Archive for July, 2010

25th July
2010
written by Mad Cow

Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, language and some teen drug and alcohol use.

Mad Cow’s Rating: three cowbells

This is a good movie but don’t expect it to be a lesbian movie. We have to take what we can get. Hey, the women are middle-aged, wrinkled and without make-up. That’s progress right there. Who needs chemistry? Well, we do, but as I said…. All progressive, inclusivity-minded, liberal people who go to the movies at all need to plunk down their money and show some spirit! It’s a pleasant way to spend 104 minutes.  Annette Benning (Nic) and Julianne Moore (Jules) are a couple! It’s about a marriage. Things have changed for the better. On the other hand, the film can be seen as a primer on how to capture an audience for a lesbian major motion picture.

The clue is not to mimic lesbian life too closely and include plenty of heterosexuality. I was first made aware of this when I read the lengthy article in USA Today about how Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo “get naked” together in the movie. We learn about their close (3-year) friendship, their marriages, and their kids. It’s all so, what’s the word, yes, heterosexual! Actors get naked together in movies every day. It’s almost obligatory. But this article was a hint that even though there would be lesbians, don’t worry, there would be naked heterosexuality. As it turns out, that’s all the nakedness there is.

Except for the gender bend, the plot is rather formulaic. A long-married couple, Nic (Benning) and Jules (Moore) face a crisis in their marriage provoked by the unexpected appearance of a third party. Complications ensue, usually a flirtation or affair between the interloper and one of the couple, with the rest of the movie spent dealing with the complications. A mirror of real life, this timeless human theme abounds everywhere, from great literature to cheap fiction. In this case the gatecrasher is the sperm donor, Paul (Mark Ruffalo) whose sperm was used to produce both kids, Joni (Mia Wasikowska, Alice in Wonderland) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson).

The situations and dialogue are sometimes on the mark, such as when Nic and Jules are fighting over Jules’ ambitions or lack thereof. With the kids Nic, an OBGYN, is the fussy disciplinarian of the family. She is stern in nagging them about their obligations but couldn’t the writers have come up with a more 21st century nag than having to write thank-you notes on time? I guess this is supposed to be funny instead of weird. Too often too, we can see the set ups for jokes or plot turns, Jules and Paul sharing a love for food and growing things, Nic and Paul loving Joni Mitchell (after whom Joni was named, unfortunately). The story of how Nic and Jules get together is a set up for a salacious lesbian joke. It’s a sappy sitcom moment, although too explicit for TV.

The film has its moments of warmth, love, convincing arguments between the principals, and emotion. Ultimately it does what the reviews say it does, fostering family values even in nontraditional families. All of the characters have real flaws, even and perhaps especially Paul. Their personalities are recognizable. This is a good thing. I choked up at the end, and although I was manipulated into it, this is what movies do. I saw myself there, which is also what movie makers strive for. For me the drawback was just the lesbian thing. One might ask why gay men in movies are not expected to be bi-sexual or even attracted to the (pardon the expression) “opposite sex,” but lesbians are. Of course the answer is the fact that men are not interested in women who aren’t interested in men and a lot of men make movies and go to them. But I digress.

Director Lisa Cholodenko wrote the screenplay with Stuart Blumberg. She has credentials, having written and directed High Art, a dark but distinctly lesbian indie film. In real life, she is partnered with film composer Wendy Melvoin. Alas, compromises were made. Chemistry can be manufactured. That’s included in what we call acting. But no sparks were inserted here, even in stray glances, and there is no lesbian sex except under the covers and judging by the look on the face on the screen, the person under the covers could have been under there with a flashlight and a book. There is also the suggestion that lesbians get off from watching gay male porn. Come to think of it, this movie could have been subtitled Women Loving Women who Love Penises. If you want chemistry between two women in a major motion picture, rent Frida and check out the dance scene with Selma Hayek and Ashley Judd.

I’m probably being too harsh.  I wanted the film to be perfect, with real lesbians and even lesbian friends, which most of us have. (Do same-sex couples in movies always have to hang out exclusively with heterosexual couples?) But there were many good things going on. Benning and Moore are plainer and more middle-age flawed than Streep in some of her latest movies. And, as most reviewers seem to be saying, it’s a “marriage movie,” with the sexual orientation of the characters “irrelevant.” Marriage. Us. OK. Good.

If there are any rich producers out there, here is my idea for a remake:

Same family, same actors. Things change when a single woman parent moves in down the street with kids the same age and genders as Joni and Laser, only their names are something like Jared and Bethany. Joni and Laser bond with the kids right away and adore their mother because she is nothing like Nic or Jules. Then it turns out that this woman, Pauline (Pauly for short) was Jules’ college roommate and her first lesbian love. Pauly “got scared” and left Jules to marry a man. Now she is fully in touch with her lesbianism and is back. Pauly (like Paul in the original) runs a natural foods restaurant, etc. She hires Jules to landscape her yard. You get the picture. Ideas for actresses to play Pauly, in order of my preference: Mary Louise Parker, Sandra Bullock, Demi Moore. You can see I’ve given this a lot of thought. Maybe someday.