NO MAN'S LAND

Last year, I reviewed a film called Go Fish, allegedly a comedy, about modern life among urban twentysomething lesbians. I panned it, and, predictably, got some static from lesbian readers who suggested that I disliked the film because I wasn't a lesbian myself, and not for the actual reason, which was that its plot, dialogue and acting all sucked. Dare I suggest the alternative possibility--that those readers were being overgenerous to a crappy movie because they were lesbians, and tickled to see any images of their lifestyle on the screen?

It should be, needless to say, that I'd be delighted to see a good romantic comedy made by and about lesbians. A new attempt, Bar Girls, set against the backdrop of the lesbian singles scene in L.A., is a turn for the better. It's not a great piece of filmmaking by a long shot--the pacing is limp, the structure haphazard, some of the acting is flat, and there's a psychobabble monologue near the end of embarrassing awfulness. But for all that, the film is pretty involving. Much of the dialogue is lively, two of the lead actresses are excellent, and, most important, the film does actually have some sense of humor and playfulness. Especially because of this last attribute, Bar Girls towers over Go Fish.

The heroine is the witty, love-hungry Loretta (Nancy Allison Wolfe), a writer for a cable cartoon show. As the film begins, she meets Rachael (Liza D'Agostino), an aspiring actress, in a bar. They're instantly attracted to each other, and, soon after, when both have broken up with their current S.O.'s, they move in together. They're happy at first, but both are frightened of the potential for infidelity--their own and the other's. Loretta and Rachael have those endless, circuitous conversations about their feelings that are so fascinating to the lovers involved and so tedious to everyone else (re-created acutely, with a touch of satire, by Lauran Hoffman, adapting her own play). Meanwhile, the film noses around in subplots. The funniest of these concerns the dizzy Veronica (Justine Slater), Loretta's straight friend who impulsively decides one day over lunch to experiment with lesbianism, and slips into it with a casual ease that startles Loretta.

All of this is watchable, but not particularly revelatory, and after an amusing first half, Bar Girls begins to drag--it doesn't seem to be going anywhere. Then J.R. (Camila Griggs), a tough police cadet, shows up in the bar and begins to make eyes at Rachael, and Loretta starts acting like a jealous jerk. The antagonism between Loretta and J.R. turns out to be just what's needed to energize the film. Wolfe, with her sly, mischievous eyes and assured timing, is clearly a capable actress, and up until this point in the film, you can see her straining to get a rhythm going with the other actresses in scenes to which the director, Marita Giovanni, has failed to give a dramatic pulse. When she at last gets a scene alone with Griggs, an imposing vocal and physical ringer for Park Overall, it's by far the best in the film, crackling both with anger and with a true erotic charge.

Every time Bar Girls starts to drift, something like this explosive scene comes along and gooses it back to alertness. Again, it isn't nearly as great as the smashing film which will someday be made on the subject. But when the yet-unknown director of that future film is interviewed, she may list Bar Girls as an early influence.

 
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