THEIR HEARTS WERE YOUNG AND GAY

The most subversive approach a progressive artist can take very well might be to present his or her beliefs in a mainstream form. No matter how alarming to the status quo your ideas are, if you can make a solid social drama--like, say, Priest--out of them, you're on your way. And if you can make a good romantic comedy out of them, you're really winning.

In the past year I've seen three attempts at a comedy on the theme of lesbian love, using lesbian subculture as a backdrop. The first, Go Fish, was awful; the second, Bar Girls, only a little better. The third time proved the charm. Writer/director Maria Maggenti's The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love is enchanting--sweet, convincing, lightly erotic without oppressiveness, truly romantic and truly funny.

An easy way to suggest the tone of The Incredibly True Adventure would be to say that it's like a John Hughes high school romance, a Sixteen Candles or Pretty in Pink, except that the romance is between two girls. The trouble with such a comparison is that it's overgenerous to Hughes, who, in spite of some wit, panders to his middle-class suburban teen audience's maudlin view of the crises in their lives. Maggenti keeps a fine perspective on her lovers' tribulations--it's a teen romance; it's not the end of the world. On the other hand, she manages not to patronize her title characters, either.

One heroine is Evie Roy (Nicole Parker), who's beautiful, popular, smart, African American and rich--her single mom is an agriculture adviser, as was Maggenti's. The other is Randy Dean (Laurel Holloman), a pretty white working-class tomboy with a job at a gas station. Randy is already out of the closet, as she lives in a lesbian household with a gay aunt. Evie Roy isn't necessarily gay, but she's intrigued by Randy and by the possibility of a relationship with her.

For its first half, The Incredibly True Adventure has a slice-of-life quality. Maggenti builds the relationship between Evie Roy and Randy in simple, unforced, more or less realistic scenes. Then, after the affair has been consummated and the families of both girls are freaking out about it, just at the point when the film could easily topple over into mawkishness or victimology, Maggenti pulls a masterful key change--she modulates the movie with remarkble skill into airy, almost dreamlike farce.

Maggenti's manipulation of the film's mood is inspired. Had it remained either serious or farcical throughout, it would have felt too heavy. But her seamless shift in tone and the piling on of mild complications allows the film to close with a sweet comic breeze rather than a hot gust of stale didacticism.

The acting of the leads is right on the money, too. These two fresh performances don't (and shouldn't) have a lot of complexity, but they're filled with the emotional stew of first love--the exhilaration, the lust, the panic, the selfishness and pain, but also the joy at the heart of it all.

As with all raves about low-budget indies, praise of The Incredibly True Adventure must be tempered with caution about the film's limits--it's far too slight to be considered a masterpiece. Indeed, part of what makes it good is that Maggenti isn't trying to beat the world here, she just wants to get us involved in her small, touching story. On these terms, her work is dazzlingly resourceful--she doesn't miss a step.

 
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