foreboding or fear that it would suck. Boy, was I wrong. Sitting through this drive is more excruciating than a root canal. In fact, a root canal might actually be better than this.

The story:

The story opens with hotshot lawyer Lauren Travis (Australian supermodel-turned-actress Elle McPherson, who, clearly having not learned her lesson when she starred in one of the Batman movies, tries her luck again in another movie. Word to Elle: Give up, mate!) going to her therapist, Dr. Beth Noonan (the always awesome Stockard Channing) to process a lesbian experience she has with another woman. The woman in question is Casey Montgomery (Kate Capshaw), an equally successful exec that Lauren meets during a double date. At the end of the night, they find themselves more interested in each other than the bad dates they both end up with, ending up exchanging phone numbers instead. Naturally they call each other, bond, end up having dinner by themselves, culminating in the climactic seduction/love scene, followed by the processing (mostly on Lauren’s part, who is confused by her feelings), the requisite squirm-worthy anti-lesbian things happening (gossip around the office, friends abandoning her, job a bit on the line) and the parting of ways at the end of the story.

See, I have no problem with TV shows, TV movies (this is one of those) or movies tackling post-millenial gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered experience. Changing definitions and ideas of what it means to be gay is well and good, and I am always for open, healthy discourse about this. This film raises issues as, is homosexuality a choice, a lifestyle or something you are born with? Is sexuality fluid? Age-old discussions amongst GLBT circles, I know, but as the world becomes more and more open (and paradoxically more reactionary in the process, as the California Supreme Court shows in its decision to uphold Prop. 8), such discussion helps explore the tricky waters that is sexuality.

Except – watching this was a bit awkward for me, and the dialogue and acting is a bit wooden, excruciating, the plot points grimace-inducing.First of all, it is hard for me to suspend disbelief and be convinced that Elle McPherson and Kate Capshaw are lesbians (or bisexuals, for that matter). Elle McPherson is nothing other than Elle McPherson playing Elle McPherson trying to pull off being a person suddenly interested in a woman. Ditto for Kate Capshaw. The love scenes go on more than is necessary and I had to stay awake during most of it. It was uninspired and trite. Like the acting. I can diss L-Word’s storyline all I want, but that TV show never failed to induce a variety of emotions from me – primarily surprise. Because that show, for all its faults, surprises with the acting and range of its actors.

Another thing is the irrational behavior Travis’ bestfriend, played by Kelly Rowan (from The O.C. – the MILF who introduced me to the word “MILF”) suddenly displays. Yes, being gay can induce many kinds of reactions from homophobes, but Rowan’s character’s reaction – bordering on irrational hysteria and hatred, is puzzling. What? Does she have a crush on Lauren or something? Is she jealous that Lauren is getting some and she isn’t?What?!? Clearly I’m missing something. Maybe if I bang my head against the keyboards some more I’ll be enlightened.

Furthermore, the dialogue is about as exciting as watching traffic. Either that, or as about as excruciating. Consider these lines: Lauren Travis  – “Let me ask you something, do you think that lesbianism and alcoholism are directly related?” and Casey Montgomery answers, “Maybe”.  Also, Casey describes herself as a “career bisexual”. Now, this just makes me say, “What the hell?”

But the winner is Casey Montgomery dishing the dirt about her night with Lauren Travis to her bestfriend: “We did everything but insert foreign objects into each other“. That one just makes me say….eeewww. I understand the need to be detailed when it comes to writing – but that is just way too much information for me.

One line though sums up Casey Montgomery’s dillemma: “I don’t even have the balls to be bisexual”.

Clearly, this movie lacks the balls, full stop.

That being said, the one redeeming value is watching the amazing Stockard Channing. I loved her in “Grease”, loved her in “To Wong Foo”, I loved her “First Wives Club” and pretty much anything where she stars. Here, as a tribute to Stockard Channing, I post my favorite scene from “The First Wives Club”  (or as I like to call it – the First Ajumas Club)

Alright, Stockard Channing is not in this one, but it was still a funny movie and that scene is one my favorites. Goldie Hawn trumps daughter Kate Hudson every time. ^^ It’s scenes like this that make me have this internal soundtrack, playing in my head, like it’s part of a movie or something.

Retro-mad film review: Fried Green Tomatoes (US, 1991)

I was watching stand-up comedian Margaret Cho’s “Revolution” (might review the DVD soon – she’s gay and funny, I’m a big fan), while waiting for Jon Stewart’s greatest lesbian moments load in afterellen.com, (he’s straight, smart,  funny and pro-gay, what more can you ask?) and listening to the radio at the same time. Suddenly, “Baby I Need Your Loving” came on the British radio. I happen to shamelessly and secretly love Motown. The coolest thing about volunteering at Oxfam is having access to a plethora of music ranging from African music, to Motown to 80s music and so on.

The Secret Life of Bees

Anyway, the song plays and I remember “The Secret Life of Bees”, which starred Queen Latifah, Jennifer Hudson, Sophie Okonedo, Alicia Keys and an eeriely older Dakota Fanning. Queen Latifah is an Oscar and Grammy winner (Chicago, Hairspray, but I will always remember her as the bad ass lesbian in “Set If Off” – she rocks a lesbian and she had one hot girlfriend in that movie), Jennifer Hudson is the American Idol runner-up and Oscar winner, Alicia Keys is of course best known for being the New York born, Grammy winning, bad-ass piano prodigy, Dakota Fanning is of course, famous for being the precocious child actor who plays precocious children really well. Anyway, this is another one of those Southern dramas replete with mystery, memories of African American oppression, the fight for civil rights and so on. Set in the 1960s when African Americans were granted the right to vote, it is interesting in the first half, and then it just lost me in the second half. I don’t know why, it just bored me. Though there was tension,  conflict and so on, it just seemed bland, and lacked character motivation and plot. I assume the screenwriters (apparently it was based on a book) assumed that thoughtfully adding issues of class, race, civil rights, a few scenes of violence would make up for its blandness,but that didn’t work. I also think it also has to do with all these award-winning actors all in one movie. I think there should be a rule against that, because I seriously think that one movie can’t take all those award-winning actors all in one show – the universe would simply just…implode. The only good thing I liked about this film was Sophie Okonedo (underrated! She should do more films. And not because she played a mentally challenged young woman in this film), and that’s because I think she has the talent and she could carry a whole film just by her lonesome. I hope she does soon.

Fried Green Tomatoes

fried 1Which brings us to Fried Green Tomatoes, a 1991 film directed by Jon Avnet, adapted from the novel by Fanny Flagg entitled “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe”. I know this is a little dated, it had come out in 1991 and hence is almost two decades old, but it’s worth watching, or re-watching again, because this movie, unlike “The Secret Life of Bees”, is actually a thought-provoking, tender, sweet, well-crafted tale about an American South that’s long gone. It is a movie that is both romantic and bittersweet, and it has all the charm that “The Secret Life of Bees” lacks. Very few stories about the American South touch the heart like this one, and I recommend it to anyone who is looking for a brief respite from the mindless, special effects-laden summer blockbuster line-up this year. I also recommend “The Color Purple” (although I recommend the book more than the movie. But the movie features a very young Whoopie Goldberg in her feature debut, so that’s worth checking out) and “To Kill a Mockingbird” (true, this one has no gay subtext – but I love it nonetheless). And if you’re feeling industrious, you must read and watch (not necessarily in that order) “Gone with the Wind”, the mother of all literature that is American South. Anyway, interestingly enough I get to watch this film only last year – but that was because in 1991, I was in high school, and I had the mistake of reading the movie reviews about this film from a Catholic magazine in my hometown, back in the Philippines, so you can imagine how an impressionable young person would view such a film with such content. But now, I have watched it and I have no regrets.


The Story

Evelyn Couch (the divine Kathy Bates) is in the middle of a mid-life crisis. Overweight, stuck in the suburbs, unhappy with a marriage that has fizzled out and a husband who prefers watching baseball and dinner (preferably at the same time) over her sexual overtures, she is at the end of her rope. A stay-at-home wife, she fills her time going to vagina workshops and workshops that tell her how to rekindle her marriage. Once, when she goes to visit the care home where her mother-in-law (who, of course, hates her) stays, she stumbles across Ninny Threadgoode (Jessica Tandy, “Driving Miss Daisy”) who is alone and lonely herself, but is happy and friendly enough to share the story of the Threadgoodes, especially the life and times of Idgie Threadgoode (Mary Stuart Masterson) and Ruth Jamison (Mary Louise Parker), who go through the ups and downs of life together.

fried2Ruth and Idgie meet while Idgie’s older  and favorite brother, Buddy Threadgoode (Chris O’Donnell) is flirting with Ruth. A tragic accident (Buddy gets run over by a train while trying to retrieve Ruth’s hat) devastates Idgie and she retreats from her family and community, choosing instead to live on her own and to hang out with the town’s not-so-reputable citizens, drinking, smoking, gambling, getting into fights and strutting around in men’s clothes. Idgie’s mother is up-in-arms, but does not know how to deal with this daughter and so, one summer, a few years later, she enlists the help of Ruth (who is staying for the summer before she gets married) to coax Idgie out of her unlady-like, rebellious, uncouth ways and start living like a proper young Southern woman. This proves unsuccessful, and it only draws Ruth into Idgie’s world. Idgie, in fact, succeeds in making Ruth help her give out goods illegally from the back of a train, jump off a train, have a picnic near a bee’s nest, get drunk, play baseball, swim naked and drunk in the river and play poker. While Idgie is already set in her ways, and does not change, clearly Ruth has a soft spot in her heart.

And this is where a lot of viewers, critics and fans have argued. The book on which the film is based makes it clear that Idgie and Ruth are lovers. The film version has sanitized and effectively de-gayed it. But this 1991, pre-Ellen, pre-Will and Grace, pre-Queer as Folk and pre-L-Word. It was a different time then. So when one views this, one can and might become confused about the relationship. One can view them as really close friends or full-on lesbian lovers. If you think they are just intensely close, then you are leaving in the Dark Ages. ^^ For Ruth and Idgie are gayer than the lesbians at a Pride March, the characters of L-Word and Queer as Folk  combined. ^^

fried 3Case in point: You can see it in the long, lingering, smoldering looks they give each other , most notably during the bee and honey scene, where, as Ruth looks on while Idgie goes to get honey just for her, a multitude of emotions go over her face: fear, trepidation, admiration, awe. In fact, I do believe this is probably where she falls for the charming Idgie. When after getting drunk during Ruth’s birthday, Ruth announces to her that she is getting married, Idgie’s crestfallen expression gives away much about what she feels, and when Ruth gives her a drunken kiss, Idgie’s expression shifts – like she is perplexed, but also, like she has died and gone to heaven.  And so, when Ruth gets married, Idgie refuses to attend the wedding (because what lesbian in her right mind would want to watch her beloved get married to someone else?) , but drives all the way to Alabama (from Georgia) to see Ruth and her husband set foot in their new house for the first time. It becomes more implicitly gay when Idgie gets up the courage to visit her after a few months (because that’s what we do – especially those of us incapable of articulating our feelings to pretty women ^^), finds out Ruth is being beaten up by her husband and gets all worked up. Ruth convinces her not to do anything and Idgie relents. But when Ruth’s mother dies, and Ruth sends a cryptic biblical verse to Idgie (Ruth 1:16), it sends Idgie bursting in Ruth’s house, taking her away from all the violence of her husband  (but not after her husband hits and kicks her one last time). Ruth leaves with Idgie, and Idgie gets enough money to start off a cafe with her. The front area is for white people, while the back area is for black people. All is well, and Ruth and Idgie raise Ruth’s son together. Ruth’s husband comes back though and demands his wife and son to come back with him, but Idgie defends her family and home, because, you know, Idgie is kind of the “man of the house” – and she rocks the part as well. ^^ Anyway – this is where it gets hazy (this is hazier than the implied relationship between the two main characters): the husband disappears and the issue would have been dead and buried, except one day, the husband’s truck surfaces from a river a few miles from the cafe, so the police from Georgia start investigating. Since they can’t find the body and are aware of the tension between Idgie and the husband – Idgie goes court, only to get off scot-free when her mortal enemy, the town reverend,  concocts an alibi for her at Ruth’s request (now, that is true love). They live a long life, until Ruth dies and Idgie raises her son alone.

This is a story within a story,and the other story here is that of Evelyn, who, upon hearing the story of the two women empowers herself, able to stand up to people who regularly ridicule her, gets a job and even puts  her husband in his place.

Dreamy and poignant, this story is actually as much an ode to an American South long gone, as an ode to the strength, beauty and endurance of female friendships, and relationships, at it were. Production values are sound – although this being the early 90s, it does have that gritty, early-90s-set-in-the-60s feel to it – with none of the glossy, clean feel of newer digital filmmaking and special effects. But this film compensates with a solid story that keeps you riveted to the screen the whole time, superb acting from the leads, especially Mary Louise Parker and Mary Stuart Masterson, and supporting leads from Kathy Bates and the late, great Jessica Tandy (who won an Oscar for this movie). The only beef I had about this film was, as I already mentioned, the sanitized, lesbian overtones. When I was watching it, I had this distinct feeling that Idgie fell for Ruth because she hero-worshipped her brother so much this was a kind of f*cked-up way of getting closer to her dead brother, rather than a natural, personal choice for her. Hence her lesbianism was in direct correlation with the brother, not with Ruth. I find out this is also an issue that other critics have raised with the movie, since the book establishes that Idgie was a flaming lesbian (^^) and her brother had nothing to do with her lesbianism or her feelings for Ruth. There are instances in the book, in fact, when Idgie allegedly has sexual relations with prostitutes, a fact that Ruth is jealous about. Anyway, that being said, this film is still as gay as can be, and as afterellen.com notes, it even has a courtship period, a period of long absence, and a period where they actually get together and live a (not-so) happily ever after. As for the consummation of the relationship, the director reveals in his  commentary of the DVD of this film (commentaries! the greatest thing that has ever happened to DVD! yay!) that since there was no way of showing overt displays of affection in the film – the food fight scene is the outlet with which they show and defuse all that pent-up sexual tension between the two. Good call. All that physical action in the food fight, including the food and sex connection, makes for a good articulation of the subtext.

Overall, despite the downplaying of the gay aspects of it, this is an excellent film. As one watches this, one actually becomes wistful for those days long gone when though the fashion was bad,  the hair was bad and the special effects were bad, in films,but the stories and the acting were good. I hope for a cinematic renaissance of those things soon – maybe not the bad hair, and the bad fashion – but the excellent stories and excellent acting.

Retro-mad film review: The Secrets (Ha Sodot, Israel, 2007)

There are scenes in this film, when the camera lingers on the face of the protagonist, Noemi (played by the incredibly beautiful Ania Bukstein) right before, during  and after an event has happened in her life. These close-up shots are beautiful, powerful and demand you to look into Ania’s steely gaze, then look away. These shots have no dialogue, hence they do not require any tedious reading of subtitles, but they are quite effective. Bukstein does not speak, but you can sense, just from watching her, the thoughts swirling through her mind, the emotions boiling beneath the calm exterior, raring to explode, like she is teetering over the edge of a precipice and debating whether to jump or not.

secret posterAnd this is one of the few things that make this movie, directed by US-educated Israeli director, Avi Nesher, compelling.

Bukstein’s Noemi is a young Orthodox Jewish woman whose father is a rabbi, and is being pressured to marry a man she is not even interested in. Her mother has just died. She convinces her father to allow her to go to Safed, to an Orthodox Jewish women’s seminary and study for a year before she gets married. Here she rooms with two interesting girls. When the first one comes on, you know this is not the one Noemi will fall for – logic will insist that she will fall for the hot, rebellious young woman who will probably be her exact opposite, who must have already come from some other hedonistic, nihilistic, liberal but incredibly romantic place, like, say Paris,  drinks and smokes and gets into fights with the other ladies, as well as be fascinated with the beauty of the forbidden. True to my prediction – in comes Michel (Michal Shtamler), breezing into their room, the fourth roomie with a penchant for smoking, fighting and the unthinkable.

Naturally, the two don’t hit it off in the beginning, but they do begin to warm to each other, especially since it is impossible to be immune to each other’s charm, especially during a double dinner date with guys. What cements their relationship into a strong bond though is a friendship they form with the town’s outcast,  Anouk (the amazing Fanny Ardant – she walks into a room and you can see something profound fill every square inch of screen. She commands the camera to pay attention to her. This is my first time to see her and I even I sense this), who is driven by past misdeeds (and possibly a crime) to seek redemption at the hands of the patriarchal, sexist rabbis of the church, only to be turned away.

secret1When Michel convinces Noemi to provide Anouk with that elusive, long-withheld, well-deserved redemption thorugh “Tikkun” and the forbidden practice of the sacred Kabbala, this is actually where the film takes off and soars and keeps flying well into the end credits. The rituals they go through, the prayers, the burning, and the climactic immersing into the water, a kind of purification, both thrilling, compelling and fascinating all at the same time, the scene itself almost seems like a prayer, an invocation for us to explore deep within our own societies, and ourselves and even to something even more primal and ancient. Noemi and Michel’s activities do not go unnoticed and for their actions, they receive disapproval, condemnation and the threat of ostracism from their church elders, friends and society. And this is where it sustains my interest. Rather than go the overly melodramatic route (as some filmmakers are wont to do) and scenes of blood and tears and much gnashing of teeth, with the requisite exposition (usually delivered by the protagonist), about the world being unfair and unjust, Nesher chooses to play it smart, and keeps our main characters, especially Noemi, as intelligent as they were when we first beheld them. Noemi, for example, remains strong, adamant, forceful. As she discovers the secrets of their holy books, and their rituals and practices, she slowly becomes even more empowered, and you can almost see her new empowered self emerging from the old one. There is a growing confidence and strength in her, and you can see it as she takes on friends, family, even the church. Her character remains lean, taut, as if ready to strike any minute at anyone who challenges her newfound enlightenment and discovery that she can, in fact, go head to head with any of the male patriarchs of their church. And she manages to do this without shedding a single tear, being hysterical or killing herself. As she discovers who she is, her world outside unravels. She discovers things about the church but it does not seem as if change is possible. She discovers a deep affection and love for Michel, culminating in one night of (not-so) unbridled, consummated passion (more on that later) but it ends with Michel marrying the neighborhood flutist anyway (there is a confrontation scene between the groom-to-be and Noemi that is so explosive it’s amazing: and Bukstein barely even says anything). She discovers that the road to redemption and change is long and arduous.

secrets 4I found this film refreshing and brilliant. And while I may secretly would have wanted the two main characters to end up together and have a happy ending, I also knew, deep inside that it would make sense that they wouldn’t. I already knew from first setting my eyes on Michel’s character that they would probably discover something profound with each other but would never be together. Plus, the movie already made a point of illustrating how hard it is to be a woman in the Orthodox communities of Israel, how much harder would it be for a lesbian living in the same place (are you reading this, fellow gay movie goers? This is not a stereotypical lesbian movie. I don’t even think of it as a lesbian movie,but an Israeli film with lesbian content.). As I already said, I found Bukstein’s acting amazing. It does not hurt that she is beautiful as well and I am totally crushing on her as well. My only regret is that I did not see a more explicit love scene between her and Michel and instead see a lot of legs, granny underwear, and partially obscured faces in what would seem to be throes of ecstacy. In what universe is lesbian sex as weird and as embarassing to watch as this? ^^  Clearly this was directed by a straight man trying to escape the Israeli board of censors. No, wait, it was directed by a  straight man trying to escape the Israeli board of censors. Note to director: either show it or don’t show it all. ^^ Better yet, show them like director Jean Jacques Annaud did in “L’Amant” (The Lover, 1992) as shots of skin, light, in rapid succession – effectively reducing the intimate scene itself to an exhilirating,tittilating abstraction (Sigh…they don’t make them like they used to anymore. If this were L-Word, we would have seen, not only the love scene from all the different possible and probably angles known to man, but we would also see some ass, some accessories and whole lot of  atttitude.).  But this is the only, extremely minor complaint I have about this film. Overall, it is a beautiful film – and it is a testament to the fact that acting isn’t just about delivery of words. It is about being, itself. Sadly something Hollywood has lost in all its years of pursuing global box office glory. Size does not really matter. It’s substance that does. ^^secrets 3

Best quote about this film I’ve ever encountered:

“When considering this film, you won’t have to sigh to yourself, “Oh, another of those Kabbalistic, lesbian, coming-of-age romps.” – Regrets, commands, Rule of Love:’The Secrets’ follows young women into seminary in Israel” (January 09, 2009)

Amidst all this, Michel and Noemi discover a deep affection and love for each other, culminating in one night of (not-so) unbridled, consummated passion (more on that later).

Retro-mad film review: Imagine Me and You (UK, 2005)

The story:

3 imagine-me-and-you-dvd-poster1Bride-to-be Rachel (Piper Perabo) is about to get married to soon-to-be-husband Heck (Matthew Goode). The movie opens with the usual excitement and chaos of a wedding about to happen – there is much flurry and activity as the excited bride, family and wedding entourage prepare for the wedding. On the surface, it seems like nothing can go wrong: the couple has been together since college, they were best friends and lovers and had been living together for years before they decided to get married. They have a rock-solid relationship. They are both stable, successful professionals and are ready t0 start a new life together. But while walking down the aisle, Rachel locks eyes with a gorgeous stranger, Luce (Lena Headey),  about to walk out of the church and, though Rachel goes through with the wedding, her life has already changed.

It turns out that Luce is the florist. Rachel’s younger sister, H (Boo Jackson) has taken a liking to the florist, and Heck’s bestman, the perpetually lecherous Cooper (Darren Boyd) fancies her and so the florist ends up staying a bit longer at the wedding reception than is necessary. Luce is (surprise, surprise) a workaholic with a non-existent love life (as evidenced by hilarious best friend Edie, played by Eva Birthistle telling her, “You need a love life!” to which she replies, “I have a like life, it suits me fine”.), but for some strange reason, she remains at the reception anyway, introduces herself to the bride, dances with the younger sister and with Cooper before leaving. The story would have ended there, except a few months later, Rachel comes to Luce’s flower shop and invites her to dinner. Unbeknownst to Luce, Rachel has arranged for Cooper to come as well, setting the stage for a better awkward double dinner date, especially when Luce comes out to Heck as a lesbian.

This is where the story really begins. Rachel and Heck’s life are perfect. 5 piper pensiveToo perfect, in fact. But beneath this seeming perfection lies a dissatisfaction, based on a relationship that has gone on too long, where the excitement and romance has long gone, and only a comfortable friendship remains. This is seen in Rachel’s defensiveness in an argument with Luce at the dinner table, about whether love at first sight is possible or not. Luce believes in it, but Rachel does not, and finds offense at the insinuation that she and Heck have just settled in their relationship and lack romance in it. But the truth is, there is trouble in their perfect paradise: work consumes both of them, their sex life is lackluster and their life together is just bland. When Rachel finds out that Luce is gay during a trip to the supermarket (where they bump into Luce and bestfriend Edie, in a funny exchange where Heck asks if Edie is gay, and Edie answers back, “Am I gay?!? I’m ecstatic!”), this changes everything for Rachel. Rachel is subtly attracted to Luce, but is aware of the consequences of this should she act on it. So she tries to avoid Luce, but always ends up bumping into or spending time with her – during her younger sister’s school presentation, during a festival and a soccer (football for UK fans) match. Luce is evasive as well, but the more they resist, the more they seem to be drawn together. The tentative moments they have in their scenes together, when both exhibit shyness, apprehension, restraint and whole other mixture of feelings, are exhilirating moments in the film. It calls to mind pre-millenial rom-coms, when they weren’t just manufactured by the dozen in Hollywood.  This is mostly Rachel’s journey, and it is a subtle one. Rachel struggles with her feelings, and tries her best to rekindle the romance with her husband, but at the same time, wonders about her own feelings for Luce. This is manifested in her sudden interest in lesbian porn (not in a eeww kind of way, but in an innocent, cute way), in her endless questions to her colleagues and friends (She asks them random questions such as, “Do you believe in love at first sight?” and “Have you ever thought of dating another woman?”) and in discussions with her husband and family. This eventually comes to a head when she confronts Luce with it, and she realizes that she has, quite irrevocably and inexplicably, fallen in love with the florist. She refuses to give in to her feelings though, and decides to stay with Heck. In the end, it is Heck who finally decides that they shouldn’t be together, because more than loving him, what he cannot take is her loving somebody else more. In the end, Rachel ends up with Luce and it is a happy ending for everyone.

4 piper lenaWhat is not to like about this feel-good romantic comedy? ^^ I believe that it could well be the first well-written, lesbian romantic comedy with good production values (cinematography, acting, etc.). Sure, we’ve had “When Night is Falling” and “The Incredibly True Adventure”, but these films are hardcore indie films – and it sometimes shows in the films. What “Imagine Me and You” gives us is a lesbian film that finally has  a happy ending. That it was written and directed by a straight bloke, Ol Parker, a kind of love letter to his wife, actor Thandie Newton, is beside the point. As compared to the hysterical Paulie “Lost and Delirious”, Piper Perabo’s performance here is subtle and  nuanced and she inhabits Rachel’s character with restraint. Much of the struggle in Perabo’s character is internal and she succeeds in conveying that struggle quite convincingly. Lena Headey, as always, is a delight to watch and is believable as the lonely, cynical Luce. I first saw her in “Gossip”, and she was pretty much the only good thing that came out of that film. I’ve seen her in the UK TV drama “Band of Gold”, as a lesbian prostitute, in “Possession”, as the scorned lesbian lover (all these pre-“300” and “Sarah Chronicles”) and I’d always liked her. There is something about British actresses that is always delightful to watch, I guess. ^^The chemistry between Perabo and Headey’s characters are palpable onscreen and they do light up the screen every time they come on. 1 imagine me and you 4

Sure this film may not be award-winning, and it touches on age-old cliched themes and storylines, but this film is still a joy to watch and it does leave you with a good feeling after watching it. And isn’t that the basic thing that films are supposed to do anyway? ^^

As an added bonus, I’d like to include two of my favorite scenes from the film:

1. “You’re a wanker number 9”

2. “About space” – one of the most intense scenes I have ever seen

PS:

There is a new lesbian-themed Israeli film entitled “The Secrets”. I have seen it, but as it does not have English subtitles and only Arabic/Aramaic/Hebrew (?) subtitles, I shall delay reviewing it until I get a version with English subtitles. Either that or until I learn to speak Hebrew. But from watching it, I think it’s an intense film – and part of the joy of watching it the first time around was discovering new talent in the lead character, Ania Bukstein, who plays the character so intensely, it’s amazing. Anyway, here is the trailer:

Retro-mad film review: Lost and Delirious (US, 2001)

The story:

Mouse (Mischa Barton) has been sent off to an all-girls’ boarding school after her mother dies. lost and delirious photoNaturally 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 lost_and deliriousroom. 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.

lost_and_delirious_xl_03--film-BI 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. ^^