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Movie Reviews

Better Than Chocolate  

On the fairly reasonable advice from my lesbian friend, I decided to rent a movie that she described very affectionately and absolutely insisted I view - Better Than Chocolate. This film is a recent entry in the sub-category of lesbian cinema, which includes such films as Show Me Love, When Night is Falling, Go Fish, and others. These films are important in some circles because they are from the point of view of lesbians, and show us a lifestyle in a more frank way than what would have been deemed acceptable even ten years ago.

Unluckily for my friend, she will now have to read this damned review, which, unfortunately, will not proclaim that any greatness was found in said product. No doubt a lot of this was because, as usual, I hyped myself up for greatness and was doomed to be disappointed. But while this film is far from bad, and is not offensive by any of my standards, the best I can say about Better Than Chocolate is that it is average.

The main story is about Maggie, a college dropout and impoverished soul who is so broke she has to sleep in the gay bookstore (Ten Percent Books - how quaint) where she works. One day, she gets a surprise call from her mom (Wendy Crewson), who has recently divorced from her philandering husband (and Maggie`s stepdad), and wants to move in with her for a while before creating a new life for herself. This suddenly requires some fancy footwork, as Maggie has to find a place to live. She finds an apartment inhabited by a safe-sex consultant about to go on a month-long seminar tour. Complicating matters is that, of course, Maggie`s mom doesn`t know that she is a lesbian, and, coincidently, on the very same day, she meets and quickly establishes a relationship with Kim, a free spirit who literally lives on the road, with her brightly painted van her only home. Other characters include Judy (Peter Outerbridge), a pre-op transsexual, and Francis, the somewhat mousy book-store owner, who has to deal with the repressive customs agency that repeatedly blocks gay-themed books from entering the country.

Of course, all of these characters mixing together sounds like a fine recipe for screwball comedy, but it doesn`t cook very well at all. The movie is not really funny, or convincingly dramatic. The customs agency scenes are very timely, as the real Supreme Court of Canada has heard, and now decided, on whether customs has routinely discriminated against gay book stores, but the scenes depend on stereotypes of uptight agents (including one who stammers on "anal sex"), and are very one-sided. (The fact is, it`s not as if this bookstore sells family material, and the issue, brought up in the real court case in Canada, of whether the sorts of porn they sell is in fact much more extreme than straight porn is never breached.)

The biggest problem, however, is the lead couple. I could not care for them very much at all. The screenwriter throws them together, yanks them apart without conviction, and reunites them for an awkward and oddly violent ending. But..... who are these people??? Maggie is a university dropout, Kim lives in a van, Maggie is very cute, Kim is one hot chick (okay, that`s just my subjective opinion, there!), and they have great sex, of course. But they are not really very interesting, which makes the whole "love" idea pointless. They say they are in love, and are nervous about revealing their love to Maggie`s mom, but where is the evidence??

They attempt to have sex in the van (before it is towed away, amusingly) about ten minutes after they meet, they later blow the entire paint budget in a scene which reminded me of the bad soft-core Vivid, then later have really awesome sex on the couch, and then later have sex in a public bathroom (this last one is, I think, the only love scene which does not take place on the same day). None of this is wrong, of course - that scene on the couch would, in a different movie, be a great example of passionate discovery, and even my friend said that this was a passionate high point. But love - get real! I didn`t believe it!

The better scenes involved Judy, who actually strikes up a friendship with Crewson`s character, although it`s too much for us to believe that she would not see that Judy is a man. Hasn`t she watched Jerry Springer? However, these two are more interesting, as Judy discusses her love problems and Crewson discusses her own disappointments in that arena. Even more intriguing is the relationship between Judy and the bookstore owner, who is lesbian. Judy obviously is attracted to women, not what you`d expect in a transsexual, and this creates a problem for Francis, who tries in vain to fend off her advances. These elements are far more interesting than the main romance.

Another point. For some reason, I feel discomfort when a fairly well-known face engages in really sordid material. In this case, Wendy Crewson (she played Tim Allen`s ex-wife in The Santa Clause; a family picture, for God`s sake!!) finds herself with various sex toys in a scene which, under no circumstances, should be played at normal volumes when others are within earshot. They will mistake it for a pornographic film, especially if, after three minutes, the noises still do not stop!

So, overall, the film tried, but did not succeed. It is not very interesting for those looking for a complex and emotional romance, and seems to be pitched at gays and lesbians as a group, instead of pitching it at viewers wanting a story about specific people. The fact that this movie exists at all is evidence that gays and lesbians are now able to tell stories about themselves, but, just as with any genre, group, etc, etc, not every entry is a complete winner.

David Macdonald

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